Cuba: Hunger Striker Dies in Havana Prison

The death of the first Cuban political prisoner to die on hunger strike since 1972 is eliciting a combination of speechlessness and outrage on the web.

In an apt expression of this, Orlando Luis Pardo of Boring Home Utopics posts a series of solid black images, one after another, instead of words.  Yoani Sanchez has posted a video she made of the prisoner's mother waiting outside the hospital where her son died.  In it, Reina Luisa Tamayo calls her son's death a “premeditated murder.”  This is a sentiment that others have echoed. “The Castro Brothers Have Returned to Murder!!!!” goes the headline of a widely tweeted post at El Tono De Voz.

Orlando Zapato Tamayo began the 86 day long strike on December 3rd, 2009, after a prison guard in the eastern province of Holguin beat him so brutally that the hematoma left on his head needed to be operated on.  Initially, the director of that prison denied him water for 18 days, causing kidney failure. When he was transferred again, he contracted pneumonia. His last move was to the maximum security prison in Habana where he died.

Along the Malecon writes: in 2003 “he joined dissidents who were staging a hunger strike to try to pressure the socialist government to release prisoners. But then many of these protesters later wound up in jail themselves.”

The next year Zapato Tamayo was sentenced to 3 years of prison for contempt, public disorder, and disobedience.  Once in prison, his term was extended to 36 years for “acts of disobedience.”

Former prisoner of conscience Jorge Luis García Pérez, reports Radio y Television Martí, said that this event “has caused enormous dismay throughout the country, not just among the opposition but also the whole population.”

It seems that some bloggers are hoping help make García Pérez’ prophecy a reality.  As Uncommon Sense writes, “this is not a time for regrets but for action, to follow Zapata's example and continue the struggle against those who murdered him and for Cuban liberty.” A commenter at Diario de Cuba writes:

“Atencion estamos convocando una marcha mundial para el 13 de marzo del 2010 en favor de la libertad de todos los presos politicos cubanos, asi como la condena por la muerte de Orlando Zapata Tamayo.”

“Attention we are organizing a global march on March 13, 2010 for the release of all Cuban political prisoners, as well as a conviction in the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.”

Twitter has updates on this proposed action. Blogger Yoani Sanchez has also proposed a (presumably virtual) prayer chain for the morning of Zapata Tamayo's funeral.

On the other hand, the official leaning Cuba Debate (which is also on Twitter) republishes a post from La Isla Desconocida:

Tienen razón al decir que fue un asesinato, pero los medios esconden al verdadero asesino: los grupúsculos cubanos y sus mentores trasnacionales. Zapata fue asesinado por la contrarrevolución.

They are right to say it was murder…but the media are hiding the real murderer: small Cuban groups and their international mentors. Zapata was murdered by the counterrevolution.

The party line, then, has a web presence too.

According to CNN Spanish reporter Daniel Vottio, there are guards surrounding the Tamayo household where the wake is being held.  Sanchez tweets that dissidents are being kept from leaving their homes; her and others’ movements seems to be generally restricted.

Two other Cuban prisoners of conscience, Ariel Sigler Amaya and Normando Hernández González are also imprisoned and in poor health. What this augurs for them, and for Cuban civil society, is to be determined.


  • […] The Cuban dissident’s death has also prompted strong reactions from the blogosphere, which are summarized at Global Voices online. […]

  • Jorge Atahualpa Cuntur

    I support Cuba and its socialist resistance against neo-liberal gloabal capotalism. BUT I believe that FREEDOM must be blossom in this country…. FREEDOM it is the oxygen for CUBA. The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo into the Habana’s prison is a black sign for the Cuban revolution….

  • Allen Craig

    How do you create change when a government has total control and little consciousness? A hunger strike fades into memory while words in the blogosphere are mere words. Tamayo was willing to make an extreme stand the only way he could—but he had (almost) nothing lose. How many of us, wrapped in the comfort of our homes, clothes, TVs and afternoons in the café are willing to make that kind of sacrifice? When enough people become willing to risk the comforts they have, THEN change will happen. Let’s not wit until we are imprisoned before we become brave.

