Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cuban hunger striker buried as security agents watch

Posted on Friday, 02.26.10
Cuban hunger striker buried as security agents watch
Cuban security agents kept a close eye as about 150 people, some
shouting against the government, attended the funeral of a political
prisoner who died on a hunger strike.

Amid shouts of ``down with the dictatorship'' despite a heavy Cuban
secret police presence, about 150 people attended Thursday's burial of
Orlando Zapata, a political prisoner who starved himself to death to
protest prison abuses.

``This has given me even more strength to continue fighting . . . for
democracy and freedom, and I believe that he is an example for the Cuban
people, an example of valor,'' said his mother, Reina Tamayo.

Scores of security agents, ``some even in the bushes,'' watched as the
150 relatives, neighbors and dissidents walked from her home in the
eastern town of Banes to the cemetery, she told El Nuevo Herald.

Repeated shouts of ``Free all political prisoners'' and ``Down with the
dictatorship!'' were nevertheless heard during the burial, according to
a recording of the ceremony sent to a Miami-based group that supports
dissidents on the island.

Asked about Cuban leader Raúl Castro's comment Wednesday that Zapata's
death was ``lamentable,'' Tamayo said: ``I don't accept those
condolences from the Cuban government because they are murderers.''

Zapata's supporters allege that Cuban authorities in essence killed the
42-year-old, jailed since 2003, because three beatings by prison guards
led him to launch the 83-day hunger strike. He died Tuesday.

``My son, they killed you only because you refused to surrender to them.
You died standing up, my son, not on your knees,'' Tamayo said in the
funeral recording. She also alleged that prison authorities abused
Zapata especially harshly because he was black. ``The reason is because
he's black. . . . They said, `Let's finish this black guy.' ''

Cuba's government-controlled news media had not mentioned his death as
of Thursday, and the Havana correspondent for Spain's El País newspaper
reported Cuba's government had ``advised foreign correspondents not to
travel to Banes to cover the funeral.''

The government made sure there were no other protests in Cuba, detaining
dozens of dissidents and warning others to stay home, said Elizardo
Sanchez, head of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Human Rights and
National Reconciliation Commission.

``Our count so far shows the wave of government repression affected
about 100 people,'' he said by telephone from Havana, adding that while
most of the detentions were brief, some of the dissidents still had not
returned home as of Thursday. ``This death is nevertheless going to
provide much impetus to the resistance against this regime.''

At least seven cases of Cuban prisoners who died during hunger strikes
have been ``well documented'' in Cuba under the Castro governments, the
last one in 1992, said Maria Werlau, executive director of the Cuba Archive.

Whether Cuban dissidents will step up their activities remained to be
seen, but Zapata's death has clearly become an international issue, with
foreign government officials blasting the government for allowing him to
die and the Cuban government attacking Zapata and defending its actions.

Zapata had a criminal record dating back to 1990, including charges of
fraud, ``public exhibitionism'' and possession of knives, and while in
jail attacked prison officials, according to an e-mail from Alberto
Gonzalez, spokesman for the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington.

Zapata received ``all the medicines and treatments required until his
death,'' Gonzalez wrote, adding, ``Cuba laments the death of this person
-- in this case victim of the . . . U.S. government which incites and
seeks out actions with fatal endings such as these.''

Havana also released the text of Castro's comments Wednesday lamenting
the death, in which the Cuban leader also seemed to blame the death on
the U.S. government. ``The day the U.S. decides to live in peace with
us, all these problems will end,'' he was quoted as saying.

Foreign leaders continued to criticize Cuba. Even Spain's Prime Minister
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a socialist who wants the European Union
to lift all its sanctions on Cuba, took a swing at Havana, saying, ``We
must demand that the Cuban regime free the prisoners of conscience and
respect human rights. . . . This is a fundamental demand of the
international community.''

For the second day in a row, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted
Cuba, saying that Zapata ``was jailed for years for saying what he
believed, for seeking democracy'' and that the U.S. government had asked
Cuban authorities to provide him with medical attention during the
hunger strike. ``Unfortunately, he paid with his life for his valor and

Cuban hunger striker buried as security agents watch - Cuba - (26 February 2010)

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