Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, founder of Cambio Cubano, confronts a force as powerful as Castro: The exiles who condemn his moderate views
Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo is speaking about the need to obliterate the memories of time lost -- specifically, the two decades he spent in Cuban prisons. "You're constantly taking me back to jail and I need to erase that," he tells his interviewer, film director Jorge Ulla. It's one thing to recount the hunger strikes, the beatings, the irreparable damage to his body, but quite another to remember, much less to impart, exactly how during those years in prison the images of his wife and daughter retreated into his mind's deepest shadows.
For this documentary, though, he is willing to make an effort and with a pained expression he manages to convey a general notion of his suffering in places with names like La Cabana, El Principe, Boniato. Finally the discussion winds its way back to the troubling topic of memory: "You said you'd rather forget," Ulla reminds Gutierrez Menoyo. "Yet it's been 22 years in prison. We ask ourselves, 'Why forget?'" The former prisoner takes off his glasses, revealing a determination in his expression that must have been there all along. "Because prison in Cuba has been so brutal, so violent, that it hurts me to think of it," he answers. "For me to recover, I need to forget that. It's been so savage, so violent, so arbitrary. Castro has been so cruel to me, to all prisoners, that to go on living I must forget prison."
The interview is just one of several included in Ulla's 1988 Spanish-language film, Nobody Listened, co-directed by Nestor Almendros, about Gutierrez Menoyo and other plantados A Cuban political prisoners who received brutal treatment because of their refusal to enter the government's "rehabilitation" program. At the time of the filming, Gutierrez Menoyo was recovering both his physical and his psychological strength; photographs taken after his 1986 arrival in Madrid from Havana show an undernourished body lost somewhere in the folds of an enormous dark overcoat. He weighed just 110 pounds. These days he is still a slender man, but now at least there is more than a hint of a belly. Even after he gained back the weight, though, he says, much more time passed before he allowed himself to reflect on the horror of imprisonment, and especially on the beating by guards that cost him vision in one eye and hearing in one ear.
When he moved to Miami in 1987 Gutierrez Menoyo was given a hero's welcome -- rallies and press conferences similar to those that heralded last month's July 21 arrival of Mario Chanes de Armas, another long-term political prisoner. Like Chanes, upon his arrival in Miami Gutierrez Menoyo harshly criticized Castro. But he soon became a relatively quiet voice in the exile community and he has only recently re-emerged, now viewing his memory as something to be exploited rather than feared. These days he keeps his voluminous trunk of recollections open wide, willing to rummage through it with any reporter who comes knocking on his door. His closest friends say he would never parade his suffering without some larger goal in mind A namely, a peaceful resolution to Cuba's current crisis and a desire to draw Fidel Castro into a discussion of how to bring it about.
Gutierrez Menoyo is unique -- a Cuban ex-warrior turned aspiring peacemaker. This is the same man, after all, who founded Alpha 66 and who led the paramilitary organization until he was captured in Cuba while attempting to foment rebellion. But despite his years of militant opposition to Castro, his newfound pacifism in no way runs counter to the deeper motives behind his life's work. His sense of himself as an exile willing -- indeed expecting -- to be sacrificed for a cause predated Castro and even Gutierrez Menoyo's life in Cuba. He is the last remaining son in a Spanish family of exiled and martyred sons, a born underdog who also survived punishment from Castro's predecessor, Fulgencio Batista, and before him, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. For such a man, a stint of more than two decades in prison was not as implausible as walking out of jail and into a life of ease, a life without conflict. And instead of settling into the comfortable place prepared for him by former comrades at el exilio's table, he has set himself in opposition to them.
Earlier this year, Gutierrez Menoyo and a small group of followers formed Cambio Cubano (Cuban Change), an exile organization whose principal objective is to employ dialogue with the Cuban government as a means to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy on the island. With only about 100 contributing members, the financially strapped group is counting on Gutierrez Menoyo's unassailable anti-Castro record to increase its notoriety and, at the same time, to protect it from the inevitable charges -- especially among local exiles -- of cozying up to the Cuban leader.
In the past, a fanatical fringe of the exile community has shown little reluctance to ruin the reputations of people who publicly hold moderate views. Or worse. Radio commentator Emilio Milian had his legs blown off in 1976 by a car bomb after he suggested on the air that exiles tone down their violent actions. Although Gutierrez Menoyo is suggesting something far more unpalatable -- direct talks with the devil himself -- hard-liners are finding it difficult to make red-baiting labels like dialoguero and comunista stick to him.
