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Who is Huber Matos?



Before the struggle against dictator Fulgencio Batista, Huber Matos was a teacher at the Manzanillo Institute, and the owner of a small rice plantation. "He followed the ideas of Antonio Guiteras," wrote Carlos Franqui in Family Portrait with Fidel. "He was anti-imperialist and a believer in democracy."

Matos became an active figure in the struggle against dictator Fulgencio Batista. In March 1958 he brought a planeload of weapons to Castro in the Sierra Maestra, and fought at his side until the final victory, rising to the rank of Major. "During the siege of Santiago," wrote Franqui, "it was he, with only about one hundred men, who kept Batista's army from entering and leaving the city."

When the rebels took over Cuba's government on January 1 1959, Matos was put in charge of the military in Camagüey Province, and seemed to be an important player in the Cuban Revolution.

In the early spring of 1959, many began to question why so many communists were being assigned to leading positions in the new government, bypassing members of Castro's own "26th of July Movement." Matos was one of them. In July, he made various anti-communist speeches in Camagüey, and began to share his suspicions that the Communists were about to hijack the Revolution. His suspicions were solidified when Raul Castro became minister of the armed forces on October 15.

Rufo López-Fresquet, treasury minister at the time, wrote in his book My 14 Months with Castro, that Matos expressed the opinion that Raul had a plan to take over the Revolution.

"He spoke and I listened," wrote López-Fresquet. "During the long interview, I said hardly a word."

"At first in a roundabout way and later more pointedly, the major told me that a Communist conspiracy was taking place. Matos believed Castro was not involved and did not know its extent and gravity. Raul, I was informed, was the leader of the cabal and, in Matos' opinion, was prepared to kill his brother if need be."

"The following day, Matos invited me to a nearby town, where he was to deliver a speech to a peasant rally. His inspiring speech was definitely anti-Communist. I could see he was trying to gain a following."

Unable to discuss his "concerns" with Castro, Matos and other Army officers (including the head of the "26th of July Movement" in Camagüey) resigned their posts on October 19 1959.

This was a "sensitive" time for the revolution as dissent seemed to be increasing. In June, Guevara had made the first official contact with the Soviet Union, and relations with the U.S. were expected to begin growing cold. By the middle of the year, several plots against Castro had been exposed, and he had already become the most important man in Cuba.

Franqui explains that Camagüey was "the most seigniorial province in Cuba, the whitest and the most Castilian. Its economy was based on cattle, sugar, and fruit production, particularly oranges. It was almost devoid of black laborers and had only a sparse peasant population…

"It was a province of large estates and gentlemen on horseback, the Agramontes, the Cisneros and other patriots of the independence movement."

The revolution felt it had reasons for concern, and the resignations were interpreted as counterrevolutionary opposition.

"Perhaps Matos hoped to force Castro to make a clear declaration of his political aims," wrote Hugh Thomas in Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom.

Fidel Castro arrested Matos at his home on October 20. The other officers who resigned their posts at Matos' side were also arrested. The charge was treason. Camilo Cienfuegos was put in temporary charge of the military in Camagüey.

Waiting at home to be arrested, Matos wrote a note that was later circulated in the Cuban underground and eventually published.

"Castro rushed to Camagüey and cracked down on the dissenters," wrote Theodore Draper in Castro's Revolution: Myths and Realities. "The repercussions of this incident might have been less explosive in Castro's own top leadership if he had not insisted on charging Matos with treason. The charge was too much for a group within the Cabinet, which had itself been watching with increasing misgivings the curious favoritism shown to Communists."

Before the month of October was over, six members of the Cabinet of Ministers entered into discussions on this matter: President Osvaldo Dorticós, Minister of Education Armando Hart, Minister of Public Works Manuel Ray, Minister of Transportation Julio Camacho, Minister of Communications Enrique Oltuski and head of the Ministry for the Recovery of Illegally Acquired Property Faustino Pérez.

Castro "came to the Cabinet meeting the next day," wrote Draper, "determined to force a showdown and insisted that anyone without full confidence in him did not belong in the Cabinet."

When Faustino Perez asserted that Matos "is innocent and should be set free immediately," Raul is reported to have replied, "Huber Matos is a traitor and should be shot."

"Fidel ended the discussion," Franqui wrote, "by saying, 'Either Huber Matos is a traitor or I'm a liar.'"

Matos' trial took place in December. "Not a semblance of treason, in any meaningful sense of the term, was proved, or even charged," wrote Draper. "He was merely accused of having been worried about the Communist advance, and it was contended that his resignation could have been so contagious that the regime might have been endangered."

"Huber was never involved in counterrevolutionary activities of any kind," wrote Franqui, "but Fidel viewed him as a rival."

Matos was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and most of his 21 "collaborators" received sentences of 2 to 7 years.

"The evidence given at the trial would not have stood up in a Western court of law," wrote Herbert L. Matthews in Revolution in Cuba.

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From Cuba, A Short History, edited by Leslie Bethell: "Of the twenty-one ministers appointed in January1959, twelve had resigned or had been ousted by the end of the year. Four more would go out in 1960 as the revolution moved toward a Marxist-Leninist political system."

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Huber Matos was released form prison on October 21, 1979, exactly 20 years after he was arrested. He joined his family in Costa Rica, and then settled in Miami, Florida.

Mr. Matos, and his son Huber Matos Jr., became active participants in the U.S.-based opposition to the Castro regime.

On December 8 1980, Mr. Matos asked the United Nations to investigate a hunger strike in Cuban prisons.

Return to 1959 | Cuba in the 1960s

Related:
Huber Matos' Letter of Resignation from the Cuban Government | Matos' Secret Letter

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