Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Defending the USAID program

A group of Congressmen have suggested that in its response to the detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross in Cuba, the Administration is trying to appease the Cuban dictatorship,” and they urge the Administration to demand his immediate release.

Separately, I have found that if you examine the USAID program’s legal foundations and Cuba’s reaction to the program in Cuban law, one gets accused of “practically justifying the detention, assuming the judicial perspective of a totalitarian regime.” That charge was aimed at me at Penultimos Dias, as if citing a position and adopting it are the same thing.

Mr. Gross’ problem is that the Administration, Congress, USAID, and his employer sent him to carry out a project in Cuba. That means he’s in Cuba’s legal jurisdiction. It would be nice to examine some other country’s “judicial perspective,” but since he’s in hot water in Cuba, Cuba’s would seem to be the one that applies if our interest is to get him out of jail and to evaluate the U.S. government program that put him in this position.

Demanding his release is a fine idea, but that requires the State Department to make the demand face-to-face to Cuban officials. No one likes a situation where a USAID contractor is stuck in a communist legal system and our diplomats have to make a case for his release. We can assign blame to the Cuban government – fair enough, it arrested him – but the U.S. government and Mr. Gross’ employer would seem to be responsible for putting him in this mess in the first place.

I continue to believe that the best hope for Mr. Gross is that Cuban authorities come to the conclusion that they have made their point, and he can be released on a humanitarian basis. Let’s hope that happens.

But I am concerned that a public relations campaign executed last week with regard to his case may have worsened his predicament. I would say the campaign was done on Mr. Gross’ behalf, but it seems more a political defense of the USAID program than an effort to win his release. I hope I’m wrong. (See Reuters article, a fact sheet from a public relations firm, and this video from Mrs. Judy Gross.)

Some have speculated that Cuba arrested Mr. Gross to gain a bargaining chip for the Cuban Five, who are serving long sentences in U.S. jails.

Maybe so. But for now, the more salient connection seems to be that the Cuban Five were convicted of charges including operating here as unregistered foreign agents. Cuba admits that its agents were operating here but argues, among other things, that they should be pardoned because their intentions were good, they were really just fighting terrorism. That argument has gone nowhere in our government.

Last week’s campaign made the case that Mr. Gross’ intentions and activities were good. That argument is likely to go nowhere in the Cuban government.

I’m as much in favor of free satellite Internet service as the next guy, but as a practical matter – regardless of one’s views of the Cuban government, Cuban law, or Mr. Gross’ activities – assertions that the United States government has the right to run programs of its choosing in Cuba are not likely to unravel the predicament in which Mr. Gross finds himself.

Why? Because – and let’s note that people on my side of this debate are not usually the ones who have to drag this little factoid out – Cuba is a one-party state, guided by Leninist principles and defended by the closest thing to the Stasi that has ever existed in this hemisphere.

Those assertions about good U.S. intentions do, however, make for a defense for the USAID program.

What is Mr. Gross’ predicament?

Read the post below, and connect the dots yourself.

February 24, 2010

Official website blames media and the right for the starvation death of jailed dissident

Cubadebate, a government-run website, has posted its first commentary on the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Written by a blogger named Enrique Ubieta Gómez, it is titled "Zapata: A useful corpse?" Here are excerpts.
• "A man surrenders his life for an ideal that prioritizes the happiness of others, not one that prioritizes his own. So, the lamentable death of Orlando Zapata – a common prisoner with a long criminal record not at all linked to politics – deeply rejoices the 'grieving' hypocrites. Transformed into a 'political activist' after many trips to prison, Zapata was the perfect candidate for self-execution.
(foto2) "He was a 'dispensable' man for the petty little groups and easy to convince to persist in an absurd hunger strike with impossible demands (his own kitchen and telephone in his cell) that none of the real ringleaders was brave enough to maintain.
• "Zapata's corpse is now exhibited with cynicism as a collective trophy. Like vultures, the media – the local mercenaries and the international right – circled the moribund man. His death is a feast. The spectacle is revolting, because the writers don't lament the death of a human being [...] but raise it high, almost gleefully, and use it with premeditated political objectives.
"Zapata's case reminds me of Pánfilo [...] a man in the full process of alcoholic detoxification who was invited to drink so he could say before the cameras what [the media] wanted to hear. I wonder if that isn't an accusation against those who now appropriate [Zapata's] 'cause.' They are right when they say it was a murder, but the media hide the true assassin: the Cuban petty groups and their transnational mentors. Zapata was murdered by the counter-revolution."
For the entire article, in Spanish, click here. For Ubieta's blog site, click here.
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.

