Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger
Posted: July 6, 2010 10:20 AM
Much has been said in the Cuban regime’s official media about my son
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a young black man. Many lies have been told, and
it has been said that my son was a criminal, and that he was not simply
allowed to die. The truth is that my son was murdered. The truth is that
my son was allowed to die on a hunger strike he held to demand respect
for his rights, and to demand freedom for his people. Today, I would
like to tell you just who Orlando Zapata Tamayo was: a defender of human
rights, and my beloved son.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born on May 15, 1967, a native of Santiago de
Cuba. He spent his childhood in Santiago and Antilla in Holguin
province, where he went to school through the ninth grade. He never
spoke much, but he had a big heart for his family and all those who knew
him, always giving the best of himself to his fellow man.
He competed in boxing at the provincial level in the 14-16 year olds
division, winning first place and prizes for best match. Later, he began
his working life. He earned a degree as a bricklayer with an elementary
understanding of carpentry and plumbing, which allowed him to work in
those areas. On several occasions working with crews in Havana, he
earned the distinction of being named best worker.
Even though he would be offered a certain sum for his work before he
started, when he finished the job he would be paid a lesser amount of
money. Due to this kind of deceit, he dissociated himself from the only
official employer, the government, and started working on his own
account in order to survive. He was fined on repeated occasions for
registering home addresses other than where he lived. It was through his
work that he managed to he came into contact with the opposition. He
founded a dissident discussion group in Havana’s Central Park with
activist Henry Saumell and others. He also worked on the Varela Project,
which collected more than 10,000 signatures, as required by the Cuban
constitution, on a citizen’s initiative calling for democratic reform in
Cuba. He was a member of the Republican Alternative Movement [Movimiento
Alternativa Republicana] and the 30th of November Party [Partido 30 de
Noviembre] which were actively engaged in a peaceful struggle against
the Castro brothers’ regime. As a result of this work, he was detained
on several occasions.
Zapata was arrested on December 6, 2002 in Havana’s Lawton neighborhood
while on his way to attend a meeting with Dr. Oscar Elias Bicet at the
Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, and he was then imprisoned. He was
released three months later, without ever being tried. When he launched
a protest fast with Marta Beatriz Roque and other activists against the
continued jailing of activists, among them Dr. Biscet, he was arrested
in the crackdown known as the Black Spring of 2003. Regime officials
tried him based on his first arrest and sentenced him to three years
imprisonment for resistance, disobedience and disorderly conduct for his
position of opposition to the regime.
While in prison, his resistance led to additional charges with each one
adding years to his sentence. Ultimately, the three year sentence was
extended to 57 years and six months in prison. He remained a resistor,
eating only what his family brought him. He only accepted water in
prison, sleeping on the floor with bedding from home. His path through
various prisons was one of physical and emotional abuse, which left
their marks on his body. He underwent surgery for an intracrinal
hematoma produced by a blow delivered by convicted criminals thrown into
his sealed, maximum security solitary confinement cell. The prisons he
went through were: Cien y Aldaboz, Villa Marista, Quivicán, Guanajay,
Taco Taco, Holguín Provincial Prison, Cuba Sí, Kilo 8, and Combinado del
Este in Holguin.
In Holguin, he suffered his last beatings, which were intended to end
his life, on August 29, September 24, and October 26, of 2009. To demand
respect for his rights, he carried out a water-only protest fast in
intervals for 18 months. He would be shaved and have his hair cut only
by force. He never wore a common prisoner’s uniform, the uniform of a
convicted criminal. While he was in Holguin Provincial Prison, State
Security video taped him often.
He was sent to Kilo 8, the maximum security prison in Camagüey, where
they stole his food upon arrival in order to force him to eat the prison
food. They also forced him to dress as a common prisoner, while he had
previously worn white at every prison he had gone through.
Zapata began his final hunger strike in order to demand respect for his
rights as a political prisoner. He spent one month and three days on the
floor. He was denied water for 18 days in an attempt to break his
defiance, which provoked two heart attacks while still being held at
Kilo 8. Afterwards he was transferred to the Prisoners Ward at Amalia
Simoni Hospital. This is when his family was able to see him briefly.
They only allowed him one bottle of water, but not the one from which he
wanted to drink.
He was transferred to a so-called “Intensive Care Unit” that was cobbled
together on the spot exclusively for him, and where he was kept under
guard by armed soldiers. This all created a delay that caused his health
to worsen. He had to be transferred to the Prisoners’ Hospital at
Combinado del Este Prison, where his health worsened to a critical
point. The authorities knew that the goal was to murder him, to
eliminate him. He was then transferred to Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital
where he died on February 23, 2010 at approximately 3:30 p.m.
We, Zapata’s family and friends, have suffered a great deal of
repression since his death. My son died for the sake of his belief in
freedom. We have been attacked by groups of people organized by State
Security, who want to prevent us from marching to the cemetery after
leaving Mass on Sundays. My son’s tomb was desecrated by them, the police.
The Castro brothers try to intimidate us, but what they don’t know is
that this family has never been afraid. This family has never knelt to
anyone. Now, with even greater courage, dignity, and principles, we will
follow the ideas and words of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was murdered,
who was tortured, and who was denied water for 18 days in order to do
away with him. But nobody was ever able to subjugate my son. He never
knelt before the dictatorship. He never gave in, and he preferred to die
rather than to live on his knees.
This is why we say: Zapata Lives! We shout it in the streets. We shout
it wherever we may be. Zapata lives on in our hearts. His example guides
the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.
Note: Nearly 50,000 signatures have been collected, worldwide, demanding
the release of Cuba’s political prisoners in the name of Orlando Zapata
Tamayo. The petition, and associated blog, can be read here in English