Friday, October 26, 2012
Gutiérrez Menoyo: "They've tried to erase me from history"
Condolences to the family of Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo. The former rebel fighter died this morning at a hospital in Havana.
Below is a story I wrote about Menoyo for the Dallas Morning News in August 2003.
Alone and nearly blind in one eye, a 68-year-old Cuban exile wants to bring democracy to the Western Hemisphere's last Marxist outpost.
Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo has already spent nearly 22 years in prison for opposing Fidel Castro. Undeterred, he's trying to organize a new opposition group in Cuba, risking deportation or another jail sentence.
"I could be kicked out of Cuba at any time for what I'm doing. I recognize that," he said. "Opposition groups are illegal in Cuba."
Cuban officials haven't responded publicly to his unusual quest. But privately, he said, they are "tremendously annoyed" by his dissident activities.
"What I want is that they recognize my status," he said. "As a Cuban, I have the right to stay here for the time I desire."
His visa will expire in early September, however.
Mr. Gutiérrez Menoyo was born in Spain in 1934, and his family settled in Cuba in 1948.
In 1957, he founded an independent rebel force - the Second Front of Escambray - and helped defeat then-dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Ignored by history
"At one time, I led 3,000 men," he said. "But you don't hear anything about that in Cuba. They've tried to erase me from history."
Mr. Gutiérrez Menoyo left the island and co-founded Alpha 66, a paramilitary group based in Miami. He and other Alpha 66 members returned to Cuba in December 1964 and tried unsuccessfully to topple the socialist government.
He was arrested in 1965 and initially sentenced to die by firing squad. That sentence was reduced to 30 years after he agreed to appear on Cuban television and say that his efforts to topple the government were not supported by the Cuban people.
While in prison, Mr. Gutiérrez Menoyo organized hunger strikes and refused to wear inmate garb, spending most of his time in his underwear. He said he was beaten, suffering broken ribs and a severe eye injury. He also lost most of his hearing in one ear.
He was released in 1986 and returned to the United States.
In 1993, Mr. Gutiérrez Menoyo renounced violence as a way to bring change to Cuba and founded Cambio Cubano, a moderate exile group. In 1995, he met with Mr. Castro and asked that his group be allowed to open an office in Havana, a request that was denied.
Some exiles in South Florida condemned him for meeting with the Cuban president, and he was shunned for years. But as time passed, opinion surveys show, more Cuban-Americans agreed that peaceful conversation - and not violence - is the best way to transform the Cuban government.
"We've tried to dialogue with Cuban officials," he said. "But it's been a waste of time. I came to Cuba to make up for that wasted time."
He arrived July 20 for a vacation with his wife, Gladys, and their three sons, Carlos, Miguel and Alex. Three weeks later, at Havana's international airport, he announced he was staying.
Mr. Gutiérrez Menoyo said he hasn't worked out the details of his planned group, but makes clear that he favors peace and reconciliation, not confrontation.
If Cuban leaders don't plan a political and economic transition, he said, there could be civil unrest or worse.
He runs the risk of arrest. Political dissent in Cuba is taboo. In March, 75 dissidents, journalists and other activists were arrested and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison. Cuban authorities said they were directed and financed by the American government; U.S. officials denied that.
In any case, Mr. Gutiérrez Menoyo said he hasn't asked for, and would not accept, U.S. support.
"They can't say I'm anyone's agent," he said. "I don't support any political opposition that is supported by a superpower."
He does not agree with the longtime American ban on trade with Cuba, saying that economic sanctions only bring more suffering. But he said he's convinced that democratic change in Cuba is inevitable.
Castro loyalists say the socialist system will endure.