Sunday, February 28, 2010

Guest Blog - Liannis Merino - Reflejos de la vida de Orlando Zapata Tamayo

El asesinato premeditado a Orlando Zapata Tamayo para mí ha sido un golpe estremecedor pero no extraño. Ya que desde que fue apresado en el año 2003 fue torturado y confinado en prisiones de alta seguridad para silenciar su conducta contestataria ante las violaciones a los derechos humanos que comete el Régimen Castrista. Fue la estocada final para la no celebración del día en que nací.

Entre la separación de mi familia, el destierro y la impotencia de no poder liberar a mi Cuba ya, agudizan mis ansias de lucha. Cuando comencé a ejercer el periodismo independiente dentro de la isla tuve la oportunidad de conocer de cerca la historia de este luchador y siendo natal Banes, provincia Holguín donde reside su madre; compartí con ellos momentos de incalculable dolor y angustia sirviendo de portavoz de sus denuncias.
Zapata fue uno de esos jóvenes cubanos que le fue arrebatada su libertad y con ella la oportunidad de crear su propia familia y de tener hijos. Es uno de esos hombres que el Gobierno cubano no quiere libres ni con vida porque teme a su influencia en la sociedad civil.

Entre las cualidades del, que despertaron mi admiración y respeto estuvo su posición inclaudicable ante cualquier situación sin importar cuán riesgosa o difícil fuera. Siempre se mantuvo firme a sus ideales. Rebelde pero humano y su humildad le ayudo a ganar el cariño y apoyo de todo el que le conoció, tanto reos políticos como comunes. Otra de las cosas que me impresionaron fue la consideración que siempre guardo a su familia, se conformaba con lo que podían llevarle y aunque no aceptaba ni alimentos ni nada del penal compartía sus bienes con todos los reos.

No puedo hablar de Zapata sin resaltar el sacrificio y dedicación de su madre y familia que lo apoyaron hasta el final de su vida. Cuba perdió un valeroso hijo y nosotros un hermano. Ante acciones como esta no debemos quedarnos quietos, no daremos tregua ante tanta injusticia.

Como joven cubana me uno al reclamo de liberación a todos los presos políticos y de conciencia recluidos en cárceles castro-comunistas. Aunque nos maten uno a uno, nos repriman o nos destierren no lograran apagar nuestras ansias de libertad. Mientras que exista dictadura en Cuba se levantaran miles de hombres como Zapata. Nuestros muertos no quedaran impunes y su ejemplo servirá de inspiración para que las nuevas generaciones tomen las riendas de su destino y su futuro.

Gloria eterna a Zapata! Libertad para los presos políticos cubanos! Viva Cuba libre y Abajo la tiranía!

Liannis Merino es de Banes, Holguin y fue presidente de Jóvenes Sin Censura desde su fundacion en el 2005 hasta el 2007 cuando vino a los Estados Unidos.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of Cowards and Criminals

My friends quickly update their Facebook statuses and Tweets with a variant of: Orlando Zapata Tamayo has died. Please pray for him and his family.

‘Too little, too late’ is my initial reaction. I try to put myself in Orlando’s shoes, but that’s useless. What do I know about starving to death? Again, I close my eyes and try to conceptualize what it feels like to die the way he did. Was he in agony for 85 days? Or did his body become numb to the pain before he fell into a coma? What did Orlando feel as his body shut down and consumed itself in a desperate attempt to keep living? Since I couldn’t imagine what Orlando’s last 85 days of life were like I turned to the infinite source of knowledge my generation relies on. I Googled “starvation.”

The first few days after refusing solid foods, Orlando is in significant discomfort as a gnawing pain takes over his stomach and intestines. Already malnourished, he becomes weaker and is unable to sit or stand on his own after a couple of weeks. Chronic diarrhea likely sets in. Too weak to move, Orlando likely lies covered in his own feces for weeks, confined to the prison floor he slept on for over six years.

As his body begins to break apart muscles and organs in a frantic bid for the smallest amounts of energy, intense and sharp pains take over. Slowly dying, dehydration sets in after he is refused a single drop of water for over two weeks. Orlando’s skin then dries out and cracks open, his bare flesh exposed, flies dancing in and out of his wounds. His limbs become stiff and his body convulses like a marionette in the hands of a small child. In and out of consciousness, Orlando hallucinates and his senses are dull during his last days of life. Past the tipping point – he falls into a coma and dies

I wonder how anyone capable of feeling or understanding pain could do such a thing to fellow human being. What extraordinary cowardice must he/she possess to be part of the heinous process that killed this innocent man? At what point do you lose any sense of empathy and humanity and become so callous that watching someone starve to death is nothing more than a minor inconvenience?

What went through the mind of the prison guard who refused Orlando’s pleas for water? I can’t imagine what he told his kids when they asked him what he did at work that day.

“Mi niño, hoy papá ayudo asesinar un hombre inocente – fue una muerte muy lenta y dolorosa.”

“Pero Papi, ¿el no ere una persona como tu y yo? ¿Por que hiciste eso?”

