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Stop coddling Cuban dictatorship

Posted on Thursday, 02.25.10
Stop coddling Cuban dictatorship
OUR OPINION: The U.N., OAS and EU should challenge Cuba

HAVANA — Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on Feb. 23 as a result of a hunger
strike he maintained for more than 80 days to demand adequate treatment
for his status as a prisoner of conscience. He staged many other strikes
since March 20, 2003.

Arrested during the repressive wave called the Black Spring in March
2003, he was not among the 75 defendants given summary trials with
sentences of up to 28 years' imprisonment. He was sentenced to only
three years, but not through kindness or justice. He should have been
released four years ago.

In reality, he never committed a crime, because he only defended his
right to express his ideas — the release of political prisoners,
prosperity for the Cuban people and love for his homeland.

Cuban president regrets jailed dissident's death
Cuban president regrets jailed dissident's death

Cuban President Raul Castro issued an unprecedented statement of regret
Wednesday over the death of a jailed dissident after a lengthy hunger
strike that has sparked condemnation in Washington and in European capitals.

Official media said in a statement released to the foreign press and
posted on a government Web site that the Cuban leader blamed the United
States for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, but did not explain how.
That post was later taken down. In a video of Castro's comments obtained
by The Associated Press, he did not appear to directly blame Washington.

"We took him to Cuba's best hospitals, and he died. We very much regret
it," Castro said during a joint appearance with Brazilian President Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was a simple man. A plumber and bricklayer, he was
arrested by the Cuban regime in 2003 — part of a sweep of 75 human
rights activists, independent journalists and librarians pushing Cuba to
follow the international declaration of human rights.

Mr. Zapata, a member of the Alternative Republican Movement, died
Tuesday after 83 days of a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.
His mother said he was beaten repeatedly. Prison officials didn't send
him to a hospital until Feb. 17, too late to save the emaciated
42-year-old prisoner of conscience.

In what may be a new low in cynicism, even for him, Raúl Castro issued
an unprecedented — and totally phony — statement of regret over Mr.
Zapata's death, blaming it on the United States for reasons that no sane
person could possibly fathom. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said the U.S. government was “deeply distressed'' at his death.

Sentenced initially in March 2003 to three years in prison for contempt,
public disorder and disobedience for protesting Cuba's incarceration of
political prisoners, Mr. Zapata's sentence was extended later to 36
years for his protests in prison.

His case is not that rare. During the dictatorship's 51 years in power,
other political prisoners have been sent home ill from beatings to die
shortly afterward.

Will the world take notice of Cuban authorities' appalling disregard for
human life this time? Will sanctions be imposed? Will the regime be put
on notice?

We won't hold our breath.

Mr. Zapata died the same week that leaders from Latin American countries
were meeting in Mexico with Raúl Castro to gush over having him join the
fraternity. Those leaders ignore that Cuba is harassing and beating
bloggers who question the regime, that it has at least 200 political
prisoners in jails for “crimes'' that violate Cuba's own claims of
being a paradise for human rights, that the island gulag won't allow the
Red Cross or international human rights organizations to inspect prison
conditions. And so much more.

The United Nations, European Union and the Organization for American
States should be speaking up and taking action. Surely, when suicides
occurred at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo, they did, as did this
editorial board.

But on Cuba, the U.N., EU and OAS prefer silence — or mealy-mouthed
statements about sovereignty that excuse Cuba's 51 years of grave human
rights violations.

On Wednesday, for instance, the Cuban dictatorship was rounding up
dozens of the regime's opponents in various cities to stop them from
attending Mr. Zapata's funeral.

What are they afraid of? These are unarmed men and women.

Race may be a crucial factor in the regime's fears. More and more of the
Castro brothers' opponents are Afro-Cubans, like Mr. Zapata.

After decades of being told that the U.S. government only wants to
impose racism in Cuba, many black Cubans have come to realize that it is
their own government that discriminates against blacks and Cubans of
mixed race. Young Afro-Cuban rappers have been voicing their concerns
for a decade.

Mr. Zapata stood up for freedom for all Cubans in the face of the
hemisphere's worst oppressor. Any civilized country would have made sure
that he received intravenous feedings — not beatings. He did not have
to die, but with too many democratic leaders' silent nods to the regime,
he did.

Stop coddling Cuban dictatorship – Editorials – MiamiHerald.com (25
February 2010)

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