Posted by Renato Perez at 05:38 PM
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Lula meets with the Castro brothers

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Cuban host, Raúl Castro, on Wednesday toured the port of Mariel and then visited Fidel Castro for one hour at his home in Havana.
(foto3) Mariel, about 30 miles west of Havana, will be remodeled with Brazilian assistance and funds, Radio Habana reported. The Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht will invest US$450 million in the creation of a container terminal. Construction is expected to start in the next couple of months.
Lula arrived in Havana Tuesday night, after attending the Rio Group summit in Cancún, Mexico. On Thursday, he will travel to Haiti.
[UPDATE: The Washington Post quotes Lula as saying that Fidel Castro is looking "exceptionally well." For more of the Brazilian president's impressions, click here.]
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.

Posted by Renato Perez at 04:46 PM in Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, The Americas
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S: Cuban Colada

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Second or Twelfth?

A recent news release from the Cuba Archive, an online database that "records" human rights violation cases in Cuba, states that they have "documented eleven other cases of death by hunger strike in protest of prison conditions under the Castro regime."

The statement is at odds with several other news reports indicating that the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was only the second death of a political prisoner in Cuba due to a hunger strike. The first recognized as the death of Pedro Luis Boitel, dissident who died in Castillo del Principe prison in 1972. Even Elizardo Sanchez, dissident inside Cuba who keeps records of all political prisoners, says that Zapata Tamayo is only the second death of this type.

So I reviewed some of the files from the Cuba Archive. And I found poor or conflicting data.

- Miguel Lopez Santos' cause of death is recorded as "hunger strike" in the Cuba Archive database. The date of death is recorded as April 2001. The only source comes from a June 2001 article by the Center for a Free Cuba. Miguel Lopez Santos is also the name of a Cuban dissident that went on a hunger strike in April 2001 [source: U.S. 2001 report], but he didn't die. He was soon released from prison, but arrested again in May 2001 for "social dangerousness" [source: Directorio Democratico Cubano, PDF]. The name Miguel Lopez Santos continues to appear in recent reports as an active dissident inside Cuba.

- Nicolas Gonzalez Regueiro's cause of death is also recorded as "hunger strike" by the Cuba Archive database. The date of death was September 16, 1992. There are more sources in this case, but they conflict. One important conflict of data comes from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which reported that Gonzalez Regueiro "died by hanging on September 16, 1992" [source: IACHR, 1992-93 report].

- And, the case of Santiago de Jesus Roche Valle, recorded as death due to "hunger strike" in 1985, also contains several conflicting sources in the Cuba Archive database.

The Cuba Archive should have warned everyone in their news release about the credibility of their "records." Only until you get to read the "Terms of Use" on their website does one begin to understand how reliable the Cuba Archive really is:

"Cuba Archive provides access to the information as a service to the users and does not take responsibility for such content. It cannot guarantee that any or all details contained in any case record or any of its other reports are true, accurate, or reliable... It is expected that users use caution and common sense and exercise proper judgment when using the material reported by Cuba Archive. Users acknowledge that any reliance on material posted via this website will be at their own risk."

Readers should always be cautious with reports about Cuban dissidents and prisoners. Confirmation of these sources neutralizes attempts to exaggerate and play politics with the victim.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo (1967-2010)

A mother’s pain (Updated)

orlando zapata tamayo

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 1967-2010

UPDATE (1:08pm): RTVE reports that there have been at least 25 arrests and/or detentions following the death of Tamayo Zapata for the purpose of preventing their attendance to his funeral.

This is not only outrageous but maddeningly infuriating.

Reina Luisa Tamayo speaks about the death of her son, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo:

Video taken and posted by Yoani Sanchez.

UPDATE (1:45PM): Marc translated and posted an English transcript of the above video, right here.

More on Tamayo here.

