Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a rebel leader in the Cuban revolution who went from fighting alongside Fidel Castro to spending 22 brutal years in prison after trying to overthrow him, has died. He was 77.
Gutierrez Menoyo died Friday of a heart attack at a Havana hospital, said his wife, Flor Ester Torres Sanabria.
After vacationing in Cuba in 2003, he decided to stay to promote democracy. Until his health began to fail in 2010, he had frequently spoken out against the communist government, but in measured tones that kept him out of jail.
Born Dec. 8, 1934, in Madrid, Gutierrez Menoyo was the youngest of six children and immigrated to Cuba with his parents when he was 12. His father was a physician and militant socialist, and his eldest brother died fighting against dictator Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
In Cuba, another brother was killed in 1957 while leading a failed attack on the presidential palace of Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista. Gutierrez Menoyo was part of the attack group but escaped.
Months later he formed and commanded a guerrilla group, which allied itself with Castro's forces in the last days of the uprising that ended Batista's dictatorship in 1959.
Gutierrez Menoyo was awarded the rank of commandante but became disenchanted with Castro and in 1961 went into exile in Florida, where he organized a resistance group that carried out attacks inside Cuba.
Returning to Cuba for a raid in late 1964, he was captured after a month. Blindfolded, he was taken before what he thought would be a firing squad. Instead, he found himself facing Castro.
"Eloy, I knew you would come, but I also knew that I would catch you," Gutierrez Menoyo later recalled Castro as saying.
After a 30-minute trial, Gutierrez Menoyo was condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to 30 years in jail.
Prison was "so brutal, so violent, so savage, that to go on living I had to forget," he told The Times in 1995.
While imprisoned, he lost vision in one eye and hearing in one ear. He was freed in 1986 after an international campaign for his release and through the intercession of the Spanish government.
He went into exile, first in Madrid and then a year later in Miami, where he ultimately adopted a position of peaceful dialogue with Castro's government.
In 1992, he founded Cambio Cubano, which was seen as a centrist group that promoted reconciliation among Cubans of all political stripes. But some members of the exile community considered it soft and politically accommodating.
"He felt he was Cuban," said Jorge Castellon, a Miami exile and former rebel who once fought alongside him. "He fought for Cuba, and his wish was to be buried in Cuba."
In addition to Gutierrez Menoyo's wife, his survivors include a daughter and three sons.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun