Zapata Lives!

Saturday, February 27, 2010
The burial of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the courage of his mother via Reuters:

Amid shouts of "Zapata lives," about 100 people mourned Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo as he was buried Thursday in his hometown of Banes following his death by hunger strike this week.

According to Zapata's family and dissidents in Havana, the funeral, held under a rainy sky, took place with dozens of state security agents looking on as the Cuban government clamped down to prevent the event from becoming a rallying point for dissent.

Reina Tamayo, Zapata's mother, refused to cry when her son's wooden coffin was lowered into the ground in the humble local cemetery.

"I'll have my moment to cry for Orlando Zapata, but not in front of them," she said, referring to the government agents.

"We showed them that my son will continue living inside of us. We did not fear them," Tamayo said in a phone interview from Banes, a sleepy city of 80,000 people 500 miles east of Havana.

Zapata, a 42-year-old plumber, died Tuesday in a Havana hospital after an 85-day hunger strike to protest conditions in prison, where he had been since 2003 on charges of disrespect, public disorder and resistance.

Holy Toledo

An editorial in today's Toledo (Ohio) Blade begins:

An alternate OAS?

PRESIDENT Obama's failure to improve U.S. relations with Cuba may have prompted Latin American nations to launch a group that could supplant the Organization of American States.

The summit near Cancun, Mexico, of the 32 leaders of the Rio Group and Caribbean Community nations ended this week with a decision to create an organization, excluding the United States and Canada, that could become an alternative to the OAS.


Apparently, the Toledo Blade's editorial board is unaware that Canada is Cuba's #1 source of tourists and largest trading partner.

Can't wait to hear their brilliant rationale for Canada's exclusion.

A Gripping Testimony

By Human Rights Watch's Nik Steinberg in The Washington Post:

Imprisoned for 'dangerousness' in Cuba

Click. And then silence.

It was the sound I dreaded in my calls to Cuba. As I gathered testimony from relatives of political prisoners, I never knew what an abrupt end to the call meant.

Had the Cuban intelligence services cut the line, or was it just the shoddy phone system? I would call back immediately, often getting a busy signal or a recorded message that the number was not in service. If I found out what had happened, it was usually days or weeks later.

"A neighbor dropped by to check on me, someone sospechoso."

"I don't know, my phone just stopped working."

For months I made -- and lost -- these calls. Because Cuba does not allow visits from human rights groups, we are forced to gather information from phone interviews, reports from local groups and the rare copies of prison sentences smuggled out by visiting relatives.

For nearly five decades, Fidel Castro silenced virtually all forms of dissent in Cuba, locking up anyone who dared to criticize his government. After ailing health forced him to hand control to his younger brother in 2006, many hoped that repression would ease. But Raúl Castro has allowed scores of political prisoners arrested under Fidel to languish. One of those, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died last week after an 85-day hunger strike, which he had undertaken to protest the conditions in which he was held.

Raúl Castro has also incarcerated scores more political prisoners, such as Ramón Velásquez, who completed a three-year sentence in January, but was reportedly detained again following Zapata Tamayo's death. I first spoke to Ramón's wife, Bárbara, on the phone last March. She told me how on Dec. 10, 2006, they had set out with their 18-year-old daughter, Rufina, on a "march of dignity" across Cuba to call for respect for human rights and freedom for political prisoners.

They marched silently, from east to west, sleeping on roadsides or in the homes of people who took them in. Along their way, police detained them, they were attacked and cars even ran them off the road. They kept marching. In January 2007, more than 185 miles from where they started, Ramón was arrested. He was accused of "dangerousness," tried in a closed hearing and sentenced to three years in prison.

Under Cuba's "dangerousness" law, authorities can imprison people who have not committed a crime on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. "Dangerous" activities include handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, writing articles critical of the government and trying to start an independent union.

Bárbara and I spoke several times over the following months about her trips to visit Ramón in prison; about her son René, who took care of her; and about how Rufina had fled to the United States after her father's arrest.

My organization repeatedly sought permission to visit Cuba but never received a response. Eventually, we decided to go anyway. To minimize risks, we told no one we were coming. Last summer a colleague and I rented a car in Havana and drove east, conducting interviews along the way. We stayed nowhere for longer than a day.

When we arrived at the Velásquez home on the outskirts of Las Tunas, only René was there. Bárbara was on her way back from visiting Ramón in prison, he said.

