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Cuban exiles in Miami yesterday condemned a dissident politician for his surprise decision to move to Havana and attempt to lead peaceful opposition to Fidel Castro’s regime.
Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo (68) announced his decision to live in Cuba at Havana airport where he had been expected to board a plane back to Miami with his wife and three sons after a short visit to the island.
Instead the dissident - who spent 22 years in a Cuban jail after trying to lead an armed rising against Mr Castro in 1964 - told journalists: “I’m publicly declaring my right to stay in Cuban territory.”
The declaration came as a shock to Gutierrez-Menoyo, who said she had been given no warning that her husband would be staying behind until he began addressing the press. She boarded the plane with their sons, and later expressed her support from Miami.
But news of the decision caused uproar in the rest of the Cuban exile community in Miami.
“I’m very disappointed with Menoyo,” Huber Matos, another fellow rebel leader told the Miami Herald.
“He is not the man he used to be. To me, he is allowing himself to be used by Fidel to make it look to the world that the opposition is allowed to exist in Cuba, while we know that those who oppose the government are punished.”
Gutierrez-Menoyo is a former revolutionary who fought by Mr Castro’s side in the 1950s but broke with him and tried to rally support against him in 1964 at the head of an armed faction called Alpha 66.
He was captured in 1965 and jailed for 30 years, but released in 1986 after the intervention of the Spanish prime minister at the time, Felipe Gonzalez.
The rebel, who is Spanish-born, returned to Spain but a few years later moved to Miami, where he set up a moderate opposition movement called Cambio Cubano (Cuban Change).
It advocates dialogue with the Havana government with the aim of working towards a peaceful transition to democracy.
At Havana airport on Thursday, Gutierrez-Menoyo distributed a four-page manifesto, entitled “Message to all Cubans for a New Revolution”, to explain his actions.
“My decision to not go back to exile and instead settle in Cuba definitely comes as direct result of a careful and profound analysis of the country’s situation and from an understanding that I can be more useful here than abroad,” the document said. He denied that he was being manipulated, and implied that the exiles in Miami were doing Washington’s bidding.
“I reject any kind of destabilising movements or those that act for the interests of foreign powers or governments,” Gutierrez-Menoyo said.
The main exile movement, the Cuban American National Foundation, denounced Gutierrez-Menoyo, arguing that he would not be able to remain in Cuba without reaching an understanding with the Havana government, which this year launched a ferocious crackdown on dissidents.
State tribunals have sentenced 75 of them to prison terms of between six and 28 years.
“I imagine he is doing this because he is speaking the language the Castro dictatorship wants to hear,” said Mariela Ferretti, a foundation activist.
Some Cuban moderates were more supportive. Alfredo Duranz, the secretary of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, which opposes US sanctions on Cuba, said: “He is a Cuban patriot, as he always has been.
“You have to take your hat off to his courage. He is there non-violently and simply wants to exercise his civil rights and to live in his country.”