From Uncommon Sense, the Democratic Directorate's statement on the murder of Zapata Tamayo:

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a valiant defender of the liberty of the Cuban people, died today, murdered by the Castro regime which refused to guarantee respect for his basic rights. An Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Zapata Tamayo engaged in a hunger strike of over 80 days to demand such a guarantee and to protest against terrible mistreatment he suffered in the Communist regime’s prisons, including brutal beatings. Zapata Tamayo, who will be remembered as a giant of the Cuban resistance, had been unjustly imprisoned since March 20, 2003.

“The abuses committed against Orlando Zapata Tamayo prove that torture and terror are inflicted upon the Cuban people are official policy under the Castro regime. His death is evidence of the practice of state terrorism,” stated Janisset Rivero, Adjunct National Secretary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

In October, 2009, Zapata Tamayo was brutally beaten by military personnel at Holguin provincial prison, causing an internal hematoma in his head so severe that Zapata Tamayo had to undergo surgery. He began his hunger strike on December 3, 2009, at Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey, classified in Cuba as employing a “maximum severity” prison regime. For 18 days, Major Filiberto Hernández Luis, the prison’s director, denied Zapata Tamayo drinking water, the only thing he was ingesting during the strike. The effect of this act of torture was to induce kidney failure. In mid-January, he was transferred to Amalia Simoni Hospital in the city of Camagüey, where he was left to languish nearly completely nude under intense air conditioning, causing him to contract pneumonia. Despite his critical health condition, the regime transferred him to the hospital at Combinado del Este prison, which did not have the equipment and conditions necessary to treat him.

The Cuban Democratic Directorate also underlines that this crime joins a long list of atrocities committed by the Castro brothers which include thousands of executions by firing squad and countless cases of unjust imprisonment of Cuban citizens.

Additionally, Cuban prisoners of conscience Ariel Sigler Amaya and Normando Hernández González are also unjustly imprisoned and in terrible health. Their cases require prompt support and solidarity from Cubans around the world and the international community.

“They finally murdered Orlando Zapata Tamayo. They finally finished him. My son’s death has been a premeditated murder. I thank all of those brothers who struggled not to allow my son to die. There has been another Pedro Luis Boitel in Cuba,” stated Reina Tamayo Danger to the Cuban Democratic Directorate. Boitel was a Cuban student leader who was unjustly imprisoned by the Castro regime and died after a prolonged hunger strike in 1972.

The Cuban Democratic Directorate condemns this horrendous crime. We raise our voice to call for the condemnation of the Raúl Castro regime and those directly responsible for the death of this human rights defender for committing this crime against humanity.

Zapata Tamayo’s death will not be in vain. It will illuminate the path of Cuba’s civic resistance until the Cuban people achieve their freedom.

Update: Adding insult to injury, here's this administration's State Department's bland, timid and weak response, in its entirety:

On Tuesday, February 23, 2010, prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following an eleven-week hunger strike. We are deeply saddened to learn of his death, and the U.S. Government extends its heartfelt sympathies to his family, friends, and supporters. Zapata was arrested in 2003 on charges of “contempt for authority.” While in Havana last week, the U.S. delegation for Migration Talks raised Zapata’s incarceration and poor health with Cuban officials and urged them to provide all necessary medical care.

Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay.

Pathetic. It's almost an apology.

Maria Werlau, of The Cuba Archive shows the State Department what a real response to the murder of a prisoner of conscience should be:

Political prisoner’s death highlights barbaric conditions and an alarming death toll in Cuba’s prisons

February 23, 2010, Summit, New Jersey. Orlando Zapata Tamayo died today in a Havana at age 42 after a hunger strike of over 80 days. He had chosen this extreme method of protest to demand respect for his personal safety after enduring numerous beatings and tortures at the hands of Cuban prison authorities. He sought to be recognized as a prisoner of conscience, requesting similar conditions as those under which Fidel Castro had been held for a year and a half during the Batista regime.

Zapata was a member of several opposition groups calling for democracy in Cuba by peaceful means. He had been incarcerated for four months from December 2002 to March 2003, accused by Cuba’s political police of "disrespect." Just thirteen days later, he was again apprehended while participating in a fast with other former political prisoners in what became known as the Black Spring clampdown against 75 dissidents around the country. In May of 2004 he was sentenced to 36 years of prison for contempt, public disorder, and disobedience. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. Last December 9th, Zapata went on hunger strike to demand proper treatment. Prison authorities refused him water for 18 days, leading to kidney failure. He was then held naked over a powerful air conditioner and developed pneumonia. Earlier today and already in critical condition, he was admitted to Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in Havana and began receiving fluids intravenously. He died hours later. The Cuban government never responded to his demands.