A reporter for one of Miami's Spanish-language television stations is hesitant to speak on the record, but having been guaranteed anonymity, he notes that the 58-year-old ex-political prisoner presents the extreme Cuban American right with a conundrum. "If anyone else had come out and said what he has said recently, at least a hundred people would have dedicated themselves to his destruction," the reporter maintains. "He would be censured and burned, and that would be the end of him. But they can't touch this man."
They seem to know, as Gutierrez Menoyo does, that his history of suffering and sacrifice in la lucha provides a shield more durable than conviction.
Any verbal attack on Gutierrez Menoyo must somehow circumvent the idea of a man spending the prime years of his life in prison, with all the consequent physical and emotional trauma -- images hardly conceivable to anyone who hasn't been through it.
In January of 1965, along with three comrades from Alpha 66, Gutierrez Menoyo was captured on an eastern Cuban mountain surrounded by Castro's troops. After a 30-minute trial, he was sentenced to death. In exchange for his agreement to appear on Cuban television to swear that the island's residents had not supported him in his rebellion, the punishment was commuted to 30 years in prison.
Transferred from one Cuban jail to another (he did time in a total of six), Gutierrez Menoyo continued his resistance to the Castro regime. He and other plantados spent years dressed only in their underwear because of their refusal to wear prison uniforms, but his opposition went far beyond vestiary protests. In late 1965 he entered the notorious Isle of Pines prison, whose guards were then forcing some 5000 political prisoners to work from dusk till dawn at a nearby rock quarry. "I told the guards that I was not going to work, because I was a political prisoner who had been captured with an arm in hand, a uniform, and an armband," Gutierrez Menoyo explains with the same note of conviction he must have sounded at the time. "I reminded them that the Cuban government was a signer of the Geneva Convention, which says that political prisoners cannot be forced into hard labor. They feared that all the other prisoners who were working would take the same position, and so they decided to make an example of me.
"They started it in the cell block after everyone had left except those who were sick or without boots to work. They began hitting me and kicking me and finally dragged me to a truck and threw me in the back. They drove me to the quarry, and there in front of all the other prisoners they began hitting me with their fists, with wooden planks, and with the flat sides of machetes. Finally the guards pushed me down the bank onto a heap of stones. That fall did as much damage as anything."
It was months before he could walk again. Sight in his left eye and hearing in his left ear were gone forever. Not that the brutal beating marked the end of his activism; in the mid-1970s the Castro regime added another 25 years to his sentence after finding him guilty of attempting to organize secret resistance groups in Havana and other cities from his jail cell. And again in 1978, Gutierrez Menoyo angered his jailers by telling a group of U.S. journalists who visited him in prison that he opposed an upcoming series of contacts between Castro and certain members of the exile community. The so-called 1978 dialogue, which was limited to the topic of political prisoners, led to the release of some 3600 people. "I made sure [the journalists] understood that I would be willing to talk with Castro, provided that we would be discussing the liberty of the Cuban people," Gutierrez Menoyo recalls. "I would be ready to talk with him about freedom of the press, religious liberty, the right to congregate, and the right to organize unions." His statements almost surely cost him another eight years in jail -- he was one of several hundred prisoners whom Castro refused to release after the dialogue.
Gutierrez Menoyo remained in jail until 1986, when Castro finally granted a request by Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to let the internationally famous prisoner go.
After so many years, freedom was bizarre. "My time in prison was spent in a small space, either in solitary confinement or with a small number of people," Gutierrez Menoyo recounts. "This creates a form of immobility. When you leave prison, you see people in the street and think they're moving at an incredible velocity. And because you've been in prison 22 years, you remain behind. But little by little the distance between you and others closes, and you realize that the people are not traveling as fast as you thought they were -- until the moment arrives that you have put yourself back into time."
On a typical day, Gutierrez Menoyo now runs with the best of them, stopping in at Cambio Cubano's offices on SW 94th Avenue near Bird Road before dashing off to a meeting with supporters and then on to a live interview on Spanish-language radio. Naturally, people are interested in his dark tales from the gulag, but there's more to it than that. Ever since Armando Valladares attained worldwide prominence with Against All Hope, his book about life in Cuban prisons, Miami's media have worn the horrendous treatment of Cuban political prisoners into just another threadbare topic of exile. What distinguishes Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, what makes his pain seem so fresh, and what has won him so much publicity of late, is what a former president might have called "the Gandhi thing." Reuben Hernandez, a Cambio Cubano member, gushed about Gutierrez Menoyo after a recent meeting of the organization: "He has brought a level of integrity and spirituality to the debate on Cuba that was missing before. He is facing the devil on the other side. We view this like Gandhi against Great Britain. This man has been in jail, he knows about suffering, and he wants to spare his people from that same suffering."
