Tag Archives: Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Judge this book by its cover

My book of poetry Los culpables [The Guilty] features on the cover artwork by Cuban visual artist José A. Vincench. Vincench lives in the island and, since 2005, has incorporated onto his work iconic images from the Cuban Black Spring of 2003, when 79 peaceful dissidents where arrested throughout the island and sentenced in kangaroo court trials to prison terms ranging between six and 28 years. Their images are among the many things that the Castro regime, for obvious reasons, would rather keep away from the public.

I invite you to visit the artist’s page and, while there, peruse a series entitled “Abstracto parece pero no es” [It seems abstract, but it isn’t], where you can find the faces of several Cuban political prisoners, as well as images of the human rights activists group Ladies in White during their pilgrimages through Havana’s Fifth Avenue, or in front of Santa Rita’s Church, the point of departure for most of their walks demanding the release of their unjustly incarcerated loved ones.

The artwork that I selected to illustrate this text (as well as the cover of my book) is entitled “The things I can tell you with Rachel Whiteread, what History hasn’t told you” (2007). I chose it not only because I found it visually appealing, or because it was made out of a collage of books; not even because the face it portrays is very similar to that of XIX Century Cuban writer and patriot José Martí, a feature that all my fellow countrymen have pointed out. The main reason it graces my book is that “The things I can tell you…” is a re-creation of the portrait of a specific human being, a Cuban political prisoner. It is the face of Dr. José Luis García Paneque, who was unfairly incarcerated during the Black Spring of 2003 and whose sentence, after seven years behind bars, was commuted by the Cuban regime to a forced exile to Spain.

Other than in the cover of my book, a canvas version of Vincench’s work is featured at the entrance of my home. It is the first thing people see once they cross the threshold. And, thus, here’s a likely first question: whose portrait is it? Not intending to be heavy-handed, that is a natural segway for the “repression in Cuba” topic, which means that at the end of the visit, the non Cubans walk away with a clear picture of the hellish conditions faced by anyone willing to think for him or herself while living in Cuba. Selecting that image for the cover was not fortuitous. The first cycle in the book carries the Kafkaesque title of “The Trial” and consists of “Spring with a broken corner,” a 23-sonnet suite named after the aforementioned and unfortunate Black Spring that inspired it. One of those poems, XVIII to be precise, earned me the friendship of Ernesto Ariel Suárez, after appearing in “Fe de erratas (link in Spanish)” [The Corrections], an article of mine published in May 2003 in the online edition of the much-maligned by the Cuban government and Madrid-based quarterly Encuentro de la cultura cubana [Encounter of Cuban Culture]. Some of the political prisoners from the Black Spring were charged with having published their writings in Encuentro…. Five years later, and perhaps to close a cycle, Los culpables received a laudatory review (link in Spanish) in that publication, signed by Jorge Salcedo. (A side note: alongside Suárez and Salcedo, among other human rights activists, I was a member of the organizing committee of the campaign #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government, which demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in the island. Both, Salcedo and Suárez, went on to become dear friends of mine. And not only in Facebook. From here, once again, I salute them.)

And now you know: in this occasion we cannot apply the age-old axiom that states that appearances can be deceiving. Whether you buy the book or not, whether you read it or not, whether you decide to ignore it or you prefer to keep it by your night table, friend and foe, please be kind enough to judge Los culpables, The Guilty, also by its cover.

E-Democracy Cuban Human Rights Campaign: FAQ

Who are the people in the campaign and what are their affiliations, if any?

Most of the people involved in the campaign emigrated from Cuba during the 1990s and settled in the US, Canada, Europe and Latin America. Several of them were political refugees. They now work as academics, journalists, translators, programmers, photographers and artists. None is the member of a political or governmental association.

How was the campaign team formed?

Most of the team met in the Cuban blogosphere. A core group had collaborated on other human rights projects, most recently a successful fall 2009 campaign to pressure the Cuban government to release Panfilo, a man jailed for being filmed saying there was hunger in Cuba.

Why are they doing this?

The campaign team is united in their desire for a Cuba in which all fundamental human and civil rights are respected.

What are their sources of financing and other support?

The campaign receives NO outside financing or logistical, strategic or operational support. Both the hard costs (website, software, telecommunications services) and the soft costs (an enormous number of person-hours) have been assumed by the team members themselves.

What has the campaign done?

Organized a petition through which Cubans and other individuals around the world (45,000 and counting) can condemn the wrongful death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010, demand the release of all remaining political prisoners from Cuban jails, and affirm their wish that Cuba respect the basic human rights of all its citizens.

What are its short and long-term goals?

In the short-term, to prevent the death by starvation of Guillermo Fariñas and any other hunger-striking dissidents and prisoners of conscience, as well as to obtain the release of all Cuban political prisoners. In the long term, to effect a transition to a Cuba in which there is the right to life, liberty and security of person; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and a government based on the will of the people as expressed in periodic and genuine elections.

Is the campaign being coordinated with the hunger strikers in Cuba?

No. Occasionally, we receive messages from hunger strikers conveyed by their relatives or human rights activists within Cuba. Fariñas and other prisoners of conscience are aware of the existence of this campaign and have signed the petition. That is the extent of the coordination.

Is there a set of campaign principles?

Human rights, democracy, transparency and non-violence.

How does this campaign differ from past efforts to promote human rights in Cuba?

This is the first human rights campaign to challenge a repressive regime through the use of e-democracy on a massive scale, joining the myriad voices of Cubans in and out of Cuba; important American, European and Latin American intellectuals and artists; elected officials from all political stripes; and citizens from over 103 countries. It is our hope that the campaign serves as the first step in a peaceful transition to a democratic Cuba.

What can I do to help?

Sign the petition, and ask others to sign it! And stay tuned for campaign updates.

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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!

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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.

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