Cuban Dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s Death Draws Attention To Cuba

Cuban head of state Raúl Castro
Cuban head of state Raúl Castro

Cuban head of state Raúl Castro
Cuban head of state Raúl Castro

Today in Latin America

Top Story — The death of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo from a hunger strike in protest against prison conditions on Tuesday has catapulted Cuba to the center of the hemisphere’s attention.

Human rights group Amnesty International, the U.S. government, the Spanish government and others have criticized the Cuban government over Zapata Tamayo’s death.

Zapata Tamayo demanded to be recognized as a prisoner of conscience and for prison conditions to be improved. He died in a Havana hospital, where he had been transferred due to his deteriorating health, on the 83rd day of his hunger strike.

Zapata Tamayo’s death comes just as a second round of U.S. talks with Cuba about migration concluded. The talks, reinaugurated by the Obama administration after being canceled in 2003, demonstrated that some progress toward better relations had occurred since Obama’s election.

But U.S. officials also met with political dissidents, provoking familiar protests from Havana that Washington supports anti-communist movements.

Raúl Castro lamented Zapata’s death in a statement that was reprinted by state media and said that Cuba does not mistreat prisoners, but at the time of writing the article was not accessible; the url disseminated from CubaDebate’s Twitter account produced an internal server error.

An account of Castro’s statement to the press is available in Spanish from Argentina’s Clarín. Castro addressed the press with Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who had arrived in Cuba on a state visit. Lula da Silva said he “profoundly lamented” Zapata Tamayo’s death.

The Cuban dissident’s death has also prompted strong reactions from the blogosphere, which are summarized at Global Voices online.

Zapata was arrested in 2003 for starting a hunger strike to demand the release of a political prisoner. A group of 75 Cuban dissidents were arrested that year, accused by the Cuban government of working with Washington to overthrow the Communist regime.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

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Central America

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Andes

Southern Cone

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