We sat in a small kitchen with a dirt floor. Inside were two small chairs, a worn wooden table and a single-burner gas stove. A door opened on a room just big enough to fit a mattress and a dresser.

René told us he had not been on the march and did not consider himself political. But shortly after his father's arrest, he came home to find "Death to the worms of house 58," his family's address, spray-painted on the nearby bus stop. A week later, he was fired from his longtime hospital job. Members of the local "revolutionary defense committee" -- the neighborhood association connected with the Communist Party -- insulted him in the street and tried to pick fights. A man was assigned to watch him and his mother; he stood on their corner and followed them as they came and went.

René's girlfriend stopped talking to him on her parents' orders. So did most of his friends, who were warned by police that they would find themselves in trouble if they kept hanging around a "counterrevolutionary."

"It's like having someone plant a boot right in the middle of my chest and applying so much pressure I can hardly breathe," René told us. "Some days I wake up and I think: I have nothing. I am nobody. I have no dreams left for my future." We encountered this profound sense of isolation time and again in visits with the families of political prisoners.

Soon Bárbara arrived from her five-hour journey. Exhausted, she talked for a few minutes and then went to lie down.

"For weeks after they arrested my father, she didn't leave that bed," René whispered. The upside, he said, laughing, was that he'd been forced to teach himself to cook.

When we left, René insisted on walking us to our car. We headed down the dirt road outside their home, past neighbors who stopped their conversations and stared, and past the man on the corner, who trailed a few yards behind us. When we reached the car, René hugged us and asked us to pass a message to his sister, to whom he hadn't spoken in months: "Tell her we're fine -- not to worry."

As we drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror. René turned around and walked home, past the watchful gaze of his neighbors.

Five More Hunger Strikes

4 Cuban Inmates, 1 Activist Declare Hunger Strikes

HAVANA (AP) - Four Cuban prisoners and an opposition activist have vowed to stop eating to protest the death of a jailed dissident following his own lengthy hunger strike.

Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero, Eduardo Diaz Freitas, Fidel Suarez Cruz and Nelson Molinet are prisoners at the high-security Kilo Cinco y Medio prison in Pinar del Rio province.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of an independent human rights commission, said Friday they will refuse solid food.

Activist-journalist Guillermo Farinas (pictured below) also plans to stop eating. Farinas has held a number of past hunger strikes. This time he says he won't eat or drink water.

Prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died Tuesday after a weeks-long hunger strike, sparking international outrage.

A Troubling Nexus

Friday, February 26, 2010
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Editorial Board:

Cubazuela: A troubling nexus

One nation, under the same tyranny, indistinguishable, with liberty and justice for none -- that's the de facto truth about Cuba and Venezuela.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez long has supplied subsidized oil to fellow Marxist Fidel Castro. Now, The Economist reports, a Cuban takeover of Venezuela's government and economy verges on wiping away Venezuela's few surviving democratic pretensions.

Cuba's third-ranking tyrant, whose duties include denying Cubans unfettered Internet access, is in Caracas -- ostensibly to address Venezuela's electricity shortfalls. But he's meeting with Venezuelan military commanders and likely working to ensure palatable September legislative election results for Mr. Chavez.

Cubans now help run Venezuelan health care, ports, telecommunications, police training, immigration, agriculture, oil and
intelligence operations. They're confirming a 2005 statement by Mr. Castro: "We are Venecubans."

There's now no practical difference between Cuba and Venezuela. So the United States must stand with the 85 percent of Venezuelans who oppose their country's Cubanization by treating Venezuela exactly as it treats Cuba -- as a communist dictatorship unworthy of the status accorded legitimate nations.

Vigil at the Cuban Interests Section

U.S. Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, Albio Sires and Chris Smith, both of New Jersey, at yesterday's vigil in memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in front of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.

Washington Post Editorial Board

Is the Castro-friendly Cuba policy working?

IN THE PAST few months, proponents of lifting U.S. and international sanctions against Cuba have been gaining momentum. Their argument is that the strategy of isolating the Castro regime has failed and that more trade, more visits by Americans and more diplomatic engagement will produce better results. The thaw they advocate is well underway: Cuba's suspension from the Organization of American States has been lifted, and the Obama administration has removed some restrictions on travel and remittances. A coalition in Congress is pressing for the elimination of remaining constraints on food exports and travel, while Spain, which holds the presidency of the European Union, has been advocating a new policy of cooperation with Havana.

