Dissident who fought with Castro, then against him, dies

Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo spent 22 years in jail but later advocated dialogue with the Cuban leader

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 3:27am


Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, who fought against the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, then spent 22 years in prison for fighting Fidel Castro's dictatorship and finally returned to the island for a controversial attempt at dialogue, died in Havana.

Gutierrez Menoyo, 77, suffered from an inoperable aneurysm and died at the Hermanos Amejeiras Hospital, said his longtime friend Max Lesnik, a Miami radio commentator visiting Havana at the time.

In his last commentary on Cuba, dictated to a daughter when he knew he was dying, the controversial fighter defended his history and wrote that the Castro revolution, while it was initially "marked by poetry", had now "run out of steam".

"I served Cuba in different stages, beyond the errors of my authenticity, of any lack of vision on my part or of any stubbornness on the road. If I offended anyone, I ask for benevolence, just as I forget those who may have judged me too quickly," he wrote.

Gutierrez Menoyo was born in 1934 to a family of militant Madrid socialists. An older brother died fighting for the Republican side in the Spanish civil war, and the family moved to Cuba one year after the end of the second world war.

Another brother, Carlos, died leading a failed attack on the presidential palace in Havana to oust dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1957. Gutierrez Menoyo was part of the attack group, but escaped.

Gutierrez Menoyo, who retained a strong Madrid accent throughout his life, was awarded the rank of comandante after Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959. But within months he was criticising Castro's slide toward communism.

He escaped to Miami in 1961 and became chief of military operations of Alpha 66, an exile group that staged armed attacks against Cuba. Returning to Cuba for a raid in late 1964, he was captured four weeks later. Lore has it that Castro told him, "I knew you would come, but I also knew that I would catch you".

He was sentenced to death after a 30-minute trial, but that was later reduced to 30 years' jail.

He was finally freed in 1986, after serving 22 years in prison, following the intercession of Spain's then socialist prime minister, Felipe Gonzalez. Flown initially to Spain, he returned in 1987 to a warm welcome in Miami.

His founding of Cambio Cubano, which advocated negotiations with Castro, dimmed his image. Castro sent most of Cambio Cubano's leaders to prison.

Gutierrez Menoyo began returning to Cuba in the mid-1990s to take part in conferences between the government and largely sympathetic exiles, mostly to discuss migration issues, though he often spoke out on the need for political reform.

During one visit in 2003, he announced that he was staying, claiming his right as a Cuban citizen. The government allowed him to stay, but never gave him legal residence.