Max Lesnik, who fought with Gutierrez Menoyo against Batista and who now helps him run Cambio Cubano, resists such far-reaching comparisons. But he does agree that his old friend views himself as a martyr to the Cuban cause. Sitting in the office of Replica, the Spanish-language news magazine he edits, Lesnik pulls out a back issue containing a story about the funeral of Cesar Chavez, the revered organizer of migrant farm workers. Lesnik's daughter is married to Chavez's son; both he and Gutierrez Menoyo were invited to the funeral. In one photo accompanying the story, Gutierrez Menoyo stands with Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy, and Cardinal Rogelio Mahoney. "Eloy listened to Cardinal Mahoney speaking about Chavez's life," says Lesnik. "He was very impressed and he whispered to me, 'That is my destiny A to suffer for others.' He wasn't trying to compare himself to Chavez and he would never say something like that to a journalist. It was a spontaneous outburst that shows what I would call his deep need for sacrifice." The key to Gutierrez Menoyo's self-image is his family history, Lesnik adds: "Eloy's family is one of tragedy, and he is a man of tragedy."
Born in Madrid as the youngest of six children, Gutierrez Menoyo grew up during the horrible aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. His father, Dr. Carlos Gutierrez Zabaleta, was a general practitioner and a militant Socialist before becoming a major in the medical corps of the Republican army fighting Franco. The dictator's victorious forces jailed him for several months in 1939 and then stripped him of his livelihood by prohibiting him from practicing medicine. "The war ended when I was five," Gutierrez Menoyo remarks. "From that time on I learned what it was like to live in a country that has gone through a very bloody war. I know from memory what it's like to live in a country in which there isn't even a rat or a cat or a dog to eat. My infancy was one that was very hard, very violent."
Compounding the physical suffering was the pain of loss. Gutierrez Menoyo's oldest brother Jose Antonio was killed in the battle of Majadahonda, near Madrid, after volunteering to fight the Franquistas when he was just sixteen. Franco's triumph led the family's second-oldest son, Carlos, to flee Spain to join the Free French Second Armored Division of Gen. Jacques Leclerc; he fought under both Leclerc and Gen. George S. Patton in Europe during World War II. After the war he began working to rescue his family from Franco's oppression, immigrating to Cuba in 1946 and bringing his loved ones to join him A first his mother and his three sisters and finally his brother Eloy and his father.
On March 10, 1952, a coup d'etat brought former dictator Fulegencio Batista back to power in Cuba. As the oldest of two remaining brothers, Carlos maintained the family tradition and marched onto a new field of political combat. He began organizing resistance to Batista, embarking on a path that led to his death. He was killed in 1957 along with dozens of other combatants inside Batista's presidential palace in Havana, after leading an assault to bring down the dictator. Eloy, then 22, had provided logistical support to the rebels, running messages and guns as well as operating several safe houses. Gutierrez Menoyo's involvement remained undiscovered by Batista's forces, which granted him a lone visit to a Havana morgue to identify the bodies.
"I faced a difficult moment," he says, his voice lowered in understatement. A hint of old pain subtly undermines his habitual stoicism. "They had thrown all of those who died in the palace on the floor. I went in and identified my brother and a great number of friends who had fallen. It was an ugly matter, but the mind immediately seeks its equilibrium."
After his brother's death, Gutierrez Menoyo initiated his own guerrilla movement. "It's a question of not allowing yourself to become paralyzed," he affirms. "The struggle is inconclusive. Well, then, we must continue it. It all made me feel useful in the same cause for which my brother had died, and that helped calm my mind. I had always seen my brother as a model to follow. I was very young, but I did fulfill my role."
He did so first as the head of a revolutionary student organization, and then as a rebel leader in the Escambray mountains of central Cuba. When Batista finally fell, Gutierrez Menoyo's force of more than 3000 men entered Havana several days before Castro's arrival. Although Gutierrez Menoyo held no position in the new government, he did initially support Castro as the leader of the revolution. But he says he became disillusioned as his former ally against Batista began moving that revolution further and further to the left, and in January 1961, Gutierrez Menoyo and thirteen others fled Cuba in a small fishing boat, landing in Key West after nineteen hours at sea.