Since the critique of the old Cuba policy was grounded in its supposed ineffectiveness, it seems fair to ask: Is the new, Castro-friendly approach working? A good answer to that question came Tuesday, when Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42-year-old Afro-Cuban political prisoner, died after an 83-day hunger strike.

Mr. Tamayo, a construction worker, was one of 75 Cuban dissidents swept up by the regime in March 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms. Initially jailed for three years on charges of public disorder and "disobedience," he later received a sentence of 36 years because of his acts of defiance while in prison. He launched his hunger strike in December to protest repeated beatings by prison guards and to demand that the government recognize his status as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

As Amnesty put it, that Mr. Zapata "felt he had no other avenue available to him but to starve himself in protest is a terrible indictment of the continuing repression of political dissidents in Cuba."

Human rights groups agree that Cuban totalitarianism has not eased since 79-year-old Raúl Castro replaced his 83-year-old brother, Fidel. "Rather than dismantle Cuba's repressive machinery, Raúl Castro has kept it firmly in place and fully active," said Human Rights Watch in a report last November. "Deplorable prison conditions, torture, and lack of medical attention" explained Mr. Zapata's death, said Freedom House, which in 2009 designated Cuba one of the "worst of the worst." Yet the stroking of the Castro brothers goes on. As Mr. Zapata died, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was arriving in Havana for another warm reunion with the brothers -- his third in the past two years. The embarrassed Brazilian president said he "deeply lamented" Mr. Zapata's death. Too bad he and other Castrophiles were not willing to speak out on his behalf before he died.

A Must-Read Statement

U.S. Addresses Death of Cuban Dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo at OAS Permanent Council

At a special session of the OAS Permanent Council on childhood education, the United States addressed the death of prominent Cuban dissident and political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died in a Cuban prison on February 23 following a hunger strike to protest repeated beatings and human rights violations by the Cuban government.

The remarks, delivered by Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative W. Lewis Amselem, were also in response to comments by one of the panelists in attendance at the meeting who used the venue to praise Cuba's dictatorship:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States assigns high priority to early childhood education as a foundation for life-long learning. Deputy Assistant Secretary Lombardi's presentation speaks for our government's delegation on this very important topic, and I won't repeat what she said.

We were very interested to hear that Dr. Sachs plans on starting community-based education projects in Haiti. We would humbly suggest that he consider partnership with the Pan-American Development Foundation, which has a long-standing community-based development program and has a large number of staff who speak Creole.

We would encourage all the panelists keep in mind that the Inter-American Social Protection Network provides a useful mechanism for exchanging best practices on poverty alleviation. This Chilean initiative adopted and endorsed by the Summit of the Americas was launched at a conference in new York City at the invitation of Secretary Clinton and with the participation of Presidents Bachelet and Uribe.

On a less positive note, I was surprised to hear a political pitch from one panelist praising the Cuban system and the Cuban dictator himself. When I hear praise such as this, I have to wonder about that speaker's partiality, judgment, and credibility. I also have to wonder if in a different time and place he wouldn't have come forward to praise Mussolini's handling of the Italian railroads and Hitler's construction of the autobahn.

We hear statistics thrown about re the Cuban education system; we, for example, hear about the high degree of literacy in that country. I am reminded of similar expositions on the glories of Soviet education and medicine. As we all know, when the fall fell and the Soviet system collapsed, these claims turned out to be false.

As to Cuban education, what do we really know? We know that the statistics are produced by a totalitarian regime that lies - it "cooks the books." What we do know if that people who can read in Cuba can read GRANMA and that's about it.

We also know that yesterday, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose case was raised in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, died in a Cuban prison. His crime? Daring to think and speak on topics not approved by the "educators" of the Castro regime.

I am sure that the police who arrested him, the judges who sentenced him to 36 years in prison, and the guards who watched him die in agony all could read and write the reports on his death by starvation - not unlike the "well-educated" police, judges, and guards of the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships.

Thank you.

IACHR: Chavez Restricts Rights

Thursday, February 25, 2010
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today published the report entitled "Democracy and Human Rights in
Venezuela."