Cuba Archive has documented eleven other cases of death by hunger strike in protest of prison conditions under the Castro regime: Roberto López Chávez, 12/11/1966, Luis Álvarez Ríos, 8/9/1967, Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, 7/21/1969, Pedro Luis Boitel, 5/25/1972, Olegario Charlot Spileta, 1/15/1973, Enrique García Cuevas, 5/23/1973, Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo, 5/21/1975, José Barrios Pérez, 9/22/1977, Santiago de Jesús Roche Valle, 9/8/1985, Nicolás González Regueiro, 9/16/1992, and Miguel López Santos, 4/1/2001. From 2005 to today, 97 documented deaths of prisoners in Cuba have resulted from extrajudicial killings by guards, suicide or alleged suicides, and lack of medical care. This information is generally obtained from political prisoners held in the same facilities, so only a fraction of prisons are reported on and many more deaths are feared. Users may register at no cost at to access Cuba Archive’s electronic database of documented cases of death and disappearances resulting from the Cuban Revolution. For all documented deaths from hunger strike, enter the names above into the database or conduct an Advanced Search by selecting “hunger strike” in Cause of Death criteria

Barbaric prison conditions lead to systematic malnourishment, severely deteriorated health, acts of self-aggression and extreme suffering of prisoners and their loved ones. Over 200 political prisoners are held with tens of thousands incarcerated for “economic crimes” after resorting to the black market for basic sustenance that failed central planning cannot provide. The Red Cross and other international human rights’ monitoring groups are not allowed to inspect Cuba’s prisons.

Cuba Archive calls on all governments, institutions, and people of goodwill to hold the Cuban regime accountable for its crimes and to help the Cuban people attain their intrinsic right to live safely and in freedom. At minimum, inspection of Cuban prisons should be undertaken by the Red Cross, United Nations representatives and reputable members of the international human rights’ community without prior notice so the Cuban regime may not fake actual conditions.

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Cuba launches crackdown after dissident hunger striker's death

HAVANA (AFP) – Security agents detained dissidents across Cuba Wednesday to prevent protests at the funeral of a leading dissident whose death in a prison hunger strike has sparked international outrage, an activist said.

Orlando Zapata, 42, was to be buried in his hometown of Banes, 830 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana, after a wake at the home of his mother, who called her son's death a "premeditated murder."

"My son was tortured the whole time he was in prison," Reina Luisa Tamayo charged in a video on the blog Generacion Y, run by independent journalist Yoani Sanchez.

She called on "the international community to demand the release of the rest of the (political) prisoners... so that what happened to my boy does not happen again."

Zapata's death 85 days into a hunger strike to protest prison conditions drew international condemnation and calls for an investigation and the release of all political prisoners. Related article: EU 'deeply regrets' death of Cuban hunger striker

But the government's initial reaction appeared to be to move swiftly against other dissidents.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the outlawed Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told AFP that security agents had detained about 30 activists Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Some also have been held in their houses, without a judicial warrant, to prevent people from going to the wake," he said.

Dissidents have been rounded up in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Las Tunas and Camaguey, all in the east, and in the central city of Placetas, Sanchez said.

Zapata died at 1:00 pm (1800 GMT) Tuesday, a spokesman for Havana's Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital said, after a nearly three month protest against prison conditions.

Jailed since 2003 and deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, Zapata had blamed his already deteriorating health on harsh conditions inside Cuba's jails.

Zapata was transferred from a local clinic in the eastern province of Camaguey, near his prison, to the capital's largest hospital on Monday.

Sanchez said it was the first time in nearly 40 years that a Cuban opposition figure has died while on a hunger strike.

Zapata's death is "bad news for the human rights movement and for the government as well," Sanchez said.

The movement "is not seeking martyrs," said Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement dissident group. Zapata died "defending the freedom, rights and dignity of all Cubans," he added.

Cuban dissidents had urged Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who arrived late Tuesday for a visit, to intervene with President Raul Castro's government on Zapata's behalf.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Zapata's death "highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay." Related article: US urges Cuba to free political prisoners

In Brussels, the EU Commission on Wednesday voiced deep regret at Zapata's death, calling on Havana to improve human rights.