He spent the next six months at a U.S. detention center in McAllen, Texas. Once freed, he settled in Miami and married his first wife, Tania Salas. And he wasted no time in forming his own paramilitary organization, naming it Alpha 66ASecond Escambray Front, after the brigade he had led in Cuba. On December 28, 1964, nearly three years after he had left Cuba, he and three other men infiltrated the island, an action that would determine the course of his life for the next two decades.
A peasant reported the landing to the government, and Castro's troops began an intensive pursuit of the four rebels, capturing them 28 days later. After a week of interrogation, Gutierrez Menoyo recalls, he was blindfolded and taken from his cell to what he thought would be the wall of a firing squad. When the blindfold was removed, he was facing Castro, Fidel's brother Raul, and some 40 senior members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. He remembers clearly Fidel's first words to him: "Eloy, I knew you would come, but I also knew I would catch you."
Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo makes a point of telling everyone how he has overcome his hatred of Castro and dedicated himself to the peaceful healing of his country. Prison, he says, taught him how to coolly view the man who stole a large chunk of his life. "When you spend a long time surrounded only by four walls, you discover that the human being has a series of resources that are incredible," he says. "Among them is the strong sense that if you don't eliminate your hatred, that same hatred will contribute to your destruction."
He would never call Castro a "demented criminal" or any of the other names tossed about so frequently in the exile community. "Castro is our adversary, and in our adversary we must recognize intelligence and astuteness," he states. "And since he's a smart individual who's managed to remain in power all of these years, we have to realize that he will be willing to negotiate to save at least a fraction of what he has built in Cuba."
The country's economic ruin is certain if Castro continues refusing to deal with opponents both on and off the island, he asserts, adding that even the dramatic steps recently announced by the Cuban government -- legalizing the possession of U.S. dollars and allowing exiles to visit relatives in Cuba -- only prolong the inevitable. "The Cuban nation is still on the verge of an economic collapse," he stresses. "It may happen in the near-term or the medium-term, depending on what Castro does to delay it, but it will happen. What will it mean? It will mean that Cuban mothers will not have a way to feed their children. It will create an anarchic situation that will probably lead to a civil war and hundreds of thousands of sick and dead. We'll have the equivalent of a Bosnia and a Somalia in Cuba, and, of course, that will bring U.S. intervention and a loss of national sovereignty for decades. Many people don't understand what war means, but I do."
Gutierrez Menoyo says his concerns about Cuba's sovereignty and its people's suffering led him to oppose the Torricelli Law (named for New Jersey Democratic Rep. Robert Torricelli), designed to tighten the U.S. embargo against Cuba. While Gutierrez Menoyo supports using the embargo as a negotiating tool, he labels the Toricelli Law another Platt Amendment, through which Congress in 1901 gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuba's internal affairs. And he asks why the United States would want to participate with Castro in the destruction of the Cuban economy. "With the Torricelli Law, the United States is trying to stab Fidel Castro 40 times to finish him off," he says. "But since Castro is dying anyway, it doesn't matter. What matters is that the Cuban people are also receiving those 40 knife wounds."
Many of Gutierrez Menoyo's positions were outlined in a Cambio Cubano manifesto published as a full-page ad in El Nuevo Herald and other Spanish-language newspapers on March 18 of this year, two months after the announcement of the group's formation. Since then, members of the incipient organization have been busy compiling phone lists of media organizations, seeking contacts with influential Washington officials, and searching for ways to finance their activities. But it is Gutierrez Menoyo who remains the center of attention both for those inside Cambio Cubano and those who keep an eye on it. He seems well aware that officials in Havana and Washington are more likely to be impressed by political clout than by personal travail. And he knows Cambio Cubano will only succeed in gaining that clout at the expense of the Cuban American National Foundation and other right-wing organizations based in Miami. Cambio Cubano's March manifesto contained its share of barbs, nearly all of them reserved for the Cuban American right. "We wish to contribute to the projection of a new image for Cuban exiles," reads a typical passage, "which we will use to wipe out the -- to some extent justified Astereotypes of political atavism, right-wing totalitarianism, intellectual intolerance, socioeconomic elitism, and excessive loyalty and support for the United States government during the terms of office of Presidents Reagan and Bush."