  • I agree of course with civil liberties and rights. But we can’t be naïf to think that is time Generation Y is telling us the truth… in fact what they are making the world do is stand up to defend criminals, by giving them the uniform of martyrs. Orlando Zapata, was a criminal. Zapata was not at all tried and convicted for anything approaching political issues. The mass media just repeat what they want to be swallowed by public opinion. In fact Zapata since 1988 has been involved in all kinds of criminal activities, but nothing at all political. He has been arrested and convicted on several occasions for disturbing the peace, two counts of fraud, public exhibitionism, injury and possession of non-firearm weapons. In 2000 he fractured the skull of a Cuban citizen and while in jail he had shown a long history of violence against prison authorities. He was granted parole in March 2003, eleven days before the arrest and trials of the so-called political dissidents had been initiated. He committed another crime on March 20th 2003 and he was returned to prison. Even though this latest event in March 2003 coincided with the same month when the trials of the so-called dissidents took place, his return behind bars had nothing to do with it, but was rather a coincidence which was used by the “dissidents” and the US in order to present Zapata after the fact as a political prisoner. The very few times the mass media make even a vague reference to Cuba’s claim regarding Zapata’s real judicial record, it is invariably couched in terms that ridicule the credibility of the Cuban position, while not providing the public with the facts mentioned above, all of which are available in the Cuban press. Farinas, was first arrested in the end of 1995,when he barbarerly attacked a co-worker in the health centre where he worked, leaving her badly hurt in the face and harm. That’s when he was first arrested. He got 3 years in jail and a fine of 600 pesos. As he got in jail he made his first hunger strike. Then in 2002 in the middle of the street of the town of Santa Clara, he brutally attacked an old man with a baseball bat. Due to this the old man was hospitalized and lost his splint. Got 5 years and 10 months. What he did? Hunger strike! But this time this lead to a mild dehydration, was treated with serum. Entered again in strike to demand a TV in his nursery cell. In December 5, 2003 was conceded, taking in consideration the health problems that the hunger strikes provoked an extra-penal license, which lead to a house arrest. # years later, already receiving a pay check from the US, entered again in hunger strike, to demand a computer with internet connection in his home. So this man, his no hero. He is a criminal. And by the international laws, any person that receives money from a foreign country, in order to criticise, boycotted or make actions against a ruling government faces prison, that goes, in mild countries, up to 20 years in prison. This also means miss generation Y. But curiously enough she is not only free, but giving interviews everyday ( what about censure?), lives in a house given by the government (what about prosecutions?), controlling blogs and websites (isn’t the internet blocked?). There are many badly told stories that are making the world a puppet…
    This past Sunday, Cuban went to the poll to vote, which they made in a number of 93,7%.
    Secret polls. Anonymous bulletins, counted by children, in the middle of a room, with an open door. Anyone can watch. Even tourists. If a tourist can go, why doesn’t the proper organizations? Are they afraid of giving Cubans credit?

  • […] since the death of Orlando Zapato Tamayo, the first hunger striker to perish in 40 years, the Castro regime has ratcheted up its campaign to […]

  • […] since the February, 2010 death of Orlando Zapato Tamayo, the first Cuban hunger striker to perish in 40 years, the situation in the island appears to have […]

  • […] Manomboka tonga manampy tosika ny fitorahana bilaogy eto Kioba ankehitriny ny hafanam-po amin'ny Facebook, na farafaharatsiny izay no fahatsapana atolotry ny vondrona iray vaovao sy ny hetsika “Protestas mundiales por Levantamiento popular en Cuba” ary ny pejy, “por el levantamiento popular en Cuba” (mankasitraka ny hetsi-bahoaka ao Kioba), izay raha ny isan'ny mpikambana aminy dia niala avy amin'ny 600 tonga amin'ny manodidina ny 2200 tao anatin'ny dimy andro.  Ekena anefa fa ilay pejy Facebook dia noforoninà Kiobana mpitsoa-ponenana mipetraka any Espana, saingy ny fanantenana dia ny hoe mba handrehitra ny fanoherana na avy ao anatiny , na avy any ivelan'ny nosy izy ireny ho setrin'ny fankalazana ny herintaona  nahafatesan'ilay nitokona tsy nihinankanina, Orlando Zapato Tamayo. […]

  • […] since last November. Many bloggers likened his situation to that of the late prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in 2010, the first Cuban political prisoner to die on hunger strike since […]

  • […] sidste november. Mange bloggere sammenlignede hans situation med den afdøde samvittighedsfange Orlando Zapata Tamayo, som døde i 2010 – den første cubanske politiske fange der døde efter en sultestrejke siden […]

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