 
In the report, the IACHR identifies a series of issues that restrict the full enjoyment of human rights. Among other issues, the IACHR analyzes a series of conditions that indicate the absence of an effective separation and independence of the public branches of power in Venezuela. The report finds that not all individuals are ensured full enjoyment of their rights irrespective of their positions on government policies. The Commission also finds that the punitive power of the State is being used to intimidate or punish people on account of their political opinions. The Commission believes that conditions do not exist for human rights defenders and journalists to be able to freely carry out their work. The IACHR also detects the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence, which particularly affects media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists, participants in public demonstrations, people held in custody, campesinos (small-scale and subsistence farmers), indigenous people, and women.

You can read the full report here.

Freedom House on Cuban Prison Conditions

Freedom House Condemns The Cuban Government for The Deplorable Prison Conditions
 
Freedom House condemns the Cuban government for the deplorable prison conditions, torture, and lack of medical attention that led to the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Mr. Zapata Tamayo, aged 42, died in Havana's Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital Wednesday after carrying out an 85-day hunger strike to protest prison conditions and torture in Cuba. Originally incarcerated during the "Black Spring of 2003," his sentence was extended in 2004 from 3 to 36 years for so-called "acts of disobedience." In December 2009, he began a hunger strike to protest systemic maltreatment and torture of himself and others in Cuba's prisons. Zapata Tamayo died of pneumonia and kidney failure after being refused water for 18 days and placed in front of an air conditioner for an extended period.

"The Castro regime's inhumane treatment of political prisoners has resulted in the death of an innocent man and our deepest condolences go out to Reina Tamayo Danger, Orlando's mother," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Mr. Zapata Tamayo's death is an example of the systemic abuse suffered by those who espouse freedom and human rights in Cuba today and must be condemned immediately by the international community."

Zapata Tamayo's death is the first time in almost four decades that a Cuban political prisoner has died by hunger strike. Pedro Luis Boitel, a youth leader and poet, died in 1972 while protesting government repression. Raul Castro repeated the Cuban government's claim that torture does not exist in Cuba and blamed the United States for the political prisoner's death without elaborating further. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak, after requesting to visit Cuba for several years was finally issued an invitation in January 2009. The visit, which was to have taken place in the fall of 2009, has never materialized. Since Zapata Tamayo's death, the Cuban government has detained more than 20 activists seeking to express solidarity with his
mother, Reina.

Cuba is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009.

A Spirited Senate Exchange

Clinton, Senator Spar Over Cuba Policy

Sen. Robert Menendez criticized the State Department Wednesday.

Washington (CNN) - In a tense moment during hearings on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sparred with Sen. Robert Menendez over whether the United States had halted pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

U.S.-Cuban relations have become tenser in the aftermath of the December imprisonment of a U.S. citizen and government contractor, Alan Gross.

"For some reason, it seems to me, when it comes to Cuba, the recent actions by the regime to arrest an American citizen have totally frozen our actions," Menendez, D-New Jersey, said at a Senate Foreign Relations budget hearing with Clinton.

"Are we going to have a permanent freeze on having entities that are trying to create peaceful change for civil society inside of Cuba? Is that the policy of the State Department?"

Clinton denied a freeze was in force, but said there is "an intense review" under way.

"We are very supportive of the work that we believe should be done to support those people of conscience inside Cuba. We are trying to figure out the best ways to effective in doing that," Clinton said.

"We're currently reviewing the risks in the wake of the baseless arrest of Mr. Gross in Cuba so that people who are traveling in furtherance of the mission, advocating for freedom, providing services, providing supplies and material to Cubans will take the necessary precautions when traveling."

Clinton's comments came a day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban pro-democracy activist and prisoner who died after a hunger strike.

"We are deeply distressed by his death during a hunger strike on behalf if his rights and to send a signal of the political prisoner situation and oppression in Cuba where we think there are in excess of 200 other prisoners of conscience," Clinton said.

Menendez repeated his concern that the U.S. was turning away from pro-democracy activist in Cuba.

"If a regime, whether that be in China , whether than be in any other country in the world, can ultimately deter the United States from its engagement of human rights activists and political dissidents, then that pillar of our diplomacy crumbles," Menendez said.

"But that is not what we are doing," interrupted Clinton.

"Well, I would like to see what we are doing," Menendez said.

"Because right now we are not doing very much."

