Melba Hernández is a Cuban revolutionary
. Born on 7/28/1921, she is currently on the Central Committee
in Cuba and a Heroine of the Revolution
. A lawyer
, seven years older than Fidel Castro
, she describes her first meeting
"From the moment you shake hands with Fidel, you are impressed. His personality is too strong. When I gave my hand to this young man, I felt secure, I felt I had found the way."
Hernández was one of two women (the other was Haydée Santamaría) to participate in the assault on Moncada, which was Fidel's failed coup attempt against Fulgencio Batista prior to the Revolution. Melba wanted to participate in the attack on the barracks, but Fidel would not allow it, and insisted that they stay at their hideout outside of town. However, it was eventually decided that the women would assist in the attack on the hospital, where they could serve as nurses to any wounded. During the assault, she wore slacks and a blouse. Although the attack was a failure, Melba and Haydée, along with Haydée's brother Abel and his men captured the hospital, which was undefended. Abel Santamaría encouraged the women to flee, but they did not. Eventually the rebels ran out of ammunition, and the women and other nurses put gowns on the survivng rebels in order to pass them off as patients. However, one of the patients betrayed the Fidelistas, and they were all captured or killed. Abel was beaten to death by rifle butts, in view of his sister. Many of the other rebels, including Dr. Mario Muñoz and the poet Raúl Gómez García, were also beaten with rifles. After being held prisoner for a week at Moncada, the girls were moved to a nearby prison in Santiago, Cuba.
During the Moncada trials, Fidel Castro named Melba Hernández to be his lawyer. Fidel and Hernández embarrassed Batista and the prosecutors through good arguments and proof of the murder of prisoners. Melba was sentenced to seven months in a women's prison west of Havana.
On February 20, 1954, Melba was released from prison. Castro immediately began to use her as his primary representative outside of prison, and she began to revive Fidel's Movement, now named the 26th of July Movement (after the date of the Moncada attack). Upon her release she said:
"We went to Moncada moved by a sacred love for freedom, and we are ready to give our lives for its principles."
Communicating to Castro through his wife, Mirta, who was allowed to visit Fidel (along with little Fidelito), Melba began to set up meetings with radio stations and distributing propaganda. Through a serious of tedious and secret correspondences, Melba eventually received and published the full text of Castro's famous speech, "History Will Absolve Me."
Fidel was released from prison in a general amnesty on May 15, 1955. One of the first people Castro embraced was Hernández. On July 6, 1955, Fidel left Cuba to create a rebel army in Mexico. However, he left behind Hernández as a member of the 26th of July Movement's National Directorate. When Fidel left Mexico to go fund raising in the United States, Melba came to Mexico to help direct the Movement there during Fidel's absence, along with Jesús Montané, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara. Montané and Hernández became engaged during this period. Fidel began to get energetic, once bursting in on Montané and Hernández at 5 AM, demanding they wake up. Eventually, he moved in with them.
Hernández was a member of the 26th of July movement in the cities during the Cuban Revolution. Since the Revolution, she has continued her work for Cuba. She became a member of the Central Committee in 1986. Prior to that she was a member of the Cuban Petroleum Institute and the Ambassador to Vietnam. She has helped women in some of the poorest districts of Cuba. She was a member of the National Assembly from 1976-1986, and again in 1993. She was the Secretary General of the Cuban Organization of Solidarity with the Towns of Asia, Africa and Latin America at a time when Castro began to focus on the third world. Currently, she is the Vice President of the Cuban Association of the United Nations. She will probably continue to be active in Cuban politics until she dies.
Szulc, Tad.Fidel: A Critical Portrait.New York: Avon Books, 1986.