On Feb 23, black human rights activist Orlando Zapata-Tamayo died after an 83-day hunger strike and a series of savage beatings by his Cuban jailers.
Some background is in order. Shortly after Jimmy Carter visited Fidel Castro in 2002, played baseball with him, and returned home proclaiming Castro “a committed egalitarian who despises any system in which one class or group of people lives much better than another,” Zapata-Tamayo was beaten and arrested by Castro’s police for the crime of “disobedience.”
In their twisted way, Castro’s secret police had a point: Tamayo, a humble rural plumber and bricklayer, had studied the (smuggled) works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi and had attempted some “civil disobedience” to protest the Stalinism imposed on Cuba by the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and their Soviet puppeteers. So Cuba's Stalinist rulerspounced. Samizdats smuggled out of Cuba by eye-witnesses report that while gleefully kicking and bludgeoning Tamayo, his Communist jailers yelled: “Worthless Ni*ger! Worthless peasant.”
Tamayo’s “disobedience” continued in proportion to his beatings and tortures. Tamayo remained, literally, “bloodied but unbowed.” Even Amnesty International recognized his plight and designated him an official “Prisoner of Conscience.” His exasperating defiance simply prompted the regime to more merciless beatings and to bump-up his sentence to 36 years in Castro’s dungeons.
A little perspective: After conviction for planting bombs in public places (by a judiciary process declared scrupulously fair by the attending international press and human rights organizations) Nelson Mandela got a lighter sentence than did Tamayo for a peaceful protest. Needless to add, the regime that jailed Mandela was universally embargoed and condemned-- and with particular virulence by the precise parties who hail Castro (who forbids any and all international human rights groups/observers from so much as setting foot in his fiefdom). That goes for Nelson Mandela himself. In 1991, he gushed, "There's one place where Fidel Castro stands out head and shoulders above the rest. That is in his love for human rights and liberty!"
One might think that the Congressional Black Caucus would take an interest in the abuse of a black dissident. Not so. The CBC visited with Raul Castro last year and returned hailing him as “one of the most amazing human beings we’ve ever met. Castro is a very engaging, down-to-earth and kind man.” After Raul Castro received that compliment from the Congressional Black Caucus, Tamayo was beaten comatose by his jailers and left with a life-threatening fractured skull.
Eighty three days ago, already injured perhaps beyond recovery (certainly with Cuba’s medical facilities), and hoping his death might alert a two-faced “international community” to the plight of Castro’s subjects, Zapata-Tamayo declared a hunger strike. In his weakened condition, he finally succumbed to the regime's tortures last week.
“They finally murdered my son,” wept Reina Luisa Tamayo this Feb. 24 upon news of her son’s death. She continued:
“They finally got what they wanted. They ended the life of a fighter for human rights. My son was tortured. But he didn't die on his knees. He died bravely. My son's death gives me much strength, valor, I want the world to demand the release of all the other prisoners of conscience, that this not happen again. And no--I don’t accept Raul Castro’s apology. He’s an assassin."
Her son’s body was delivered to her by Castro’s secret police, who demanded that he be buried quickly and without fanfare. Castro’s police have also blanketed Tamayo’s rural home town to further “emphasize” this last directive. All press agencies that have earned a Havana bureau were very slow in reporting Tamayo’s death (though a skinned knee or sprained toe in Guantanamo would have buzzed through all news wires within seconds).
These agencies were very prompt, however, in reporting “President” Raul Castro’s official reaction. “We are really sorry about his death, a lamentable accident,” said Raul Castro. He further insisted:
“In half a century in Cuba there have been no extrajudicial killings. We haven’t killed a single person. