Huber Matos, a former Fidel Castro commander who later broke with the Cuban revolution and served two decades in prison before going into exile, died in Miami early Thursday. He was 95.
The cause of death was a “massive heart attack,” according to a lengthy statement released by the family shortly after his death at 4 a.m.
Matos had been taken to Kendall Regional Hospital Tuesday and the next day asked to be disconnected from an oxygen system so he could “say farewell to his wife María Luisa Araluce, his children and grandchildren,” the family statement said.
Later Wednesday, Matos took calls from supporters in Cuba, including a group of activists who sang the Cuban national anthem over the phone, the statement said. It added: “His last words were ‘The struggle continues, long live a free Cuba’ ”
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Matos’ death closes one of the most significant chapters in Cuban history. Matos, a schoolteacher, joined the Castro revolution against Fulgencio Batista and helped provide weapons to rebels by staging supply flights from abroad.
Matos also embodied the widespread disillusion that many Cubans felt toward Castro when it became clear early on that the revolution was turning toward Communism. In 1961, three years after Batista fled Cuba, Castro openly acknowledged the “Socialist character” of the revolution. But in his autobiographical book, How the Night Arrived, Matos says he began harboring doubts about Castro and the revolution only seven months after Castro took over.
“I believe steps have been taken toward establishing a dictatorial government, probably of a Marxist nature,” recalled Matos of his thoughts in 1959 in his book, published in 2002.
Castro ultimately ordered Matos’ arrest and he ended up spending 20 years in prison. In 1979, he was released and quickly flew to Costa Rica, where his wife and children had lived since the 1960s.
The family then resettled in Miami.
After his death Thursday, the family revealed that in a letter he wrote before dying, he says he wants to be buried in Costa Rica. But the letter also says, according to the family, that he wants to be disinterred and reburied in his Cuban hometown of Yara, about 450 miles southeast of Havana, once democracy reigns on the island.
“I want to make my trip back to Cuba from the very land whose people always displayed solidarity and affection toward me,” Matos wrote in his last letter, a sort of political testament to be disclosed after his death. “I want to rest in Costa Rican soil until Cuba is free and from there go to Yara, to join my mother and reunited with my father and the Cuban people.”