Despite his claim of wide support in the Cuban American community, only Gutierrez Menoyo signed the ad. Even now he is reluctant to name other leaders of the organization, explaining that at this early point in its development, he alone must act as front man. He alone must face the political and financial monolith of the Cuban American National Foundation, whose chairman, Jorge Mas Canosa, rejects the notion of dialogue with Castro.
"I signed the Cambio Cubano document for strategic reasons," Gutierrez Menoyo insists. "If 100 or 200 others had signed it, Mas Canosa and his followers would have gone after them. They would have said, 'Oh, this person has this history and that person said such-and-such in 1978,' and so on. 'Gutierrez Menoyo is a good person but he is being surrounded and misled by Castro's collaborators.' No, I assume the responsibility for what I say and if they want to attack me, they can go ahead."
Mas Canosa and other big names in the exile community have not only avoided attacking him directly, he adds, but they've avoided mentioning him, period, and above all, they have avoided giving him any chance to engage them in debate. This past month he invited three prominent Cuban American hard-liners -- Mas Canosa, Armando Perez Roura, the news director and general manager of Radio Mambi (WAQI-AM 710), and Andres Nazario Sargen, leader of Alpha 66 A to a roundtable discussion on Cuba, to be broadcast on Spanish-language television's WLTV-TV (Channel 23). Because only Nazario Sargen accepted, Channel 23 canceled the debate. Both Mas Canosa and Perez Roura claimed they were too busy, but Gutierrez Menoyo says he heard they simply didn't want to raise his status by appearing with him on television. "With my history, I could say the same thing to them," he grumbled recently to a group of 40 followers at a Sunday breakfast meeting of Cambio Cubano's financial committee.
Held at Casa Alberto, a restaurant on the corner of SW 87th Avenue and Sunset Drive, the meeting dealt mainly with the precarious state of Cambio Cubano's finances. At least 100 people have committed to donate $100 a month in order to provide $10,000 in operating expenses. But several members are having a hard time making payments. One proposed solution, a drive for new members, depends on Gutierrez Menoyo's ability to remain in the public spotlight.
So far Gutierrez Menoyo has proven himself a publicity maven, giving strongly worded interviews in recent weeks to a number of publications. The New York Times, for example, published a sympathetic piece about Cambio Cubano on June 27, under the headline, "Moderate Cuban Voices Rise in U.S.," and followed it July 4 with a glowing story about the organization's leader. But Gutierrez Menoyo staged perhaps his biggest public relations coup weeks earlier, when Cambio Cubano held a reception for Haiti's president-in-exile, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The event, attended by more than 1000 Haitians and Cubans, received wide coverage in the local media, much of it highlighting Gutierrez Menoyo's "challenge" to members of the far right, who view Aristide as a friend of Castro.
Gutierrez Menoyo says that the ample press coverage, while failing to end the public silence of traditional Cuban American leaders, has brought retaliation. "Traditional organizations that seek a monopoly in el exilio have allowed the radio stations they control to be used, not to discuss [Cambio Cubano's] positions, but to defame me," he says angrily. "It's been a systematic campaign. For a while it was so bad that you couldn't turn on a radio without hearing something negative about Gutierrez Menoyo. But since my history is very well-defined, I think they've made a tactical mistake by choosing to attack me rather than discussing Cambio Cubano's manifesto."
Other members of Cambio Cubano stress that no one -- not even Gutierrez Menoyo -- can expect to oppose the exile powers-that-be and avoid slander. "The more well-known figures of the right are not attacking Gutierrez Menoyo," says one Cambio Cubano official, who asked not to be named. "But there is a dirty campaign by elements that lend themselves to this kind of work. They use open-microphone radio programs to call him a swine and a traitor."
The real work of Cambio Cubano, the same Cambio Cubano official contends, lies in breaking through barricades of fear in both Miami and Havana. "There is something worse than fear, and that is insurmountable fear. It's evident in the conduct of people who in private are in agreement with our position. But when they go to demonstrate it in public, they feel this insurmountable fear and they adopt the contrary position. This is something symptomatic of a totalitarian society. It's there in Cuba, but it's also here. I'm confident we will eventually defeat it in both places."
Those less optimistic include Lisandro Perez, associate professor of sociology and director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. In a recent opinion piece published in the Miami Herald, Perez points to statements by Gutierrez Menoyo as evidence of "a growing space within the exile community for such departures from the hard line." But he also notes that the militant fringe of the exile community, frustrated by Castro's continued hold on power in a post-Cold War world, has also heightened its activity, including "virulent campaigns" of slander and defamation.
