March 11, 2014

Revolutionary women: Melba Hernández Rodríguez del Rey

Haydée Santamaría Cuadrado and
Melba Hernández in prision
Melba Hernández (28 July 1921 – 9 March 2014) 
Special to Rebel Youth

Born in Cruces, Las Villas, Melba Hernández was the only child of conservative parents with mulatto ancestry (mixed Afro-Cuban and White heritage). She grew up in a modern third-floor apartment on Jovellar Street in Vedado district of Havana, not far from where Jose Marti Plaza is today.

Graduating from the University of Havana School of Law in 1943, Hernández worked as a Customs attorney for the Carlos Prio government and was a practising lawyer.

Like many in her generation, as a young woman she grew increasingly fed up with government corruption under dictator Fulgencio Batista, who had seized power in a 1952 coup. Together with Haydée Santamaría Cuadrado, she became one of two women involved in the famous 1953 Moncada Barracks assault. Hernández also helped obtain 100 uniforms for the attackers from a sympathetic army sergeant, sewing on military insignia and pressing the clothes in a nearby farm, hours before the attack before picking up a gun herself. She later wrote that she didn't expect to live to survive the attack, but was convinced it was necessary.
The Moncada raid was a notorious disaster. Hernández was captured and sentenced to seven months in prison. To intimidate her and Haydée, prision guards showed her the crushed testicles and an eye ball of other prisoners. The women, however, refused to speak and give the names of organizers of comrades.
After her sentence was over, Hernández helped collate Fidel's notes from prison outlining his defence, written in lemon juice, which would become his famous book History Will Absolve Me. She distributed the material and began organizing solidarity actions to demand the prisoners be released. She rose to serving on the National Directorate of the underground July 26th movement.

After Fidel had established a base in Mexico with other exiles and was preparing to launch the boat Gramma to start a second attempt at an uprising, Hernández fund raised and brought much-needed money to the group clandestinely. Before the intersection she returned to Cuba and continued to build support for the rebels.

After the revolution Hernández played an important role, first reforming the corrupt women's prison system and later with international solidarity.

During the U.S. invasion of Vietnam she helped found and chair the Cuban Committee for Solidarity with Vietnam, which later extended its work to include Cambodia and Laos. Hernández was also vice president of the Cuban Movement for Peace and Sovereignty of Peoples, and member of the presidium of the World Peace Council.

With a guerilla fighter
After the victory of Vietnam against the United States, she was appointed ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Cambodia, and later Secretary General of the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Later in her life, between 1976 and 1986, and during the special period in 1993, she was a deputy in the National Assembly of People's Power. Hernández was also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, which she helped found.

Meeting Ho Chi Minh
She died in Havana on Sunday night, age 92, as a result of complications associated from a long struggle with diabetes. According to Granma newspaper Hernández will be buried at the cemetery of Saint Iphigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba with the remains of other participants in the attack on the Moncada.

Hernández was honored around the world, including in Vietnam, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt.

“She is one of the most glorious and beloved combatants of the revolutionary quest, (and an) imperishable example of Cuban woman,” a statement by the Communist Party of Cuba read.

With sources from Spanish Wikipedia, Gramma, and the New York Times.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular stories