This February 23 marks five years since the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. This humble black native of Santiago de Cuba, dissident mason and plumber, died after carrying out an 86-day hunger strike in the prison where he was being held, as an act of protest against the conditions of his imprisonment.
His death garnered wide media coverage because of the contradictory and controversial list of reasons that the Cuban government publicized against Zapata to fend off the accusations of abuse and medical neglect put forth by his family and the opposition. The official media deny that the matter involved a political dissident, but rather, that Zapata was a common criminal.
However, the 2003 book, “The Dissidents,” by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and the recently deceased Luis Baez, had already included Zapata’s name and photo as a member of the opposition movement–and also, before his death, Amnesty International had declared him a prisoner of conscience.
There are two constants of dictatorial regimes: that they invariably have powerful enemies as well as political prisoners. The latter are associated with the former, even if they are only peaceful compatriots and are engaging in independent discourse. Any pretext is valid so long as they can stay in power. This is why, five years after the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata, there are still political prisoners in our jails, even though the authorities insist that they are common convicts.
It is because of living without freedom that individuals often choose a form of struggle that threatens their own lives. The option to abstain from eating food is a decision that tends to be linked to the desire to denounce unjust situations. A government composed of just persons should attend to these claims, rather than victimize those who sacrifice themselves and ask to be vindicated using fasting as a tool.
After 56 years of the Castro regime’s government, Cubans continue to escape towards any geograpic coordinate. The lack of democracy and the oppression during this government’s tenure has caused many to launch themselves in the sea in migratory suicide missions–in which we know not how many have lost their lives–just to satiate the hunger for freedoms and rights that this society endures.
I pay homage to Orlando Zapata on the fifth anniversary of his departure–and also to the people of Cuba, who for decades have been longing for full and complete respect for their rights, and whose abusive and stagnant government causes them to die a little of hunger every day.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
25 February 2015