Statement by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley

QUIGLEY STATEMENT FOLLOWING DEATH OF CUBAN DISSIDENT AFTER 3-MONTH HUNGER STRIKE

WASHINGTON – Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) issued this statement following the death of Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo:

"Today, we mourn a life that should never have been lost.  Orlando Zapata Tamayo was wrongly imprisoned and brutally tortured -- the victim of an oppressive Cuban regime that denied him both fundamental medical treatment and the basic democratic right to dissent.  His 82-day hunger strike was more than a protest against the government-sanctioned beatings he was subjected to in prison.  It was the story of one man's never-ending pursuit of freedom.  

I extend my deepest sympathies and wish his loved ones comfort in their time of great pain.  Unfortunately, the Cuban government's assault on dignity and its denial of human rights have not ended with Orlando's life, and it is our mission to not let this courageous man die in vain.  The United States must heed Orlando Zapata Tamayo's call to fight for justice for Cubans and make his struggle our own."

Tamayo died yesterday in Havana after a hunger strike of nearly three months. He had staged the protest to demand respect for his personal safety after enduring several acts of torture at the hands of Cuban prison authorities. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. He was 42.

Cuba Merits Extra Security Screening

In January, pursuant to the attempted bombing of a Detroit bound plane by a Nigerian national, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it would begin enhanced screening procedures on any U.S.-bound air passenger traveling through "state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest" such as Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.

The State Department lists four countries as those that sponsor terror: Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Iran.

Immediately, the Castro regime protested the additional security measures.

Well, it looks like Cuba's inclusion is well merited:

A Man Accused Of Illegally Aiding Somalis

Federal authorities have arrested a Virginia man for allegedly helping hundreds of Somalis, possibly including ones with terrorist ties, enter the United States illegally.

Anthony Joseph Tracy, 35, was arrested earlier this month, after admitting to U.S. authorities that he helped about 272 citizens of war-torn Somalia come to the United States illegally, according to documents filed in federal court.

Tracy allegedly set up a business in Kenya, Noor Services Limited, that procured fraudulent Cuban travel visas for Somalis, who would then travel from Kenya to Cuba and, ultimately, to the United States, according to court documents.

Read the entire story here.

Statement by Amnesty International

Death of Cuban Prisoner of Conscience on Hunger Strike Must Herald Change

Amnesty International has urged Cuban President Raul Castro to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience after a political activist died following a hunger strike.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was reported to have been on hunger strike in protest at prison conditions for several weeks before his death in Havana on Monday.

"The tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a terrible illustration of the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration," said Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International's Caribbean researcher.

"A full investigation must be carried out to establish whether ill-treatment may have played a part in his death."

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested in March 2003 and in May 2004 he was sentenced to three years in prison for "disrespect," "public disorder" and "resistance".

He was subsequently tried several times on further charges of "disobedience" and "disorder in a penal establishment", the last time in May 2009, and was serving a total sentence of 36 years at the time of his death.

"Faced with a prolonged prison sentence, the fact that Orlando Zapata Tamayo felt he had no other avenue available to him but to starve himself in protest is a terrible indictment of the continuing repression of political dissidents in Cuba," said Gerardo Ducos.

"The death of Orlando Zapata also underlines the urgent need for Cuba to invite international human rights experts to visit the country to verify respect for human rights, in particular obligations in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was one of 55 prisoners of conscience who have been adopted by Amnesty International in Cuba.

The majority were among the 75 people arrested as part of the massive March 2003 crackdown by authorities against political activists. With no independent judiciary in Cuba, trials are often summary and fall grossly short of international fair trial standards. Once sentenced the chances of appeal are virtually nil.

A View From Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010
On the steps of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.:


Across the street from the Consular Section of the Cuban Interests Section:


Needless to say, the Castro regime's "diplomats" quickly removed these signs, but they will never be able to extinguish the memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Statement by Senator Menendez

MENENDEZ STATEMENT ON CUBAN PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE ZAPATA
 
WASHINGTON – Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban pro-democracy activist and political prisoner, who was first incarcerated during the 2003 crackdown on dissidence known as the "Black Spring" – has died following a hunger strike protesting the Castro regime's brutal abuses. Amnesty International had recognized Tamayo as a "Prisoner of Conscience."
 
