Cuban revolutionary figure Armando Hart dies at 87

Armando Hart (centre) attending the opening of a photography exhibition on Fidel Castro in Havana.
Armando Hart (centre) attending the opening of a photography exhibition on Fidel Castro in Havana.PHOTO: AFP

HAVANA (AFP) - Armando Hart Davalos, a key figure of the Cuban revolution and close friend of Fidel Castro, died on Sunday (Nov 26) in Havana at the age of 87.

Cuban state media reported that the elderly revolutionary - who spearheaded the country's huge literacy drive - passed away in the afternoon of respiratory failure.

Hart, who suffered from health problems and was wheelchair-bound in his later years, was a lawyer by training but soon became caught up in the political fervour that swept through Cuba in the 1950s.

He joined Castro in 1953 following the late communist leader's botched raid on the Moncada military barracks, which planted the seed of the revolution that eventually triumphed in 1959.

Hart was imprisoned and tortured under dictator Fulgencio Batista. But after Castro came to power he was soon appointed Cuba's education minister.

He also married fellow revolutionary Haydee Santamaria, who took part in the Moncada barracks raid and became one of communist Cuba's most senior female figures.

In 1961 Hart launched a literacy campaign across the island nation, aimed at equipping all Cubans with reading and writing skills. He took over the newly created Ministry of Culture in 1976, a position he would hold until 1997.

In his later years he dedicated himself to promoting the extensive works of Jose Marti a nineteenth century poet who came to symbolise Cuba's push for independence from Spain.