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Juan Almeida was born in Havana, Cuba in 1927. He dropped out of school at 11 to become a bricklayer. At the time of his death, he was the third ranking Cuban in the government.
Almeida studied law at the University of Havana, where he befriended a young Fidel Castro. He soon joined Castro’s band of rebels. On July 26, 1953, Almeida took part in the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks. He was captured and imprisoned along with the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul. They were released and moved to Mexico two years later.
The Castro brothers and Almeida returned to Cuba in 1956. This time, they brought Che Guevara and 78 other rebels. Cuban government forces killed 70 of the rebels. As the battle continued, Almeida shouted over the noise: “Here, nobody surrenders”. The twelve surviving rebels were dispersed into the Sierra Maestra mountains. Eventually, the rebels found each other with the help of a network of sympathetic locals.
In 1958, Almeida was promoted to Commander and placed in charge of a column of soldiers. To the black Cubans living under the yoke of racism, a black man in a leadership position became a symbol.
After the revolution, Juan Almeida worked his way up to General in the Cuban army. He also became first vice-president of the Cuban Council of State, the third highest position in the Cuban government.