US denounces Cuba's treatment of dissidents
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- The United States on Wednesday denounced what it said is a
campaign of intimidation against the mother of a Cuban political
prisoner who died after a hunger strike, and called on the government of
Raul Castro to release all dissidents still behind bars.
Meanwhile, Cuban opposition leaders on the island planned low-key
protests to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata
Tamayo, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2010 after an 83-day hunger strike.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley joined a chorus of international
criticism of Cuba for its treatment of Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa
Tamayo, who was detained for about 12 hours last week in her hometown of
Banes, in eastern Cuba.
"Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death highlights the injustice of Cuba's
detention of political prisoners who should now be released without
delay," he said in a statement from Washington on Wednesday. He called
Zapata a "courageous humanitarian who died defending a universal human
right - freedom of expression."
Amnesty International issued its own denunciation of Cuba's treatment of
Zapata's mother on Tuesday.
Reached by telephone in Banes, Reina Luisa Tamayo said she spent the day
laying flowers and a Cuban flag on her son's grave and then went to get
passport photos made for a visa to the United States, which has granted
her political refuge.
She said she plans to have her son cremated and bring the ashes when she
departs Cuba for good - expected to be in the coming months, although
Tamayo recently said she was still awaiting Cuban paperwork.
Cuba had no comment on the anniversary. The government considers the
dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to destabilize the
country, and says its doctors did everything they could to keep Zapata
alive during his fast.
Since Zapata's death, the government has cleared its jails of many
political prisoners. It has freed 46 activists, intellectuals and social
commentators arrested in a 2003 crackdown, and now holds just six men
arrested in that sweep who are considered "prisoners of conscience" by
It has also freed about 25 other prisoners arrested separately for
violent - but politically motivated - crimes like hijacking and
sabotage. Elizardo Sanchez, a prominent human rights activist on the
island, says around 100 such prisoners remain in Cuban jails, some
convicted of violent acts including murder.
Members of the Ladies in White, formed by the wives and mothers of the
2003 detainees, gathered at the Havana home of Laura Pollan, one of the
opposition group's leaders, to mark the anniversary of Zapata's death.
Associated Press reporters saw a heavy police presence on the streets
outside Pollan's home, perhaps in anticipation of a march. But another
Ladies in White leader, Bertha Soler, said the women had no plans to emerge.
"All we wanted was to get together and pay tribute to Zapata," she said.
"We are praying, lighting candles and laying flowers. For the moment, we
have no plans to march."
Other Cuban opposition figures also marked the anniversary.
Yoani Sanchez, a blogger who has gained international recognition for
her searing commentary about life on the island, posted a
computer-altered photograph of a famous image overlooking Havana's Plaza
of the Revolution. In place of revolutionary icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara,
it showed the face of Zapata.