Zapata was one of 55 "prisoners of conscience" adopted by Amnesty International in Cuba, most of whom, like Zapata, were arrested in the 2003 government crackdown on activists seeking political change.

Initially given a three year prison term on charges of "disrespect," "public disorder," and "resistance," Zapata saw his sentence grow to 36 years as the government piled on additional charges of "disobedience" and "disorder in a penal establishment."

"Faced with a prolonged prison sentence, the fact that Orlando Zapata Tamayo felt he had no other avenue available to him but to starve himself in protest is a terrible indictment of the continuing repression of political dissidents in Cuba," Amnesty International said in a statement.

Hector Palacios, one of 75 political prisoners convicted in 2003 and who met Zapata in prison, told AFP that "people are indignant," and that a national mourning and fasting period was being considered.

"I'm crushed," said Palacios, who has been released for health reasons. Zapata "had no alternative but to decide on the hunger strike. The authorities took no pity on him, they just let him die," he added.

Washington, Europe condemn death of Cuba dissident

HAVANA – The United States joined European nations in condemning Cuba's communist government over the death of a jailed dissident after a long hunger strike, saying on Wednesday that his case shines a spotlight on the island's incarceration of some 200 political prisoners.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, jailed since 2003 on charges including disrespecting authority, died Tuesday at a hospital in the capital. Fellow dissidents say he had been on a weekslong hunger strike, becoming the first imprisoned opposition figure to die in such a protest in nearly four decades.

In life, he was not one of the island's leading dissident voices. In death, his plight has quickly reverberated far beyond Cuba.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. government was "deeply saddened" to hear of Zapata Tamayo's death. He said that U.S. diplomats who were in Havana last week for migration talks had raised the case with their Cuban counterparts.

"Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay," Crowley said.

Cuba has not had any comment on Tamayo's death. The government describes the dissidents as paid stooges both of Washington and anti-Castro exiles in South Florida. It says Washington greatly exaggerates their numbers and influence as a way of justifying its 48-year embargo on the island.

When the visiting U.S. diplomats held a reception for about 40 dissidents last week, Cuba put out an angry statement, saying the meeting proved that Washington is out to overthrow the government.

In Brussels, European Union spokesman John Clancy called for Cuba to release all political prisoners and show more respect for human rights.

"The European Commission deeply regrets the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata and offer our condolences to his family," Clancy said, adding that human rights on the island "remain a key priority for the EU."

And in London, Amnesty International called for an investigation into whether poor conditions played any part in Zapata Tamayo's death.

"The tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a terrible illustration of the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration," Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International's Caribbean researcher, said in a statement.

Spain, whose socialist government has been seeking to improve European relations with Cuba since it took over the EU presidency in January, said it was shocked.

"The Spanish government profoundly deplores the death of Orlando; the death of a human rights defender in Cuba," Deputy Prime Minister Manuel Chaves said Wednesday. "There is a deficit of human rights in that country."

Mariano Rajoy, leader of the opposition Popular Party, sent a telegram to Zapata's mother.

"The death of Orlando Zapata symbolizes the commitment of the Cuban people to liberty and dignity and is an admirable example of dedication for democrats throughout the world," he said.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero expressed "dismay" at the death of Orlando Zapata and said Paris had called on Cuba to release him.

Official reaction was muted in Latin America, whose governments this week held a "unity summit" that included Cuban President Raul Castro and that unanimously denounced the U.S. embargo of the island. South America's leading political figure, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, himself a former political prisoner, visited Cuba on Wednesday and made no comment on the Zapata Tamayo case.

In Cuba, Zapata Tamayo's mother left the capital with his body for their hometown of Banes late Tuesday, and a vehicle containing other leading dissidents departed a short time later to attend the services.

Veteran dissidents were joined by a relatively new voice: the son of revolutionary hero Juan Almeida Bosque, who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the guerrilla uprising that brought down dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Juan Juan Almeida Garcia posted an open letter to Raul Castro on his daughter's Facebook page Wednesday, urging the Cuban president to resign.

"Doesn't Zapata Tamayo's death make you embarrassed?" he asked. "Must we go to such extremes? ... I beg of you to resign. Get out of this country. You don't deserve respect."

