Former Cuban rebel leader announces return from exile to run opposition group

Thursday, August 7th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HAVANA (AP) _ Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, a rebel leader in the Cuban revolution who long ago broke with Fidel Castro's government and served 22 years in prison, said Thursday he was returning from exile to operate an opposition movement.

Gutierrez-Menoyo, who traveled to the communist island several weeks ago for a family vacation, said he would stay to promote democracy.

The 68-year-old former rebel commander made his announcement at Havana's international airport, where he was seeing off his wife and three sons who had come with him for the vacation.

``They are leaving, but this time I harbor the hope that they can be reunited with me in the near future,'' Gutierrez-Menoyo told reporters. ``At the same time, I hope that one day Cubans can enter and leave their country freely without the need for a visa.''

Castro's government, which has maintained a cautious relationship with Gutierrez-Menoyo since he met with the Cuban leader in 1995, had no immediate response.

Gutierrez-Menoyo has been granted permission several times to make nonpolitical family visits to his homeland in recent years.

His Cambio Cubano movement, which promotes dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans of all political stripes, including Castro's government, is seen as far more centrist than most opposition groups.

The slender man with long, thinning white hair and metal framed spectacles said he initially planned to stay with relatives in Havana.

Gutierrez-Menoyo insisted that he was not violating the law by remaining in Cuba, but it was unclear if Cuban authorities would agree or if they would see his move as a challenge to the government.

Gutierrez-Menoyo insisted it was not a challenge and his actions would be peaceful.

``I come to work for an open agenda in favor for peace and the reconciliation of all Cubans,'' he said.

``I reaffirm my belief in a social democratic ideal tied to the world's progressive movements,'' he added. ``I reject any kind of destabilizing movements or those that act for the interests of foreign powers or governments.''

Gutierrez-Menoyo, who is nearly blind, was a commander who fought in the Cuban revolution that triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959, when then-President Fulgencio Batista left the country, leaving Castro in power.

Gutierrez-Menoyo later broke ranks and went to Miami, where he became military leader for the newly formed anti-Castro group Alpha 66.

In 1964, he landed in Cuba with three men in hopes of launching an armed uprising. But he was captured and went on to spend 22 years in Cuban prisons.

Since the 1980s, he has lived in exile, most recently in Miami.

Gutierrez-Menoyo has criticized the Cuban government's March crackdown on dissidents, including independent journalists, democracy activists and opposition political leaders.

Cuban prosecutors accused the dissidents of being mercenaries who were working with American officials to harm the socialist system _ something the defendants denied. Cuban tribunals later sentenced 75 of them to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years.