Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, who fought against the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, then spent 22 years in prison for fighting the Fidel Castro dictatorship and finally returned to the island for a controversial attempt at dialogue, died Friday in Havana.
Gutierrez Menoyo suffered from an inoperable aneurism and died at the Hermanos Amejeiras Hospital at the age of 77, said his long-time friend Max Lesnik, a Miami radio commentator who learned of the death from Flor Ester Torres, Gutierrez’s widow.
In his last commentary on Cuba, dictated to a daughter when he knew he was dying, the perennial and controversial fighter wrote that the Castro revolution, while was initially “marked by poetry,” had now “run out of steam” and defended his history.
“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,” he wrote. “If I offended anyone … I ask for benevolence, just as I forget those who may have judged me too quickly.”
Gutierrez Menoyo’s daughter Patricia wrote that her father, who was born in Spain and retained a strong Madrid accent throughout his life, “died where he wanted to and where he had to be.”
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 World War II.
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 he escaped.
Seven months later, he founded the Second National Front of the Escambray mountains in central Cuba, a guerrilla force independent of Castro’s rebels in the Sierra Maestra to the east that eventually gathered 300 fighters. Among them were Lesnik and William Morgan, a U.S. citizen executed by Castro in 1961.
Olga Morgan, the widow of William Morgan and herself a veteran of the Escambray fighting, praised Gutierrez Menoyo as “a leader who was not a leader, but a brother.” As for his policies, she added, “each person takes their own road.”
“He felt he was Cuban. He fought for Cuba, and his wish was to be buried in Cuba,” added Jorge Castellon, a Miami exile who also fought alongside Gutierrez Menoyo in the Second Front.
Gutierrez Menoyo was awarded the rank of comandante after Batista fled Cuba on Jan. 1 1959. But within months he was criticizing 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.
Prison guards once beat him so badly, for refusing to wear the uniform of common prisoners, that he lost sight and hearing on his left side. And in 1970, he was sentenced to another 25 years for organizing an opposition movement from his cell.
Castro refused to include him among the 3,600 political prisoners freed following his controversial 1978-1979 dialogue with exiles, which Gutierrez Menoyo criticized as focusing too much on the prisoners and not enough on Cuba’s need for democracy.