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement:
 
"The Castro regime has more blood on its clenched hands. The story of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is tragically symbolic of the regime's disdain for democracy, free speech and basic human freedoms – it is so opposed to these liberties that it imprisoned and let die this peaceful and principled man. This is a vivid reminder that, though the names have changed, the oppression and suppression by which this regime rules has not. Everyone who believes in human rights is mourning the death of Zapata. He sacrificed his life for the sake Cuban freedom. His struggle and sacrifice will never be forgotten."

Adding Even More Injury to Injury

What is the Castro regime's response to the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo?

Sadly, to arrest more dissidents.

Hopefully, the international community will not make the same mistake of ignoring this latest affront until it is too late.

Unfortunately, there seems to be more interest -- thus far -- in Raul Castro's absurd comments blaming the U.S. for this tragedy.

Thanks to the AFP (and also The Miami Herald):

Cuba launches crackdown after dissident hunger striker's death

Security agents detained dissidents across Cuba Wednesday to prevent protests at the funeral of a leading dissident whose death in a prison hunger strike has sparked international outrage, an activist said.

Orlando Zapata, 42, was to be buried in his hometown of Banes, 830 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana, after a wake at the home of his mother, who called her son's death a "premeditated murder."
"My son was tortured the whole time he was in prison," Reina Luisa Tamayo charged in a video on the blog Generacion Y, run by independent journalist Yoani Sanchez.

She called on "the international community to demand the release of the rest of the (political) prisoners... so that what happened to my boy does not happen again."

Zapata's death 85 days into a hunger strike to protest prison conditions drew international condemnation and calls for an investigation and the release of all political prisoners.

But the government's initial reaction appeared to be to move swiftly against other dissidents.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the outlawed Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told AFP that security agents had detained about 30 activists Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Some also have been held in their houses, without a judicial warrant, to prevent people from going to the wake," he said.

Dissidents have been rounded up in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Las Tunas and Camaguey, all in the east, and in the central city of Placetas, Sanchez said.

White House Extends National Emergency


State Department on Orlando Zapata's Death

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Death of Cuban Dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo

On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following an eleven-week hunger strike. We are deeply saddened to learn of his death, and the U.S. government extends its heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends, and supporters. Zapata was arrested in 2003 on charges of "contempt for authority." While in Havana last week, the USG delegation for Migration Talks raised Zapata's incarceration and poor health with Cuban officials and urged them to provide all necessary medical care.

Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

In 2003, Cuban pro-democracy activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo was sentenced to decades in prison for his advocacy on behalf of freedom and democracy.

While in prison, he courageously resisted the regime's violence and repression in order to preserve his human dignity.

In the process, he preserved the dignity of an entire nation.

Yesterday, he made the ultimate sacrifice.

It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure his living sacrifice was not in vain.

May his free soul rest in peace.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 1967-2010

Another Tragic Anniversary

From the final judgment by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence King in the civil lawsuit against the Cuban Air Force and the Cuban government:

The government of Cuba, on February 24th 1996, in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human rights, murdered four human beings in international airspace over the Florida Straits. The victims were Brothers to the Rescue pilots, flying two civilian unarmed planes on a routine humanitarian mission, searching for rafters in the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

As the civilian planes flew over international waters, a Russian built MiG 29 of the Cuban Air Force, without warning, reason, or provocation blasted the defenseless planes out of the sky with sophisticated air-to-air missiles in two separate attacks. The pilots and their aircraft disintegrated in the mid-air explosions following the impact of the missiles. The destruction was so complete that the four bodies were never recovered.

Statement by U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Kendrick Meek on the Tragic Death of Cuba Prisoner of Conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Washington, DC – Kendrick Meek today issued the following statement following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner of conscience in Cuba who passed away after a 47-year arbitrary prison detention by the brutal Castro regime.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Orlando's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, and his family at this most difficult time. The Cuban government's stunning lack of respect for human rights was highlighted by Orlando as much in his life as in his death. He stood for freedom in the face of indignity and joins those who have put their lives on the line for the reality of a free Cuba. His stand was an act of conviction – a call for freedom in the face of oppression."

In 2003, Amnesty International declared Orlando a "prisoner of conscience" in recognition of his extraordinary courage.

