Miami Herald Profiles Former Cuban Revolutionary with Harsh Words for Castros

January 8th, 2009 5:50 PM

While Time's Tim Padgett insists that at its 50-year anniversary the Castro Revolution in Cuba "deserves its due," Huber Matos might agree, but for entirely different reasons. After all, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.

Matos, who fought alongside the brothers Castro to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, has long felt that the Castros betrayed the Cuban people by imposing a dictatorship, not restoring a democracy as they led him and other non-Communist revolutionaries to believe.

Matos now resides in south Florida and sat down for an interview with Miami Herald's Luisa Yanez to share his thoughts:

At 90 and with mixed feelings, Huber Matos points himself out in a famous black-and-white photograph taken 50 years ago -- Jan. 8, 1959 -- the morning the victors of the Cuban revolution rolled into Havana to a hero's welcome.

''That's me right there,'' said Matos, one of the revolution's top five commanders -- and the only one living in South Florida. The snapshot shows a young, blue-eyed, bearded version of Matos atop a truck, next to Fidel Castro and fellow rebel leader Camilo Cienfuegos.

It was to be a glorious day for Cuba, Matos recalled. Eight days earlier, dictator Fulgencio Batista had fled the island, clearing the way for the rebels to return democracy to the island, Matos believed.


What propelled Matos, a teacher, father and husband, to end up as a conquering revolutionary began March 10, 1952 -- the day Batista staged a coup and overthrew democratically elected President Carlos Prio Socarras.

'I remember I was teaching a class and the news came that there had been a coup -- that Batista had forcibly taken over. To me that was like a collective slap on the face of the Cuban people. How dare he. I was a teacher but I told my students that day: `We must go out and protest. This cannot be allowed to happen. Cuba is a democracy.' ''


Matos spent the night of Jan. 7 at a friend's house and then joined Castro in the morning for the victory ride to Havana, where the streets were lined with people. ``The procession was to be very long; we were going to cross Havana and it would take hours.''

He remembers being greeted at the start by Prio Socarras, the president who had been overthrown by Batista seven years earlier.

''He congratulated us for our work,'' Matos said. ``Everyone was euphoric that day. The level of patriotism was at its max. Some of us thought we had the future of our country in our hands. I can't recall another time when the Cuban people were so together as we were on that day. No one envisioned what would come. We didn't know yet the revolution would be betrayed.''


By the end of the procession, Matos' head was throbbing. Castro was to give a final speech and asked Matos to join him on stage.

''I refused,'' Matos said. "I actually sat in a parked car and listened to all his promises, which turned out to be lies. Castro was a great actor, a faker. He fooled all of us."