Cuban exile leader returns to work for democracy


Cuban exile Eloy GutierrezMenoyo, a former comrade in arms of President Fidel Castro whobroke with his revolution, said today he had returned toCuba to work for democratic reforms on the communist-runisland.

"I return to work for a legal space for the opposition fromwhich we can build a future based on pluralism andcohabitation," said the former guerrilla leader, who spent 22years in prison for rebelling against Castro.

Menoyo, 68, was on a visit to Cuba with his family andannounced his decision to stay in Cuba at the airport as hisfamily departed for Miami, where he has lived in exile since1984.

There was no immediate reaction from Castro's government onwhether it would allow the prominent exile to stay in Cuba.

Menoyo, who met with Castro in 1995 in a bid to overcometheir differences, said the time had come to press for thelegalization of opposition groups in Cuba and work for a wayout of the country's political paralysis and economic crisis.

Cuba's one-party system does not allow opposition politicalgroups. In March, Castro launched a crackdown on a growingdissident movement and jailed 75 dissidents.

Menoyo, who has been allowed back to Cuba several times forfamily visits, said Castro had isolated the Caribbean island.

"You cannot join globalization with a country that only hasone political party. There has to be a legal space and that iswhat we demand for the opposition," he told foreign reporters.

Menoyo led the second front of Castro's guerrilla movementin the Escambray Mountains of central Cuba against dictatorFulgencio Batista, earning him the title of commander of therevolution that triumphed in 1959.

But he later fell out with Castro, left for exile in Miamiand helped form an armed anti-Castro group called Alpha 66,leading an unsuccessful landing in eastern Cuba in 1964. He wascaptured and jailed for 22 years.

Since his release in 1984, Menoyo has been an advocate ofreconciliation and moderate reform in Cuba, and an opponent ofthe US economic embargo against Cuba.

"Everyone says Fidel will never allow it. We believe that acountry that accepted the circulation of the dollar and foreigninvestment against its will, may have to accept democratizationeven though it does not want that at all," he said.

Menoyo, a social democrat who heads an exile group inMiami, said he had decided to act because waiting for Cuba toevolve away from communism could take decades.

"For me today is the start of a road to a new revolution,"he said.