How One Guerrilla Fell Out of Love with the Cuban Revolution

EspañolComandante Huber Matos (1918-2014) was a key figure in the Cuban revolution. He collaborated in the coup against the government of Fulgencio Batista (1952-59) and gave vital support to Fidel Castro, supplying him with arms and ammunition to overthrow the dictator.

But as the revolution moved towards communism, Matos was disenchanted. He’d supported the struggle in the name of democracy, but the Castro-led leadership had abandoned any such ideas. “Fidel, you’re destroying your own work,” Matos warned Castro.

After hearing of Matos’s dissent, Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara urged Fidel to execute him as an example. But fearing to make Matos a martyr, Castro sent one of his lieutenants, the chief of the army’s high command Camilo Cienfuegos, to arrest him. He spent 20 years in jail, 16 of them in solitary confinement.

Matos later wrote a book, Cómo llegó la noche (How the Night Came), in which he recounts his participation in the revolution as a military commander, and his later estrangement from Castro’s actions.

Comandante Matos died in February 2014, and was laid to rest in Costa Rica, as were his wishes. “I want to journey back to Cuba from the same land whose people have always shown solidarity and care,” he wrote, expressing his desire to be buried in the country that first offered him asylum. “I want to rest in Costa Rican soil until Cuba is free, and only then do I want to be taken from here to Yara, to be reunited with my mother and father, and with the Cuban people.”

The lines below in particular illustrate how Matos — in common with many others — went from being a supporter of the regime to one of its strongest detractors, feeling that the promise of freedom for Cuba had been betrayed:

I affirm before the court and the public that my position is crystal clear: in the revolutionary era I was, from the start, right where circumstances demanded in order to put an end to the Batista government. With the support of the entire country, we took up the responsibility of restoring freedom to the country. It was only with this support that we, the rebels, were able to liberate Cuba from such a despotic and corrupt power. We brought the revolution to the brink of a transformative era where we could have imbued it with humanism and democracy.

But once set in motion, our revolution took another road. The hopes of the people were tricked: one need only look at the pages of the army’s newspaper, Verde Olivo, and see the arrangements that the high command made in my province, to witness the penetration of communism. Why did the revolution spread from the Sierra Maestra to fill the streets of every Cuban town? For the triumph of liberty, independence, and social justice, to create schools, to give land to the peasants, to make the rights of every Cuban citizen worth something…

And now in turns out that all of this, into which I put my heart and soul, is turning into a different process, into something dangerous that betrays the Cuban people. As it didn’t seem appropriate for me to set about conspiring against men that I’d followed, I thought the most honest thing was to send a private letter to Fidel Castro. I told him that if I had to submit to directives that went against the original objectives of the revolution, I would no longer be able to support the situation with my presence, and I’d have to leave. I didn’t want to be responsible, before my conscience nor before the Cuban people, for the course that the revolution was taking.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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