Cuban revolutionary commander dies of heart attack

Almeida, left, sits with President Raul Castro on January 1, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
Juan Almeida, a Cuban revolutionary who fought alongside former Communist leader Fidel Castro, died of a heart attack Friday evening, according to state media.

Almeida, 82, was among only a handful of surviving Cuban leaders who still bore the title “Commander of the Revolution.” A vice president and member of the Communist government Central Committee, Almeida was among only a few black leaders in top government posts. He died of cardiac arrest late Friday evening, according Juventud Rebelde, Cuba’s state-run youth newspaper. Widely admired among Cuban nationals, Almeida fought with Fidel and Raul Castro at the start of their campesino-led revolution, participating in the failed attacks on the Moncada army barracks in 1953 and later aboard the famed yacht, “Granma,” that carried the small group of Cuban rebels who would later topple U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Almeida’s death highlights the mortality of an aging cast of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders.

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Widespread speculation surrounding the health of Fidel Castro grew in 2006 after the former Communist leader underwent abdominal surgery and later ceded the presidency to his younger brother, Raul. The elder Castro has recently appeared in a series of photos and video looking healthier, though he has not appeared in public since 2006. Cuban state media reported that Sunday will be a day of national mourning and that flags will be flown at half-staff.