By Vanessa Bauza | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
HAVANA—He is a former rebel commander turned counterrevolutionary. The founder of an exile paramilitary group turned peace activist.
Now, even in the autumn of his life, Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, who served 22 years in Cuba’s prisons before moving to Miami, continues to reinvent himself and defy expectations.
Yesterday, in a characteristically quixotic move, Gutierrez-Menoyo, 68, announced plans to live out his years in Cuba and work for democratic reforms on the island, despite having no permission from Fidel Castro’s government.
‘‘I come to work toward the peace and reconciliation of all Cubans,’’ Gutierrez-Menoyo told reporters minutes before saying goodbye to his wife and three sons at Havana’s Jose Marti airport. ‘‘I come to claim a legal space for the opposition.’’
There was no response late yesterday from the Cuban government, which requires that Cuban-Americans apply for visas before visiting their homeland, and in many cases, Cuban passports. Visas are usually good for a few weeks. It is unclear whether Castro will allow Gutierrez-Menoyo to remain on the island.
Gutierrez-Menoyo and his family had traveled to Cuba on July 20 for a vacation and his visa was set to expire, he said. The decision, which shocked supporters and detractors in Miami, was the fruit of a carefully considered ‘‘analysis,’’ he said.
Asked if he isn’t naive in believing the Cuban government would allow him to operate an opposition movement here, Gutierrez-Menoyo replied, ‘‘The day I lose my dreams and naivete I will be lost.’’ Gutierrez-Menoyo kissed his wife, Gladys, and their three sons before they boarded their charter flight back to Miami.
As leader of the Second National Front in Cuba’s Escambray mountains, Gutierrez-Menoyo was one of the youngest rebel commanders to help defeat the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In 1959, he arrived in Havana to a hero’s welcome even before Castro and his guerrillas. But he soon clashed with Castro and in 1964 fled Cuba for Miami. Determined to reverse his role in the revolution, Gutierrez-Menoyo founded the exile paramilitary group Alpha 66 and in December 1964 returned to Cuba with a small band of counterrevolutionaries eager to start an insurrection. Gutierrez-Menoyo and the others were captured within weeks of landing in Cuba and he spent the next 22 years in some of Cuba’s worst prisons.