The younger Almeida has run afoul of authorities for some time, most recently in November when he was briefly jailed. He has been petitioning the government for permission to travel to the United States for treatment for a painful, progressive form of spinal arthritis.

The British Embassy in Havana did not mention Zapata Tamayo's case specifically, but "We remain worried about human rights abuses and due legal process in Cuba and continue to call for the release of all political prisoners," said Chris Stimpson, an official at the embassy.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the Associated Press that Zapata Tamayo was arrested in 2003 and held for months without charge before being sentenced to three years in prison in his native Holguin province for disrespecting police authority.

Tamayo, a 42-year-old builder, was subsequently sentenced to 25 years for activism behind bars, Sanchez said, and was deemed by Amnesty International a "prisoner of conscience." He was one of a small number of Afro-Cubans in the island's tiny dissident community

As of January, Sanchez's commission counted 201 political prisoners in Cuban jails. Cuba says it holds none.

Sanchez said Zapata Tamayo stopped accepting solid food on Dec. 3, drinking only water and a few liquids, some of which were forced on him by authorities. He was transferred to Kilo 8 Prison in Camaguey and placed in solitary confinement, where he continued to refuse solids, Sanchez said.

As his health deteriorated, Zapata Tamayo was taken to Havana's Combinado del Este prison earlier this month, where he received some treatment in a lockup clinic, then was transferred to Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras the day before his death.

Sanchez said the last Cuban dissident to die in prison was Pedro Luis Boitel, a Cuban poet who passed away after a 53-day hunger strike in 1972.

"It's a terrible blow to us all," said Sanchez. He said family members planned a funeral service later Wednesday in Zapata Tamayo's hometown of Banes on the northern coast of Holguin province in eastern Cuba.

Sanchez said authorities in that province, as well as in the nearby provinces of Santiago and Guantanamo, had detained dozens of activists, preventing some from attending funeral services — but that claim could not be immediately be confirmed with police or the government.

In Havana, a well-known dissident group, the "Ladies in White," held a small gathering in Zapata Tamayo's honor at the home of one of their founders, Laura Pollan.

Carmelo Diaz, jailed during a government crackdown on dissent that saw authorities round up 75 leading activists in the spring of 2003, said he met Zapata Tamayo in prison before being freed on a medical parole.

"He was always a decent and cooperative man," Diaz said. "He got along with everyone."


Associated Press reporters Will Weissert and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana, Jorge Sainz in Madrid, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Robert Wielaard in Brussels contributed to this report.

US urges Cuba to free political prisoners

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States Wednesday called on Cuba to free more than 200 political prisoners after a leading Cuban dissident died following an 11-week hunger strike.

The State Department said it had been deeply saddened to learn of the death of 42-year-old Orlando Zapata on Tuesday.

US urges Cuba to free political prisoners AFP/File – The United States Wednesday called on Cuba to free more than 200 political prisoners after a leading …

"Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death highlights the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners who should now be released without delay," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.

He added that last week a US team visiting Cuba to discuss migration issues had "raised Zapata?s incarceration and poor health with Cuban officials and urged them to provide all necessary medical care."

Jailed since 2003 and deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, Zapata had blamed his deteriorating health on harsh conditions inside Cuba's jails.

He had been on hunger strike for 85 days.

Jailed activist starves to death in Cuba

Published: Feb. 24, 2010 at 11:24 AM

CAMAGUEY, Cuba, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- A 42-year-old activist starved to death in a prison in Cuba's Camaguey Province after spending 83 days on a hunger strike, his mother says.

Reina Luisa Tamayo said her son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, began his protest Dec. 3, 2009, in response to alleged abuses taking place at the Cuban prison, El Nuevo Herald reported Tuesday.

"They have assassinated Orlando Zapata Tamayo. My son's death has been a premediated murder,'' Reina Luisa Tamayo said of her son's death Tuesday. "They managed to do what they wanted. They ended the life of a fighter for human rights."

A crackdown on government opposition resulted in Orlando Zapata Tamayo being arrested in 2003 on charges including contempt and public disorder. Tamayo was involved with multiple dissident organizations before being detained.

Amnesty International said in a release a full investigation be conducted regarding the death of Tamayo, whose only reported survivors are his mother and a stepfather.

"The tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a terrible illustration of the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration," said Gerardo Ducos, a Caribbean researcher for Amnesty International.