Monthly Archives: March 2010

For the Freedom of Cuban Political Prisoners

Sign here for the release of cuban political prisonersFollowing the recent, cruel and avoidable death of Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the imminent death of Guillermo Fariñas, an online campaign has been launched to call for the release of all Cuban political prisoners. The main effort of the campaign For the Freedom of Cuban Political Prisoners (other than continuing to raise awareness of the systematic violations of human rights in Cuba) is to gather signatures for this letter:

For the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuban jails; for respect for the exercise, promotion and defense of human rights anywhere in the world; for the honor and courage of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, unjustly incarcerated and brutally tortured in Castro’s prisons, who died while on a hunger strike denouncing these crimes and the lack of rights and democracy in his country; for respect for the life of those who risk death such as Zapata Tamayo to prevent Fidel and Raúl Castro’s government from vanquishing their critics and peaceful opponents by sentencing them to up to 28 years in prison for “crimes” of opinion; for respect for the physical and moral integrity of each person; we sign this letter and invite to sign it all those who have chosen to defend their freedom and the freedom of others.

The letter has been translated into several languages, and has been endorsed by Oscar, Grammy and Pulitzer prize winners (Pedro Almodóvar, Paquito D’Rivera, Nilo Cruz…), prominent journalists, scientists, politicians and human rights activists, as well as by plumbers, teachers, librarians, students, among others, from around the world.

This campaign is made possible by freedoms that many of us take for granted in the US: the right to disagree; the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures;
the right to demonstrate in public; the right to congregate with like-minded people; the right to voice opposition without fear of losing one’s job, good standing, health or life. None of these rights exist in Cuba. And Orlando Zapata Tamayo died demanding those rights.

If you believe in human rights, why should Cuba be an exception? Will you spread the news about this? Please, sign the letter here!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

At this point

At this point, being honest with oneself is the highest form of patriotism.

Luigi Barzini
The Italians

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Guillermo Fariñas

Guillermo Fariñas has got “a special vocation for martyrdom.” That’s what the Political Police officers, who constantly watch every step he takes since he decided to peacefully oppose the Cuban dictatorship, say. It is also confirmed by the numerous hunger strikes he has started since 1995. His last one began on February 24th as a protest for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo (another Cuban opposition leader who died from a hunger strike on that day). He is also demanding that the Castro brothers’ regime free 26 political prisoners whose deplorable health may turn them in to “other Zapatas.”

Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas (Santa Clara, Cuba, 1962) is a 48 year old psychologist and the director of Cubanacán Press —an independent press agency. He has been jailed in three separate occasions, for a total of 11 years behind bars, because of his ideals. He is the son of a nurse and an ex-military man who fought alongside Che Guevara in the Belgian Congo. “Coco” himself was a military cadet, a Communist Youth Union (League) member and a soldier who fought during Cuba’s war in Angola. He broke with the regime in 1989 as a consequence of the show trial of Cuban general Arnaldo Ochoa (who took the blame for the accusation of drug trafficking leveled against the Castro brothers). “Since then I have not been silent and I won’t be silent ‘till I die,” he told the Spanish newspaper El País a few days ago.

Fariñas, the director of Foro de Estudios Sociales Marta Abreu (Social Studies Forum Marta Abreu) and regional coordinator for the Liberal Democratic Party of Cuba in the central provinces, is not optimistic about the outcome of this latest challenge against the regime.  Nevertheless, and against the advice of close friends and associates, he’s decided to take it “to the end.” “The fact that you consider mine a necessary death is an honor to me,” he wrote to (Cuban dictator) Raúl Castro, whom he accuses of ordering his henchmen to let him die.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the plumber whose death after a hunger strike that lasted 85 days has put the Cuban government in one of the most difficult spots in the last few years, had a long trajectory of bouts with Cuban tribunals. After nine summary judgments, his sentences accumulated more than 57 years in prison, according to his mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger, a member of the Ladies in White, a group of women who are asking the Cuban government to release their unjustly incarcerated husbands, children, brothers and nephews. At the moment of his death, Zapata Tamayo was serving a new, “consolidated” sentence of 25 years, not including the seven years he had already spent in prison.

In 2002, Zapata Tamayo was jailed after having been arrested accused of “disrespect.” In 2003, his participation in a fast for the rights of the Cuban political prisoners, alongside Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello and other members of the opposition, lead to his been arrested around the days of the repressive raid of the Cuban Black Spring and, subsequently, he was taken to the prison “Kilo 8,” in Camagüey.