“Mijo, es que tu papá es un cobarde y un criminal.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Remembering Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Why We Keep our Work Going

As you may know, Orlando Zapata Tamayo - an Amnesty International recognized Cuban prisoner of conscience - died yesterday on the eighty-second day of a hunger strike in protest of the deplorable conditions in Cuba’s prisons. This is a truly tragic passing and we extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Seven years ago this week, a small of group of about 100 college students from 13 schools left Harvard inspired and empowered to reach out and connect with young people in Cuba. We heard from Cuban civil society leaders like Oswaldo Paya and Vladimiro Roca about the human rights reality on the ground and made a consorted effort to support our counterparts struggle to exercise their rights on the island. One month later, the Cuban government condemned 75 civil society leaders and independent journalists to harsh prison sentences.

Fourteen years ago today, two unarmed Cessnas on a humanitarian mission were shot down over international waters killing Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales. These are clear examples of the Cuban government’s disregard for human life and continued merciless repression.

For many of us, these events made personal the daily struggle of so many who peacefully fight for their rights in Cuba. Since then, on campuses across the country, we have honored in solidarity the plight of those who relentlessly stand up for justice and freedom. We have learned that no action is too small and that there is strength in "intercambio." We've learned that every opportunity we have to raise awareness about the realities of our brothers and sisters in Cuba brings us closer to a day when all Cubans will be the authors of their own futures. We've seen first hand the importance of our continued support of democratic activists, bloggers, and all those who are fighting for change.

Today, we mourn the passing of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and remember his valiant efforts and unyielding advocacy for the respect of human rights. His selfless actions serve as an inspiration to many. We strongly condemn the reprehensible actions of the Cuban government against its own people as we keep Orlando and his family in our thoughts and prayers.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, May 16, 1967 - February 23, 2010

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Cuban human rights activist and prisoner of conscience, who had been on a hunger strike for 82 days. May he rest in peace.

What follows is a BBC News account:

Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo has died in hospital after 85 days on hunger strike.

Mr Zapata, 42, had been transferred to a Havana hospital from a smaller clinic in the central province of Camaguey after his condition worsened on Monday.

Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience after his arrest in March 2003 in a crackdown on opposition groups.

He had been refusing food in protest at jail conditions.

Mr Zapata, whose family announced last week that he was seriously ill, died on Tuesday in Havana's Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital.

His death marks the first time in nearly 40 years a Cuban activist starved himself to death to protest against government abuses.

The last political prisoner to die on hunger strike in Cuba was Pedro Luis Boitel, a poet and student leader, in 1972.

'Better future'

Mr Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, told the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald by telephone that her son had been "murdered" by Cuba's authorities.

"They managed to do what they wanted," she said. "They ended the life of a fighter for human rights.''

Laura Pollan, a dissident from the group known as Ladies in White, told the BBC: "He wasn't a murderer. He wasn't a thief. He wasn't a rapist. He was simply a young man who wanted a better future for Cuba."

Mr Zapata was among a group of some 75 dissidents jailed by the authorities in 2003. He was initially sentenced to three years in prison, but this was increased to 25 years in subsequent trials.

Cuba's illegal but tolerated Human Rights Commission says there are about 200 political prisoners still held in Cuba, about one-third less than when Raul Castro took over as president from his brother Fidel.

But if anything harassment of dissidents has increased over the past year, the group says.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ACTION ALERT: The Hunger Strike of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Update 2: Orlando Zapata Tamayo passed away at the age of 42 early this afternoon. May he rest in peace.

Breaking Update: The latest reports from Orlando Zapata Tamayo's mother suggest that his life is in serious jeapordy. In an interview with Radio Martí, Reina Luisa Tamayo gave the following prognosis of her son's state, "I think we're going to lose Orlando Zapata. I think we're going to lose him." The latest from the Cuban Democratic Directorate, confirms these dire reports.

Please sign the petition asking for the release of Orlando Zapata Tamayo here.

And see below, for the contact information of Cuban government officials.

Background: Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo entered a hunger strike on December 3, 2009 after having been transferred to the Kilo 8 prison in the province of Camagüey, where a number of political prisoners have been held in recent months. According to reports from Luis Felipe Rojas, an independent blogger and journalist on the island, Zapata Tamayo was among the 75 dissidents arrested in the Black Spring of 2003, when he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Prior to being transferred to Camagüey, he had been held in his native province of Holguín.

Recent Developments: As of this writing, Zapata Tamayo is entering the 81st day of his hunger strike. Over the past few weeks, his health has deteriorated dramatically. He is currently in critical condition. Cuban authorities transferred Zapata Tamayo to a hospital in Havana, as the Amalia Simoni Hospital in Camagüey did not have the resources to treat him. There are more recent reports from the island confirming that he is in critical condition and on a medical ventilator. His mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger, has spoken out about the harsh treatment he has received and is asking for help from the international community.

Call to Action: The University of Miami's Cuban American Undergraduate Student Association has started a petition, calling on the Cuban government to release Orlando Zapata Tamayo from prison.

