Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blacks bear the brunt of Cuba's brutality

Posted on Sunday, 02.28.10
Blacks bear the brunt of Cuba's brutality

Orlando Zapata Tamayo -- a young, poor, black Cuban worker imprisoned
since 2003 -- died after an almost three-months-long hunger strike to
protest racial oppression, the denial of civil and human rights and the
brutality he had endured in prison. He became the first black Cuban
dissident during Fidel Castro's 51-year regime to surrender his life in
such protest.

Accused of ``public disorder, resisting arrest and disturbing the
peace,'' Zapata received a three-year sentence but was resentenced for
``rebellion'' to a total of 36 years. He went on hunger strike on Dec.
3, 2009, after a severe assault by guards that almost left him dead.

``My son was murdered because of his black skin,'' sobbed his grieving
mother. Cuban civil-rights activists of the Movement for Racial
Integration (MIR), Citizens Watch Group Against Racial Discrimination
(OCDR), Bruno Sayas Human Rights and Health Center, National Citizens
Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) and Juan Rene Betancourt
Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement (MCAC) wholly agree with her.

These activists report that 85 percent of Cuba's imprisoned population
is black, with aggressive racial-profiling tactics playing their part,
as is 60 percent of the island's 200 political prisoners. Black
detainees have long complained of being racially humiliated, frequently
beaten and denied amenities available to white inmates. But Zapata's
determination to die rather than bend reflects a major shift taking
place inside Cuba.

No longer passive

The past 25 years have ushered in new forces that are pushing to the
forefront issues of racism, sexism and multiethnic power sharing. This
has caught off guard both the Castro regime and the overwhelmingly
white, right-wing external opposition, forcing them to scramble to
reassert control over those whom they once considered as passive
political constituencies -- Cuban blacks, who make up 62 percent - 72
percent of the population.

Cuba's rulers, say activists, see the growing dark face of the
opposition as ``ingratitude'' that requires harsher punishment. They
point to the case of black Communist leader Juan Carlos Robinson,
sentenced in 2006 to 12 years in jail for ``corruption,'' an offense for
which former foreign minister, Roberto Robaina, who's white, was
arrested in 2002 but placed under house arrest.

They also note the executions as ``terrorists'' in 2003 of Jorge Luis
Martinez Isaac, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo and Bárbaro Leodán
Sevilla García -- three young black men who hijacked a ferryboat in an
attempt to flee Cuba. That two of them were veterans of the war in
Angola did not stop the regime from shooting all three within 48 hours
of their recapture; the first ever execution of anyone for hijacking. (A
score of U.S hijackers live freely in Cuba).

Activists believe the regime was sending a coded message to all
Afro-Cubans: Opposition or dissent would not be tolerated, especially
from blacks.

Scoring political points

Zapata's ordeal is being spun from the other side of the coin, too --
the predominantly white and U.S.-based, right-wing anti-Castro
opposition who clearly stand to score political points from the case of
a black martyr. Righteous declarations can be expected from
organizations such as Democracy Movement, the Cuban American National
Foundation, the Cuban Liberty Council and, especially, the Cuban
Democratic Directorate. Many Cuban civil-rights activists accuse these
groups of working to corral and control the new internal opposition
forces on behalf of interests linked to Cuba's former Jim Crow oligarchy.

That's why they see U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's ``indignation'' over
Zapata's death, as much as president Raúl Castro's ``regrets,'' as a
double farce. A staunch supporter of the tiny, white elite of wealth
that was overthrown in 1959, Diaz-Balart can cry crocodile tears, but
during his time in Congress his right-wing, pro-embargo agenda has only
hindered the ability of black Cubans to improve their lot.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo is now a people's martyr. But those who struggled
with him and share his aspirations may not allow his brave, principled
legacy to be hijacked -- certainly not by those who before 1959 despised
him for being black and continue to do so in spite of their hypocritical

Zapata's legacy belongs to Cuba's future, not to its past of overt
racial segregation and subservience to U.S. neo-colonial interests.

Carlos Moore is an ethnologist and political scientist and author of
Pichón, A Memoir: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba.

Blacks bear the brunt of Cuba's brutality - Other Views - (28 February 2010)

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