HAVANA (AP) — Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, who went from rebel commander fighting alongside Fidel Castro to a foe launching commando raids against the island before settling inside Cuba as a moderate, pro-dialogue dissident, died early Friday. He was 77.
Gutierrez-Menoyo died of a heart attack at 5:30 a.m. at a Havana hospital, his wife Flor Ester Torres Sanabria told The Associated Press. Gutierrez-Menoyo was to be cremated and his funeral held in Havana on Saturday, family members said.
Gutierrez-Menoyo had lived permanently in Cuba since August 2003, after visiting the island during a family vacation and deciding to stay for good. Cuban authorities allowed him to remain despite his frequent criticisms of the government, but his immigration status was apparently never resolved.
The tall, slender man with long, wispy white hair and wire-framed spectacles had hoped to open an office on the island of his Cambio Cubano movement — but the dream was never realized. Nearly blind and hard of hearing, Gutierrez-Menoyo was seen occasionally in Havana at meetings involving moderate Cuban exiles.
Until his health began to fail him in 2010, Gutierrez-Menoyo frequently spoke out against the communist government, but in measured tones that kept him out of jail.
After Fidel Castro retired due to ill health in February 2008 and his brother Raul formally replaced him as president, Gutierrez-Menoyo expressed disappointment that Cuba’s communist system remained unchanged.
“Cuba cannot continue to corner itself, trying to convince the world that there is democracy here when a one-party system will never be a democracy,” he lamented.
The following year, he expressed doubts that Raul Castro could be an agent of change, despite the new president’s stated efforts to reform the island’s Marxist economy.
“They fear any type of opening that could cost them a good chunk of power,” Gutierrez-Menoyo told The Associated Press in one interview, referring to government leaders. “Right now Cuba needs a new revolution, and those who are governing don’t dare to carry out that new revolution.”
Formed in Miami in 1992, Cambio Cubano was seen as a centrist group, promoting dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans of all political stripes, including officials in Castro’s government. But some members of the exile community considered it soft and politically accommodating.
Several dissidents contacted by AP said they had no comment on Gutierrez-Menoyo’s death, and there was also no official reaction from the government. But one dissident did speak out, calling Gutierrez-Menoyo a champion of freedom.
“It is very sad. He was a person with a long history of fighting against tyranny in Cuba,” said Oscar Chepe Espinosa, a one-time state economist turned government opponent. “He was honest and he lived quietly these last years, but he always defended his point of view about reconciliation between all Cubans. I had the honor of calling him my friend.”
Daughter Patricia Gutierrez-Menoyo, reached in Puerto Rico where she now lives, said it was her father’s fate to live a hard and courageous life.
“He spent his entire life fighting,” she said. “The call of liberty grew in him and marked his life.”
Born Dec. 8, 1934, in Madrid, Spain, Gutierrez-Menoyo was the son and brother of men who fought against the Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.
One of his brothers died in combat in Spain as a member of the Spanish Republican forces. The family moved to Cuba in 1945 and another brother, Carlos, was killed in March 1957 during an attack on the presidential palace of Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista.
Gutierrez-Menoyo, who had opposed Batista’s government from the early 1950s, participated in the same attack. Later he formed and commanded the Second Front of Escambray, a rebel group that operated alongside but independently of guerrilla forces Castro led.
After the Cuban revolution’s January 1959 victory, Gutierrez-Menoyo’s Second Front was incorporated into the new government’s Revolutionary Army, but its senior officers were not granted positions of authority.
Although he had arrived in Havana as one of the triumphant “Commanders of the Revolution,” Gutierrez-Menoyo quickly broke with Castro and by 1961 was in exile in Miami helping form Alpha 66, an armed commando group dedicated to the violent overthrow of Castro’s government.
In December 1964, Gutierrez-Menoyo returned to Cuba with an armed band in hopes of launching an uprising, but they were captured after a month.
Gutierrez-Menoyo spent 22 years in Cuban prisons, losing vision in one eye and hearing in one ear. He was freed in 1986 through a petition of the Spanish government after an international campaign for his release.
He went into exile, first briefly to Madrid, and then a year later to Miami, where he ultimately adopted a position of peaceful dialogue with Castro’s government and founded Cambio Cubano.
He even met with Castro in 1995 — an encounter that was apparently never repeated.
A former wife, Gladys, and their three sons together, live in Miami. His daughter by an earlier marriage, Patricia Gutierrez-Menoyo, lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she runs a publishing house.
Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela; and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.
Paul Haven on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/paulhaven .
More Related Stories
- Illinois' fracking and coal rush is a national crisis
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11