HAVANA - Thousands of Cubans lined up early yesterday to pay their respects to Juan Almeida Bosque, a vice president and hero of the country’s 1959 revolution whose death at the age of 82 further thinned the ranks of this communist-run country’s old-guard leaders.
President Raul Castro led the ceremony at Havana’s Revolution Square, somberly placing a pink rose in front of a large photograph of Almeida. Flags flew at half-staff throughout the country.
There was no sign of Castro’s older brother, former leader Fidel, who has not been seen in public since turning over power to his brother in 2006. Raul Castro did not speak at the ceremony, but other Cuban leaders hailed Almeida as a great and simple man.
“Almeida will live with us forever,’’ the head of Cuba’s Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, told Cuban media Saturday. At the ceremony yesterday, lines of thousands formed early and snaked through Revolution Square. Many more Cubans were expected to attend throughout the day or go to smaller memorials throughout the country.
Almeida, one of just three surviving rebel leaders who still bear the title “Commander of the Revolution,’’ died Friday of a heart attack. He was the first of Cuba’s revolutionary giants to die since Raul Castro’s wife, Vilma Espin, in June 2007.
Most are in their late 70s and early 80s, including the Castro brothers, and it is not at all clear who would replace them. The few young leaders who have emerged have not lasted long before falling out of favor.
Almeida was a member of Cuba’s ruling elite, sitting on the Communist Party’s politburo and serving as a vice president on the Council of State.