Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner in Cuba, died from a hunger strike. Below is an article by John McAuliff from the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. While I disagree with a few aspects of the article, I thought it important to include here because it tells an important back story regarding the US’ role in all this.
Following the article is the statement from President Raul Castro regarding Zapata Tamayo’s death.
Bobby Sands, the first of ten hunger strikers who died in Northern Ireland
AP reports that Orlando Zapata Tamayo has died as the result of a hunger strike in Cuba. He was designated by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience after his arrest in 2003.
Hunger strikes deliberately pose a no-win dilemma to all systems of incarceration. In Belfast, ten people regarded as heroes by Irish nationalists and many Irish Americans died resisting their self-described political imprisonment.
The US deals with the same problem at Guantanamo Bay by forcing a tube down the throat of prisoners on hunger strike, an action which has been condemned by human rights advocates.
Last June Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi committed suicide at the east end of Cuba. As reported by the New York Times
“he had been force-fed in a restraint chair…Guantánamo records show that Mr. Hanashi’s weight at one point fell to 87 pounds. Although the death is the first in the Obama administration, there have been five prior deaths at the camp, including four suicides.”
When three prisoners died in 2006 the prison commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris stated: “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.” Given his deteriorating health, the Cubans should have released Tamayo as they have quietly done in previous situations of gravely deteriorating health, even if, from the same security/control perspective as guided the British, that sets a bad precedent.
Die hard opponents of reform in US relations cite his death as one more example of the Cuban government’s evil. Florida Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Kendrick Meek and Senator Bill Nelson were the first to speak out.
Political opponents like Tamayo should not still be in jail but the blame is not solely Cuba’s. His imprisonment was part of the “black spring” of 2003, precipitated if not deliberately provoked under the regime change agenda of then head of the US Interests Section James Cason.
Tamayo and other victims of Cuba’s crackdown could have been freed more than two years ago if the US responded to signals sent privately to the Bush Administration through European diplomats including the Papal Secretary of State.
The same proposal of mutual gestures was later made publicly by Assembly Speaker Ricardo Alarcon and President Raul Castro. If the US releases the five “heroes” Cuba considers to be political prisoners, Cuba will release the 50 still imprisoned from 2003 as well as all others the US views as political prisoners.
Cuba needs to clarify whether those released will have the option of remaining in the country as well as to emigrate, but that should not be impossible if the US pledges to relate to them in a normal diplomatic fashion.
In the meantime, heartfelt condolences are to be expressed to the family of Mr. Tamayo and numerous other casualties of the pointless hostility and travel and trade embargo afflicting both nations, not least the deaths perpetrated by the still unpunished Luis Posada Carriles.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
STATEMENTS MADE BY RAÚL CASTRO RUZ, PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCILS OF STATE AND MINISTERS ABOUT THE DEATH OF THE PRISONER ORLANDO ZAPATA TAMAYO, MARIEL, FEBRUARY 24, 2010
We very much regret the occurrence.
He was sentenced to three years but had committed crimes in prison and so his sentence was increased. Later, he was taken to our best hospitals. He died: we regret it very much.
Unfortunately, in this confrontation which we have with the United States , we have lost thousands of Cubans, particularly the victims of state terrorism. There have been around 5,000 among those who died and were wounded, not to mention another few thousand who were able to recover, including diplomatic personnel who were also murdered abroad and including the disappeared in other countries.
The day the United States decides to live in peace with us, all those problems will cease and we shall overcome many other problems. Quite simply, we have to get used to living with respect for each other.
They say they want to have talks with us and we are willing to discuss any problem they like with the US government; I have repeated it three times, in our Parliament, all, all, all. We are not going to accept talks unless they are with absolute equality on both sides. They can make inquiries or ask about any Cuban matter, but we too have the right to ask about all the United States problems.
We do not recognize the right of any country, no matter how powerful it may be, to meddle in our internal affairs. Nevertheless, we are willing to talk about everything.
In half a century, we have not murdered anyone here, we have tortured no one here, we have not carried out any extra-judicial execution. Well, here in Cuba there have been tortures, but they have taken place at the Guantánamo Naval Base, not on territory governed by the Revolution.