HAVANA — Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, who went from rebel commander fighting alongside Fidel Castro to a foe launching commando raids against the island before settling inside Cuba as a moderate, prodialogue dissident, died Friday. He was 77.
Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo died of a heart attack at a Havana hospital, said his wife, Flor Ester Torres Sanabria.
Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo had lived in Cuba since August 2003, after visiting the island during a family vacation and deciding to stay for good. Cuban authorities allowed him to remain despite his frequent criticisms of the government, but his immigration status was apparently never resolved.
He had hoped to open an office on the island of his Cambio Cubano movement, but the dream was never realized. Nearly blind and hard of hearing, Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo was seen in Havana at meetings involving moderate Cuban exiles.
Until his health began to fail him in 2010, Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo frequently spoke out against the communist government, but in measured tones that kept him out of jail.
After Fidel Castro retired because of ill health in February 2008 and his brother Raul formally replaced him as president, Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo expressed disappointment that Cuba’s communist system remained unchanged.
‘‘Cuba cannot continue to corner itself, trying to convince the world that there is democracy here when a one-party system will never be a democracy.’’
The following year, he expressed doubts that Raul Castro could be an agent of change, despite his stated efforts to reform the island’s Marxist economy.
‘‘They fear any type of opening that could cost them a good chunk of power,’’ Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo said in one interview, referring to government leaders. ‘‘Right now Cuba needs a new revolution, and those who are governing don’t dare to carry out that new revolution.’’
Formed in Miami in 1992, Cambio Cubano was seen as a centrist group, promoting dialogue and reconciliation among Cubans of all political stripes, including officials in Castro’s government. But some members of the exile community considered it soft and politically accommodating.
Several dissidents said they had no comment on Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo’s death, and there was also no official reaction from the government. But one dissident did speak out, calling Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo a champion of freedom.
‘‘It is very sad. He was a person with a long history of fighting against tyranny in Cuba,’’ said Oscar Chepe Espinosa, a one-time state economist turned government opponent. ‘‘He was honest and he lived quietly these last years, but he always defended his point of view about reconciliation between all Cubans. I had the honor of calling him my friend.’’
His daughter Patricia, reached in Puerto Rico, said it was her father’s fate to live a hard and courageous life. ‘‘The call of liberty grew in him and marked his life,’’ she said.
Born in Madrid, he was the son and brother of men who fought against Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
One brother died in combat in Spain. The family moved to Cuba in 1945 and another brother was killed in 1957 during an attack on the presidential palace of Fulgencio Batista.
Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo, who had opposed Batista’s government from the early 1950s, participated in the same attack. Later he formed and commanded the Second Front of Escambray, a rebel group that operated alongside but independently of guerrilla forces Castro led.
Although he had arrived in Havana as one of the triumphant ‘‘Commanders of the Revolution,’’ Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo quickly broke with Castro and by 1961 was in exile in Miami helping form Alpha 66, an armed commando group dedicated to the violent overthrow of Castro’s government.
In December 1964, Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo returned to Cuba with an armed band in hopes of launching an uprising, but they were captured after a month.
Mr. Gutierrez-Menoyo spent 22 years in Cuban prisons. He was freed in 1986 through a petition of the Spanish government.