Gustavo Arcos Bergnes; Dissident Had Fought in Cuban Revolution

By Anita Snow
Associated Press
Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, 79, who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution but was later imprisoned as a dissident, died Aug. 8 in Havana. The cause of death was not immediately known, but Mr. Arcos had recently been hospitalized.

"He was one of the most respected people in the human rights movement in Cuba," said Carlos Menendez of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which traces its roots to the group Mr. Arcos led in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Arcos died while Castro was out of power. The Cuban leader temporarily ceded the presidency to his brother Raul Castro last week after intestinal surgery.

With his own health failing, Mr. Arcos told the Associated Press in a May 2005 interview that he feared he would not live to see a Western-style democracy take root in his homeland.

"I do hope I will see the end of this," he said, "but I'm not sure if I will."

Born Dec. 19, 1926, in the small central Cuban town of Caibarien, Mr. Arcos was studying diplomatic law at the University of Havana when he first met Castro.

Mr. Arcos deeply opposed the government of Fulgencio Batista and joined Castro's ill-fated 1953 assault on a military barracks that launched the Cuban revolution. Mr. Arcos was shot in the right hip and left partially paralyzed.

The survivors were imprisoned and later freed under a pardon, and Mr. Arcos traveled with the group to Mexico to organize a rebel army.

Mr. Arcos, known by the pseudonym "Ulises," traveled throughout Costa Rica, Venezuela and the United States, gathering money and munitions for the movement.

The other rebels, meanwhile, traveled back to Cuba on the yacht "Granma" to launch a guerrilla war. Mr. Arcos's brother Luis was among those killed by Batista's forces when the boat landed.

Mr. Arcos was named Cuba's ambassador to Belgium after the 1959 triumph of the Cuban revolution, but he soon became disillusioned by the growing authoritarianism of the Castro regime.

"They shot a lot of people," Mr. Arcos told the Associated Press in 2005 during the summary trials held after the revolutionaries took power. "They shot people who could have easily been imprisoned."

By the time Mr. Arcos returned to Cuba in the mid-1960s, the government had turned socialist.

Mr. Arcos began expressing his discontent privately and was soon accused of being a counterrevolutionary. When he was released after three years in prison, the government refused his request to leave the country.

Mr. Arcos and his younger brother, Sebastian, became involved in the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, formed in 1978 as one of the first groups of its kind after Castro took power almost two decades earlier.

The Arcos brothers were imprisoned in 1981 for trying to leave the country illegally. Sebastian Arcos, who became a leading rights activist, died of cancer in 1997.

Shortly after his release from prison in 1988, Gustavo Arcos replaced the committee's executive director, who was forced into exile. In subsequent years, pro-government mobs occasionally gathered outside Mr. Arcos's home to chant insults.

Through the committee, Mr. Arcos issued reports about human rights complaints to international organizations and distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the island.

Survivors include his wife, Teresa, whom he married shortly after his release from prison in 1988. He spoke of having a son, from a previous relationship, and two granddaughters, all of the Miami area. He is also survived by four sisters and a brother.

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