Thursday, 11 March 2010
Buried in Lies
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was not the sort of person one normally associates with political dissidence. He wasn’t an intellectual or a writer; he was a plumber and a brick-layer, an ordinary man in an ordinary profession, a worker who happened to live in Cuba, a ‘worker’s state.’ Not any longer; for he starved himself to death in prison last month, protesting against insufferable and brutal conditions. He had, as his mother said afterwards, effectively been murdered by the state.
Tamayo first came to the attention of the authorities in 2002 as a member of groups calling for civil rights and political freedom. He was arrested in March 2003 after taking part in a hunger strike in protest at the incarceration of a number of his comrades. Initially sentenced to three years imprisonment, this was subsequently increased to twenty-five years for prison activism.
Beaten and abused repeatedly, he finally went on hunger strike, dying last month after eighty-five days, the first political prisoner to do so since the death of Pedro Luis Boitel, a poet and student leader, almost forty years ago.
The case is noteworthy in one other respect: his death seems to have caused the Cuban dictatorship some embarrassment. President Raul Castro went on television to express ‘regret’ over Tamayo’s death, though denying any blame for the tragedy. Meanwhile the news agencies churned out even more lies; that he had starved himself because the authorities would not put a TV and a phone in his cell. He was, for them, as are all political prisoners, mercenaries in the pay of the United States, a criminal falsely elevated to a martyr status.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was buried in lies when he was alive; he continues to be buried in lies now that he is dead.