"The darkest side of this trend -- a rise in terrorism -- has yet to rear its head fully," Perez warns. "But it is probably not long in coming. Historical patterns show that bombings and other life-threatening violence in America's Cuban communities increase when the cause of Castro's overthrow appears lost, when moderates attempt to claim political space, when frustration levels are highest, and when the militant media crank up the denunciatory machine and heat up the climate in the community."
Asking Gutierrez Menoyo if he is frightened by such potential ugliness draws an uncharacteristically disdainful stare. "Look, really," he objects, shaking his head. "Since I was born I've known what it's like to live at risk. I have been in combat on more than twenty occasions, at the point of losing my life. And that life has been one of moving from one danger to the next, from one risky situation to the next. So then if you say to me that here in a free country, where I have the right to give opinions, express myself, and organize others, that I have to be afraid of anyone, I would say calmly to you that for me that is foolishness. No one frightens me, or preoccupies me, or is going to pressure or coerce me or fill me with fear. I live outside of that which is fear."
To listen to Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo argue with opponents is to understand the power of his public speech, with its masterful blend of personal woe and political faith -- themes that for him are as inseparable as mind and body. In a recent on-air interview, he clashed with Marcia Morgado of WCMQ-AM (1210) over the issue of whether Castro and his followers should be made to pay for their crimes.
GUTIERREZ MENOYO: Look, I have lost sight in an eye and hearing in an ear -- the result of a beating. But what I'm saying is this -- when Cuba is liberated, are we going to collect payment for an eye and an ear, or are we going to reconstruct the country? If we dedicate ourselves to collecting payments, Marcia, it won't be a question of collecting three or four in Cuba. There are thousands and thousands. There are more than three decades of suffering, hatred, killing, and torture. When will we stop it? When will we say, 'Enough?'
MORGADO: I believe we will say, 'Enough,' when Cuba is free, when there is a system in which it can be said that this person...suffered at the hands of that person -- beatings, electroshocks, shooting at balseros trying to leave, et cetera -- and that these crimes carry a sentence of five years or fifteen or whatever.
GUTIERREZ MENOYO: Marcia, Marcia. Then we will have to incarcerate thousands and thousands of people.
MORGADO: If it's necessary.
GUTIERREZ MENOYO: No. In the Cuba we want, it will be a lot better to avoid full jails.
Such give-and-take encounters represent just a fraction of Gutierrez Menoyo's daily work. But as dedicated as he is to his cause, he confesses that he also yearns for privacy. His first wife and his daughter now live in Puerto Rico. Gutierrez Menoyo remarried shortly after moving to Miami. He and his wife, Gladys, their two sons, ages one and three, and Gladys's fifteen-year-old daughter from another marriage live in a comfortable suburban house off Miller Drive near Tropical Park. Gladys manages the couple's two businesses, a glass factory and a small medical-care company for homebound elderly patients, while Gutierrez Menoyo devotes himself to Cambio Cubano. He laments not having more time for his wife and children and he relishes those occasional evenings when he can take a swim with his two boys in the backyard pool. Because he speaks only a few words of English, he takes special pride in his sons' acquisition of the language.
"My sentence [in Cuba] would not have been over until far into the next century. For me, a family life was not in the program," he says. "So in spite of all my preoccupations with the Cuban question, whenever I have a half-hour free, I spend it with my children and my wife. I enjoy it to the fullest."
On this Sunday afternoon, Gladys is out of town with the children at a wedding. "If they were here, I would be doing the same thing as I am now," Gutierrez Menoyo observes, "talking to you about the Cuban issue. There is always the tension of knowing that someone could call for an interview or arrive from Cuba at any time. My work knows no schedule. It takes away part of your privacy, part of the enjoyment of family to which I have a right as much as anybody else."
There is a note of defensiveness in these musings, as if all the suffering, all the years in prison, were not enough to justify a dip in a swimming pool. "I guess what I mean to say is that after so much time -- a life, really -- fighting for Cuba, if I could now put it all aside and dedicate myself to my family, that would be fine with me, but not my conscience." He pauses, allowing the modern home to fall silent for a brief moment. Maybe later, when the interview is over, he'll also be able to quiet the house of conscience. Maybe then he will allow himself to relish a few hours of forgetful solitude while he waits for the return of his wife and his children, one of whom is named after his brother Carlos.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.