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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn