Ana Belkis Ferrer García during the funeral of Orlando Zapata Tamayo
The terrible and painful death of the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo was not an isolated incident, nor something beyond the control of the regime, as some have said. Zapata’s death was something that was decided at the highest levels of Castroist power, in coordination with Villa Marista headquarters.
“Let’s get rid of this black man and his hunger strikes like we did with Pedro Luis Boitel. Let’s teach the activist cells and the Miami Mafia a lesson and then see what happens. And if we let this black man die what’s sure to happen is that the opposition activists will be frightened, and hold back a little, and stop using hunger strikes as an alternative form of protest,” his murderers must have calculated.
Sometimes certain media focus on this event in a somewhat simplistic and incomplete manner – “Prisoner Dies on Hunger Strike!” To those who do not live in Cuba, or do not know what it means to be in a Cuban prison and to carry out a hunger strike, it may seem that the strikers only suffer the effects of food deprivation, a conclusion very far from reality.
To declare a hunger strike in a Castro prison means facing, from the outset, a range of torture such as isolation from everything and everyone, extreme solitary confinement in a punishment cell without water, electric light, and in most cases without bedding, always without the possibility of covering up, and without access to anything or anyone.
“We do not give in to displays of force.” With these words they confront the hunger-striker with a demonstration of strength and power. It’s like saying: if you want your concern to be taken care of and for us to give you what you’re asking for, first you have to humble yourself before us, discontinue the hunger strike, and then we, under our own conditions, will decide how, when, and what we will do.
To receive any kind of medical care they also impose the same conditions. And that is why Zapata died, because just like Boitel, he did not yield in his position, he did not allow them to humiliate him, resisting for 18 days during which they denied him water. Resolutely facing the cold temperatures with his naked body, spending his nights on the ground. Zapata chose to sacrifice himself, in accordance with his manhood, his principles. As his compatriot expressed at the close of Zapata’s funeral, “He made the leap to immortality.” But Zapata was not killed just by totalitarian criminals, no. Zapata was also killed by the indifference and the complicit silence of those who should have advocated or interceded for his life. Zapata was killed by certain of the accredited foreign media in Havana, who though accurately and systematically informed about his case, lacked the courage and the human sensitivity to provide coverage, and were deaf to the cries and suffering of his mother Reina Luisa who so often called for public support. Orlando Zapata Tamayo was also killed by those who, in violation of their social, ethical, and humane obligations, refused to intercede with the government for his life. I refer to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Cuba, in the person of Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, who was asked to intervene by the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights and other independent civil rights organizations in Cuba.
It is true that Cuba lost Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an irreparable loss that has shocked us all, but the Castro government lost the wider battle. The political cost is irreparable and irretrievable. At last, the world has turned to our suffering country and to those who fight for it. The example, sacrifice, and memory of the martyr endures and is multiplied every day in thousands and thousands of Cubans who continue his legacy, heroism and endurance. A moral blow to his murderers and the accomplices to the crime.
Translated by: Tomás A.