Huber Matos was one of the few officers in the Rebel Army who held the rank of comandante, or major. Before the revolution he had taught school in Manzanillo and owned a small rice farm. Like Fidel Castro he had joined the Ortodoxo party. After the March 1952 coup he worked against the Batista government and went to Costa Rica, where he collected men and weapons for the Sierra Maestra. In March 1958 he brought a planeload of arms and ammunition to Castro, and was rewarded with a combat command. During the final attack on Santiago he led a column, and when the rebels took control of the country, he was named army commander in the province of Camaguey. Because he was also a staunch anti-communist, and refused to hide his feelings, a clash with Fidel Castro was perhaps inevitable.
Matos admired and respected Castro, but he was not blind to the Maximum Leader's shortcomings. In April 1959 Matos saw what he took to be pro-communist articles in Verde Olivo, the official periodical of the armed forces, and he complained to Castro. The prime minister told him not to worry. In June and July, Matos complained once more against the army and INRA officials that Raul Castro had sent into the province. And he suggested that the July 26 leaders convene the National Directorate to deal with the growing problem of "communists" in the revolutionary government. When Castro ignored his proposal, he asked to be discharged from his military duties. He told Castro that, in any event, the work of the revolution was coming to a close in Camaguey, and he hoped to return to teaching. Matos was certainly capable - and ambitious, as his detractors subsequently noted. In all likelihood he looked forward to entering politics as a candidate for governor or senator, whenever the electoral process was restored. Castro refused his request. "We still need men like you," he wrote.
The appointment of Raul Castro as minister of the armed forces was the last straw for Matos. Four days later he resigned.
In his letter, Matos refused to dissemble or to gloss over his differences with the prime minister. "I did not want to become an obstacle to the revolution," he wrote. "And I believe that if I am forced to choose between falling into line or withdrawing from the world so as not to do harm, the most honorable and revolutionary action is to leave." He had at no time hidden his opposition to the communists, he said. And he spoke now as Castro's longtime friend, "not as Major Huber Matos." Castro had erred, he said, in treating those who wanted to discuss "serious problems" as reactionaries and conspirators. "It seems right and proper for me to point out that greater men become smaller when they start to be unjust." He trusted that history would judge the Batistianos. Yet history might also judge Fidel Castro. ""you should remember that men fade away, while history collects their deeds and makes the final reckoning, the final judgement." Once Castro had defended the people, Matos wrote. Once he rose up and fought in the name of reason and justice. "Now, Fidel, you are destroying your own work. You are burying the revolution. Perhaps there is still time. I plead with you, comrade. Help us save the revolution." The rebels had not fought to create intrigues, he said. "No, Fidel, we fought for something else. We fought in the name of Truth, for all the sound principles that bind civilization and mankind together . . . . Please, in the names of our fallen comrades, our mothers, of all the people, Fidel, do not bury the revolution."
Castro's reply was shot through with indignation and cholar. "I am under no obligation to account to you for my actions, and you have no right to judge or prejudge me. When I read your letter, I realized that you were incapable of appreciating the tolerance and generosity with which I have treated you . . . If anyone has been disloyal, it has been you. . . . My fault has not been disloyalty or injustice, but toleration. . . . You act as though you think that in the process we are going through in Cuba, it is possible to advance other than by merit and sacrifice." Castro would go on to accuse Matos of "immorality and ambition." Fidel Castro sent Camilo Cienfuegos to assume command of the troops in Camaguey and place Matos under arrest.
Before he left Havana, Castro had told members of his cabinet: Matos is a difficult man, but he is an honest revolutionary. I plan to talk with him right away." He did not refer to his plans to hold the major for a military trial.
Now that Matos was safely in custody, Castro spoke menacingly of conspiracy and treason, reciting the litany of Matos's crimes. In the middle of the afternoon on October 21, a rebel air force plane brought Matos and fifteen of his officers to Havana. They were lodged in La Cabaņa to await trial. Matos as the leading culprit, was confined to a small punishment cell, about three feet across and ten feet long. He had no light. After his wife visited him a few days later, she complained to reporters that he was held "virtually naked and without food."
By now, in his indictment, Castro had moved beyond ""ingrate" to
"criminal," "counterrevolutionary," and "rebel." The major had
planned a revolt in Camaguey, he alleged in order to "destroy the
morale of the armed forces." He refused to believe "all the lies"
about communism, because he was aware of the lies being told about
his regime. And he added Advance and Diario de la Marina to the
Matos "conspiracy." How long would the people of Cuba allow the two
newspapers to persist in their campaign against his government?
On the first day Huber Matos talked for three and one-half hours, insisting on his innocence. His testimony was calm, logical, and coherent. It was also convincing to foreign observers. His intentions should have been no surprise to the prime minister, he said. He had written several letters, and not just the single one read over the television. These clearly showed that he planned to resign in time to take part in the competitive examinations for secondary school teaching positions. His lawyer introduced documents from the Ministry of Education that substantiated this testimony. Matos insisted that he had never intended to precipitate a crisis. The exchange of letters had been made public by Castro, not by him. Had his resignation been accepted, that would have ended the matter. Matos maintained that his sole difference with the prime minister had been ideological, not personal. And he had always respected the communists. He had simply not wanted them in his government.
"I consider myself neither a traitor nor a deserter," Matos said. "My conscience is clear. If the court should find me guilty, I shall accept its decision - even though I may be shot. I would consider it one more service for the revolution." As he completed his testimony, a large number of soldiers rose spontaneously and applauded him. Castro demanded that they be thrown out. Later he denounced them as "degenerates and traitors," and they were subsequently discharged from the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Huber Matos served 22 years in one of Castro's prisons. He suffered great hardhships and was tortured.