Statement by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson

"Freedom-loving people everywhere should hold the Cuban regime responsible for the fate of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. A political prisoner facing 36 years in prison for defying the Cuban government, Zapata went on a hunger strike nearly three months ago. His reported death today is a sad reminder of the tragic cost of oppression and a dictatorship that devalues human life. At the same time, it's a reminder that the Cuban people continue to fight for their freedom. "

-- U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Statement by U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart

Diaz-Balart reacts to the murder of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Washington, DC- Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) made public today the following statement after learning of the murder of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo at the hands of the Cuban tyranny:

"To the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, to all his family, friends, and colleagues in the struggle for freedom, my deepest and most sincere condolences. Like Pedro Luis Boitel, the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is now part of Cuba's most glorious history. His murder by the tyrant Fidel Castro and his cowardly jailers will never be forgotten, nor will it be subject to any future statutes of limitations. Orlando Zapata Tamayo's sacrifice will not be in vain, and he will be forever remembered with infinite honor by the Cuban Republic."

Rep. Sires Letters on Orlando Zapata Tamayo



Who Cares About Orlando Zapata Tamayo?

Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo is reportedly in a coma due to the 80-day hunger strike he undertook to protest the beatings and arbitrary sentences imposed on him by the Castro regime (adding up to 47 years).

Yet, by reading the latest reports out of Havana-based foreign news bureaus, this tragedy is apparently not as newsworthy as the Castro regime's drop in cigar sales, which has gotten extensive coverage this week.

Perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise.

Two former Havana-based foreign correspondents -- Isabel Garcia-Zarza of Reuters and Vicente Botin of Spain's TVE -- have recently written books about their complex professional experiences in Castro's Cuba.

Both books coincide in describing how foreign journalists in Cuba "auto-censure" their articles, tone down criticism of the dictatorship and minimize its oppressive reality in order to avoid being expelled from the island by the Castro regime.

Unfortunately, a story about these two books has only been published in Spanish by El Nuevo Herald newspaper. We hope this story will also be reported in English, as it reveals a disturbing ethical challenge.

So who cares about Orlando Zapata Tamayo?

Time will tell, but the clock is sadly winding down.


Yes to Castro, No to Lobo?

Thought provoking post by José Alberto López Rafaschieri and Luis Alberto López Rafaschieri in the blog, From the Beginning:

Latin American Unity Summit: Yes to Castro, no to Lobo

The Rio Group will meet in Mexico in the so-called "Unity Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean." This meeting will discuss a series of regional issues, but it is noteworthy that the president of Honduras was not invited for failing to meet democratic standards of some of the participating countries.

Contradictorily, while they deny the participation of Honduras in the forum, they celebrate Cuba's intervention. Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay, who do not recognize the government of Honduras and reject its participation in the Cancun meeting, forget that in this country the people elected their representatives by universal suffrage.

However, in Cuba, a regime has based its authority solely on repression, and its current president received the power by direct appointment of the former dictator. So it seems that for many Latin American politicians the appointment of Raul Castro is more democratic than the election of Porfirio Lobo. In other words, according to their understanding of democratic standards and international law, the will of Fidel Castro deserves more recognition than the will of Honduran people.

The New Generation

Monday, February 22, 2010
The America's Quarterly has featured an intriguing article by Cuban blogger, Claudia Cadelo of Octavo Cerco, fittingly entitled, "The Blogger."

Here's an excerpt:

For the past 50 years, leadership in Cuba has been restricted to one person. As a consequence, the definition of a leader has been distorted and the dynamic of leadership skewed. The media refers to Fidel Castro as "Maximum Leader," a phrase that connotes something perpetual, powerful and omnipresent. The term, and its widespread use, discourage the very notion that young people can some day take over leadership in their own right [...]

Today, Cuban youth avoid the use of words like "leader" or "revolutionaries." Those words have been distorted by the burden placed on them by Cuban political rhetoric. Under the old definition, a revolutionary is one who supports the Cuban Revolution and its historical leaders. Thus, young people prefer less historically loaded terms, such as "vanguard," "independent citizen," "independent journalist," and "independent artist." The concept of independence, in fact, emphasizes their autonomy from the government. There are some young people who call themselves revolutionaries, but they do it in contrast to the Cuban revolution, which they claim is no longer revolutionary but instead simply represents the status quo.

Cuban Doctors Sue for "Modern Slavery"

Seven Cuban doctors and a nurse have filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court against the Castro regime, the Venezuelan government and its state-owned oil company PDVSA for forcing them to work -- like "modern day slaves" -- as payment for the Castro regime's oil debt to Venezuela.

