Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a former commander of the Cuban revolution who later broke with Fidel Castro, tried to overthrow him, and then spent 22 years in jail, has died, his widow says.
Gutierrez Menoyo, who was 77, suffered an aneurysm which caused hemorraghing and a heart attack that killed him before dawn on Friday at a Havana hospital, Flor Ester Torres Sanabria said.
She was speaking at a funeral home where a small group of friends, relatives and dissidents held a wake for him.
Gutierrez Menoyo was to be cremated and his funeral held in the capital on Saturday.
Born in Madrid in 1934, Gutierrez Menoyo emigrated to Cuba after World War II and attained the rank of revolutionary commander fighting alongside Castro in the 1950s revolution that toppled Fulgencio Batista.
Gutierrez Menoyo left Cuba in 1961 amid a difference in views with the Cuban leadership over its hardline Marxist-Leninist orientation.
After living in exile in Florida, he returned to Cuba in 1964 at the head of an armed anti-Castro group, was captured and sentenced to three decades behind bars. He was freed in 1986 after mediation by the Spanish government.
From Miami, he founded the opposition group Cambio Cubano [Cuban Change], advocating national reconciliation between Cuba and its diaspora.
Allowed to return to Cuba several times, he even spoke directly with Castro, the only opposition leader ever to do so.
In 2003, during one of his visits, he incurred the wrath of the anti-Castro community in Florida when he announced that he would not remain in exile.
Since then, he had lived amid discrete surveillance from authorities but without engaging in political activities, in eastern Havana’s Alamar neighbourhood.
He was a neat, elegantly dressed man who always pushed for change in Communist Cuba and was critical of the government.
‘Man who forgave’
Gutierrez Menoyo “was a man who forgave. After spending 22 years in prison, he carried a message of forgiveness and reconciliation so as to try to open up a gradual path to positive change,” said dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua.
“His death is truly lamentable. He was a person who, right up until his death, advocated national reconciliation,” added opposition economist Oscar Espinosa.
Gutierrez-Menoyo’s daughter Patricia, said it was her father’s fate to live a hard and courageous life.
“He spent his entire life fighting,” she said from Puerto Rico where she now lives. “The call of liberty grew in him and marked his life.”
In a final “testament” published in Spain’s El Pais newspaper on Friday, Gutierrez Menoyo lashed out at Cuban authorities.
“The Cuban government leaves no doubt about its inability to create progress,” Gutierrez Menoyo wrote.
“The constitution doesn’t work. The judicial system is a joke. The division of powers is not even a dream. Civil society remains, like progress, a dream postponed for fifty years.”
“Today, without losing my faith in the Cuban people, I maintain that this noble enterprise [the Cuban Revolution], full of generosity and lyricism, which should have placed Cuba at the forefront of progressivism, has exhausted its ability to be transformed into a viable project.”