Our beloved comrade Rosa Peñate died on Saturday, March 1, after suffering from leukemia for several months. Her daughter and main caregiver, Lorena, was with her when she passed.
Rosa was known and loved in the Salvadoran and Latin American solidarity community of San Francisco, where she lived since 1968 after moving from her homeland of El Salvador. Rosa never forgot her roots and was a fervent supporter of the FMLN’s liberation struggle, the Frente Farabundo Martí por la Liberación Nacional.
Rosa was born on June 2, 1938, although her birth certificate cited November because, as she recounted, her family did not have the means to register her birth until November.
You never saw an FMLN support action in the Bay Area without Rosa. She took part as an organizer, speaker and for outreach. Whether celebrating the August anniversaries for El Salvador, gathering donations for natural disaster relief in El Salvador, or FMLN electoral campaigns, Rosa was there.
We first met Rosa in October 1987 when we held an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of revolutionary Che Guevara’s martyrdom in Bolivia. She attended in solidarity and never left us. We became comrades when Rosa joined the party we were in at the time, Workers World Party.
Cuba was a touchstone for Rosa, and any solidarity activity or struggle that Cuba was engaged in, she put her efforts into. Rosa was involved for 13 years fighting for the freedom of the Cuban Five heroes, political prisoners of the U.S. empire.
Before their freedom struggle was launched in 2001, Rosa was a participant in the second Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba, in July 1993. The caravan was a historic challenge to the U.S. blockade that was intensified due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Inspired by Cuba’s resistance to the Empire, the U.S. movement joined with the worldwide movement to defend the Revolution.
In June 2004, Rosa was a founding member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. She was a determined anti-imperialist and often spoke at the famed corner of 24th and Mission Streets in the Latino district of San Francisco, whether it was opposing the U.S. blockade on Cuba and Venezuela, defending women’s rights, supporting the Zapatistas, condemning police brutality in the city, or raising the Palestinian cause.
In the midst of all her political and social involvement, Rosa raised her son Ricardo and daughter Lorena with the utmost love as a single mother, working full time for many years in the telephone company. Later, as grandmother to Cidney Jr. and Peyton, she often drove to Hercules across the Bay to help with childcare.
Those of us who knew Rosa were amazed at how hard-working and resilient she was, even into her 70s and 80s. She devoted her waking time in all her roles as mother, grandmother, worker, revolutionary. She was warm and generous, and always loved having comrades and other activists stay at her home when they came from out of town for political actions. You knew you would get five-star treatment!
When the five Cuban revolutionaries — later known as the Cuban Five — were convicted in June 2001 after a trumped-up political prosecution for defending their homeland against U.S.-sponsored terrorism, Rosa helped found the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the first such committee formed in the world. With the committee, Rosa traveled to court hearings, rallies and forums in Houston and Beaumont TX, Miami, Atlanta, Washington DC, New York City, Kentucky, Nashville TN, and El Salvador.
She was a frequent visitor of two Cuban Five heroes, Gerardo Hernández, in Victorville CA prison, and Ramón Labañino, in Beaumont TX prison and later in McCreary prison, Pine Knot, KY. She regularly wrote to all the Five Heroes on stationery laced with perfume, with drawings, poetry, sending books, and pictures of her grandchildren.
Gerardo Hernández sent her a personal message a few days before she died. Rosa was visibly moved as his letter was read to her. He wrote:
“This card can’t be perfumed like yours, nor does it carry those beautiful stickers, but it has all the love of so many people here who do not forget you. I learned you were having health problems, but we who know you, know you are a warrior and you will give it your all. I want you to know that here, not a day passes without the Five remembering the compañeros and compañeras who accompanied us for so many years, and who with their solidarity made possible the joy we are living today. And you were one of the pioneers! For that we are eternally grateful. Imagine, Gema is five years old and the twins Ambar and Gerardito are three. Adri [Adriana, Gerardo’s wife] also sends you a big kiss. Keep fighting my sister, we love you a lot and from here we will be accompanying you. As you used to say in your letters, ‘Hasta la victoria siempre!!’ A big kiss, Gerardo”
Sadly, Rosa’s son Ricardo died in 2018 after a prolonged illness, a major blow to her and her family. Rosa stayed by his side during his illness, together with her daughter Lorena. She is survived by her devoted daughter and son-in-law Cidney, grandsons Cidney, Jr. and Peyton, her partner David Fugere, her sister Margarita, her brothers Oscar and Ricardo Dueñas, and many nieces and nephews.
We who knew Rosa will miss her dearly, but she will remain forever an inspiration as a woman who, in the words of Gerardo Hernández, “gave it her all.”
Rosa Peñate, Presente!