Please, take a few seconds to sign the petition, and stand up for the human rights of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The link to the petition is here.

Please, also reach out to your local and national media and ask that they give due coverage to this story.

Contact Cuban government officials at the following numbers and addresses, and demand that they release Orlando Zapata Tamayo and respect his human rights:

Interior Minister

General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra

Ministro del Interior y Prisiones

Ministerio del Interior, Plaza de la Revolución, La Habana, Cuba

+1 (212) 779-1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)

Cuban Interests Section
Jorge Bolaños Suarez
+1 (202) 797-8518

Attorney General

Dr Juan Escalona Reguera

Fiscal General de la República,

Fiscalía General de la República, San Rafael 3, La Habana, Cuba

Fax: +53 7 860 4268

Head of State and Government

Raúl Castro Ruz


La Habana, Cuba

Fax: +53 7 8333085 (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

+1 2127791697 (via Cuban Mission to UN) (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)

(Photo from Cuban Democratic Directorate archive)

Monday, February 22, 2010

7 Cuban Doctors Sue Cuba and Venezuela: Operation "Barrio Adentro" Exposed

"El que la hace la paga?"

The United States District for the Southern District of Florida is no stranger to international disputes. And certainly not to lawsuits filed against the Cuban regime or its officials.

Seven Cuban doctors and a nurse have filed a suit in Miami's federal court alleging that Cuba, Venezuela and its state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela engage in "modern slavery." The victims claim that they were forced to serve in the program "Misión Barrio Adentro" in order to help re-pay Cuba's debt to Venezuela.

In 2008, a federal judge granted an $80 million judgment against a company based in Curacao for submitting three Cuban workers to forced labor and holding them in inhumane conditions. This case set a precedent because it was the first time that a company was held responsible for engaging in slave labor and other human rights violations with the Cuban regime. However, like many cases before it, the plaintiffs have had enormous difficulty collecting the award.

An all too familiar sound of "Quien es el ultimo?!" comes to mind as "la cola" to collect against those who violate human rights grows year after year.

So I ask you, our fellow readers: What do you propose is an effective means of collecting these awards?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guest Blog - Ingrid Garcia Ruiz on Melt- One Community, One Play

I want to personally extend an invitation to you to attend the preview night of the play Melt starting Thursday, February 18th to February 28. Melt will be shown at Actor’s Playhouse on Miracle Mile at 8pm.

Melt tells the story of a Cuban American mother and son, an African American brother and sister and a Jewish father and son who find their lives intertwining over social and moral issues as seen from the perspective of each culture. A highly motivated group of community professionals have committed to fund raise to donate to the community approximately half of the tickets to various relevant groups, such as, community based and civic organizations, high school students, academicians, clergy and members of local fire and police departments to truly make it a ‘ONE COMMUNITY, ONE PLAY’ event.

I fell in love with this play and know you will too...and in the process help bring understanding about our diversity by supporting the arts.
If you are interested in attending the play, or learning more about the project please contact me at And visit our website at

Ingrid Garcia Ruiz was born in Mexico and now calls Miami her home. She is a lawyer and also does work with different cultural and community service organizations

Monday, February 8, 2010

Repression Watch: Update

From Directorio Democratico Cubano:

Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina y Virgilio Mantilla Arango fueron excarcelados en la noche del domingo, 7 de febrero de 2010. Sufrieron golpes a manos de fuerzas represivas del régimen castrista y permanecerion detenidos en Camagüey hasta la noche de ayer.
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and  Virgilio Mantilla Arango were jailed Sunday night, February 7th, 2010. They suffered beating at the hands of the repressive forces of the castro regime and were detained in Camagüey until yesterday night. (my translation)


News of repression in Camagüey being reported by the Directorio Democratico Cubano:


Miami. 5 de febrero de 2010. Directorio Democrático Cubano. El Directorio Democrático Cubano lanza un llamado de urgencia a las entidades de derechos humanos internacionales y a los gobiernos del mundo por los actos de agresión física y las desapariciones de defensores de derechos humanos en Cuba, tras una marcha pacífica realizada en la Ciudad de Camagüey, región centro oriental de Cuba. Los defensores Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina y Virgilio Mantilla Arango, permanecen desaparecidos, y sus familiares y amigos desconocen su paradero. Los agentes de la policía política se han negado a revelar el lugar donde se encuentran detenidos, o adonde han sido trasladados. Rodríguez Lobaina fue visto la última vez a las 6 de la tarde de este 3 de febrero de 2010 en el centro de Operaciones de la Seguridad del Estado en la ciudad de Camagüey. Mantilla Arango fue arrestado en la vía pública a las 10 de la mañana del día 4 de febrero de 2010.

A continuación los testimonios de algunas de las víctimas de la golpiza brutal perpetrada por agentes de la policía política y funcionarios del Partido Comunista de Cuba en la ciudad de Camagüey cerca de las 5 de la tarde de este día 3 de febrero de 2010.