Havana Vilma Espin Guillois, the wife of acting President Raul Castro and one of the communist nation's most politically powerful women, died Monday, the Cuban government announced. She was 77.
Espin died Monday afternoon after "the long illness she was afflicted with" worsened in recent weeks, according to Cuban state television.
Authorities did not disclose the illness, but she was said to suffer from severe circulatory problems in recent years.
Her death was likely to have a profound emotional impact on both Raul and Fidel Castro at a critical moment in Cuban history.
Not only was she a wife and a sister-in-law, but a fellow guerrilla fighter who was with the Castro brothers at the start of their revolutionary battle a half-century ago.
Cuba's top leaders will pay homage to Espin with a solemn gathering tonight at the Karl Marx theater in Havana, along with leaders of the Federation of Cuban Women and other representatives of Cuban society.
An official mourning period was declared from 8 p.m. Monday until 10 p.m. today, and the Cuban flag will be lowered to half-staff at all public buildings and military bases.
Formal gatherings to pay homage to Espin were scheduled for all day today across the island of 11.2 million.
Her ashes will be scattered during a private ceremony, with full military honors, at a date to be determined, according to the statement from Cuba's Communist Party leadership.