The complaint alleges that the doctors were "intentionally and arbitrarily forced to work in conditions of servitude for debt" and that they were used as "economic slaves" and "political tools."

While in Venezuela, Cuban doctors are closely watched by security officials and subject to intimidation and punishment if they refuse to work or try to escape.

The Cuban doctors are Julio César Lubian, Ileana Mastrapa, Miguel Majfud, María del Carmen Milanés, Frank Vargas, John Doe and Julio César Dieguez, and the nurse, Osmani Rebeaux.

Unfortunately, this news has yet to be covered by the English media, but it has been reported by multiple media outlets in Spanish.

UPDATE: It has now been reported in English.

"Our Country"?

On Saturday, Reuters reported:

"Cuba angrily criticized U.S. officials on Saturday for meeting with government opponents following high-level talks on migration issues and said it showed the United States' real goal is to topple Cuba's communist government, not move toward better relations."

First of all, the Obama Administration, including the head of the U.S. delegation, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly, should be commended for this act of solidarity with Cuba's courageous civil society and pro-democracy leaders.

What a difference from last September's charade by then Acting DAS Bisa Williams.

But it's the Castro regime's statement attacking the meeting that sadly encapsulates the main problem:

"With this offensive conduct toward the Cuban authorities and people, the American government confirms that instruments of subversive policy against Cuba continue, and shows the lack of real will to improve ties with our country."

For the Castro regime, "our country" solely means the totalitarian dictatorship that exerts power through force, fear and repression.

Anyone that disagrees with this dictatorship and its octogenarian leadership; anyone that wants to freely express themselves; anyone that wants to meet with whomever they want, whenever they want; anyone that wants to experience any of the basic rights that most of us take for granted; or anyone that wants to choose their economic livelihood and political leadership are essentially non-persons.

Worse yet, they are punished through imprisonment, exclusion and exile.

Cuba is not the Castro regime's country, it's the Cuban people's country. And the Cuban people have never elected the Castro regime as its representative government.

Meanwhile, those that met with DAS Kelly -- and others, like Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," who were arrested en route -- are simply (and courageously) exercising their human rights without asking the dictatorship for permission.

They deserve our recognition and respect.

An Oft-Repeated Contradiction

Sunday, February 21, 2010
Last week, the Texas Tribune published an article regarding the state's agricultural sales to Castro's Cuba.

It was fairly predictable.

However, the following contradiction -- often repeated by opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba -- was noteworthy:

"Despite the continued rift, some Texas lawmakers are open to expanding even more financial and diplomatic avenues with Cuba. State Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, authored and successfully passed a resolution in 2001 requesting that Congress ease up on its trade sanctions with Cuba.

'I have been convinced for quite some time that the only people that are suffering in Cuba because of the trade embargo are everyday folks,' he said. 'Castro and his lieutenants, the people that are in with the Communist Party government — they are all living well with the European and Mexican investments that are going on there.'
"

Babalu Blog's Alberto de la Cruz pointedly responded to State Rep. Menendez:

"So let me get this straight: If the US drops the embargo and trades freely with Cuba, this will help the Cuban people. To support and bolster this argument, you cite the fact that all the unfettered trade the regime has with Europe and Mexico -- which you would like the US to enjoy -- does not help the Cuban people and actually helps Castro, his lieutenants, and members of the Communist Party 'live well.'

Yeah... right. That makes total and complete sense."

Quote (Argument) of the Week

"First, I am skeptical that the market will open before the Castros die. Their Marxist dictatorship has made slaves out of the Cuban people for over almost 60 years. The USA had go to war against itself to free its own people. The permission for new investment in the tourist industry is not a strong sign that the Castros want to open up their slave state to further economic development. It is a sign that they need and want more capital. We are going through a global recession and the Castros' cash flow has also been negatively affected. The tourism development is allowed on small, defined areas where the Castros can control the 'foreign incursion' and reap the royalties from it. It is like a family turning a small part of their backyard into a garden to have fresh vegetables. They are not tearing down the house to become dedicated farmers or vegetarians. They just want to grow some of their own food."

-- David Berger, Managing Director for Latin America and Caribbean for global real estate firm NAI Global, Site Selection's "Opening Up Cuba," February 15, 2010