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.