Persuader who could loosen Castro's grip

Phil Davison in Havana meets Fidel's comrade turned bitter enemy, who thinks the Cuban leader may be revising his ideas on the uses of democracy

Could Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, a school-teacherish 59-year-old, persuade Fidel Castro to step down and bring democracy to Cuba? He thinks so, and so do many Cubans in exile. In the bitter and polarised world of Cuban politics, he has rare and mighty weapons: credibility and respect on both sides.

As "Comandante Eloy," he fought in Mr Castro's revolution, reaching Havana several days before his more famous comrade in 1959. Sickened by Mr Castro's pro-Moscow swing, Mr Menoyo fled to Miami in 1961 and set up the Alpha- 66 guerrilla group to overthrow the Cuban leader.

In 1965, he was captured in the Cuban mountains and spent 22 years in horrific jails, beaten so badly that he lost an eye and the hearing in one ear, and had all his ribs cracked. He was freed in 1987 and moved back to Miami.

Mr Menoyo recently became the first major Cuban exiled opposition leader to meet Mr Castro. They talked for over three hours - a possibly historic meeting which raised the hopes of moderates but brought cries of "traitor" and "Commie-lover" from hardline exiles in Miami.

In an interview in his Havana hotel, Mr Menoyo guarded details of his conversation with Mr Castro but left no doubt that he had pushed the idea of free elections, and the leader retiring.

The Miami hardliners think retirement is too good for Mr Castro and that he should face trial for the deaths of countless Cubans executed, drowned after fleeing or ravaged by hunger.

Mr Menoyo predicted civil war, anarchy and a probable US intervention in Cuba as a result of the island's deteriorating economy if a peaceful transition to democracy is not worked out soon. Mr Castro, he said, was pragmatic and too smart to end up like the Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu.

"He was very tranquil, courteous, very nice,'' Mr Menoyo said. ''I saw an individual of much more experience, of much more understanding, much more tolerant, very respectful, disposed to discuss like any other sincere person.

"I think we could have positive results. Why? Because the situation in this country is very grave and Fidel Castro is a very intelligent individual. He knows perfectly well that this is not a question of Marxist-Leninism but a problem of the salvation of the Cuban nation.''

Mr Menoyo believes the fact that he reached Havana first in January 1959, almost a week before Mr Castro's forces, always niggled his old comrade and may have led to the long jail term and maltreatment.

Mr Menoyo had led the 2nd National Front of Escambray in the central mountains while Mr Castro, "Che" Guevara and their 26th of July group were in the eastern Sierra Maestra. Even with the dictator Fulgencio Batista gone from the country and the revolution victorious, it took Mr Castro about a week to reach Havana, cheered in every village.

When Mr Menoyo was later captured as an anti-Castro guerrilla in January 1965, he was taken, blindfolded, to meet his old comrade. "When they took off the blindfold, I was in an immense salon with Fidel and all the senior leaders of Cuba. Fidel said 'Gallego, I knew you'd come back and I knew we'd capture you, dead or alive.' "

''Gallego'' means ''Galician'', but is often used by South Americans to refer to Spaniards in general. Mr Menoyo was born in Madrid; an older brother died fighting for the Republicans against Franco, and, after the family moved to Cuba, another brother died in an 1957 assault on Batista's presidential palace in Havana.

Mr Menoyo spent long periods in jail in his underwear because he refused to wear prison uniform. "I was in military uniform, wearing a combatant's armband when I was detained,'' he said. ''I should have been treated as a prisoner of war." He also staged many hunger strikes, often near-fatal. "If I'd retained hate for my captors, I wouldn't have been able to survive. I was thinking of the future reconstruction of my country, which is threatened with extinction via economic bankruptcy and other dangers.

"Fidel knows that we're in favour of the democratisation of Cuba, in favour of creating a mechanism of transition because Fidel is not eternal.

"Even if he was thinking of standing down, he couldn't do it at this moment, because no mechanism has been created for a transition. There could be incredible anarchy.

"In my opinion, a person who has worked so many years in the face of so many obstacles must be thinking of creating this type of mechanism of transition that would allow him to retire. Everybody has the right to retire.''

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week