Throughout this time in prison, Zapata Tamayo maintained a tenacious attitude against the authorities of the penitentiary regarding the recognition by the regime of his rights as prisoner of conscience —recognized as such by Amnesty International in 2004. His mother has denounced insistently all the abuses he has been subjected to, including, for instance, the fact that during the hunger strike that ended his life, he was denied water for eighteen days, which lead to kidney failure.

But the abuses against this dissident go way back. In 2008, he had an emergency surgery because of a brain hematoma that was the product of a beating from the prison guards. Not even a full year had passed after this surgery when Zapata Tamayo was beaten again. His mother mentions three new beatings that left as the evidence the t-shirts with which Zapata was drying his wounds and where he wrote his testament: “[Here is] my blood to the service of freedom and democracy for the eleven million Cubans who, when trying to express themselves, because of their fear, they become more incarcerated than they already are.”

In the face of the conditions of his incarceration and demanding a dignified treatment, he started a hunger strike between December 2nd and 3rd, 2009. As it is usual in Cuba when prisoners declared themselves in a hunger strike, he was taken to solitary confinement. At an undetermined date, Zapata Tamayo disappeared and his case started echoing outside the island, until it was known that he had been taken to the Hospital of Camagüey, where he was given liquids intravenously against his will. On February 16th, 2010, his condition worsened and he was taken to the hospital of the prison “Combinado del Este,” in Havana, where his condition did not improve.

Hours before dying, Zapata Tamayo was taken to Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras, in Havana, where he died. He was buried in Banes —in the eastern part of the country— in the midst of a military deployment that involved 1,000 agents and soldiers whose objective was to prevent a gathering of dissidents in the whereabouts of his funeral. A wave of repulsion against the regime of the Castro brothers followed his death.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Open letter to the Smithsonian Institution

Open letter to the Smithsonian Institution

To Whom It May Concern:

The very prestigious Smithsonian Institution ranks amongst the most prominent cultural organizations in the United States and throughout the world. In its mission statement, it defines itself as “an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge.”

This mission statement, however, is contradicted by the fact that the Smithsonian Audio Collection distributes the entire catalog of Paredón Records. This recording company, owned by Barbara Dane, published between 1970 and 1985, “fifty albums that covered major left-wing and liberation movements on five continents during the turbulent years of the 1970s”.

Though not particularly my cup of tea, I have nothing against Ms. Dane’s taste in music or content. I strongly believe in freedom of expression, the same way I believe that we are all entitled to our own ideology, bigotry, you name it. What deeply disturbs me is the lack of sensitivity and cultural awareness of the Smithsonian Institution. I marvel at the fact that the beacon that pledges to increase and spread knowledge didn’t double check with any Spanish speaker, particularly Cuban, before deciding to carry this material in its collection.

“Paredón,” you see, is a word that has specific weight and very negative connotations. It means “Firing squad.” Paredón is a painful reminder of one of Cuba’s darkest episodes in recent memory. Starting on January 1959, Fidel and Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and their subordinates, presided over hundreds of kangaroo courts where the defendants were quickly found guilty, sentenced to death by firing squad, and executed within days if not hours of the verdict, while the masses on the streets clamored “paredón” in a blood frenzy unparalleled in Cuba’s history.

According to Cuba Archive –a non-partisan, non-profit organization that is developing a comprehensive registry of disappearances and fatalities of a political nature resulting from the Cuban Revolution– from January 1959 to December of that year, there were 770 documented cases of execution by fire squad.

Would the Smithsonian Institution carry the catalog of something called “Pogrom Records”? How about “Lynching Records”? Would they distribute those albums? The answer is probably no. And yet, if the blood to spatter the walls is Cuban and Fidel Castro is the responsible for the bloodshed, the exception becomes the rule and the ethical dilemma vanishes.

I expect nothing of Ms. Dane who “worked tirelessly to release unapologetically partisan, radical, and passionate recordings of singers, activists,” artists who probably didn’t know the meaning of the Spanish word paredón and how by recording under that label they would seem to be supporting death by firing squad without due process. But from the Smithsonian Institution, at the very least, a public apology and, moreover, a condemnation of this trigger happy esthetic seems to be in order.

Alexis Romay

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Coming soon…

to a URL near you: Mixing Memory and Desire. Stay tuned!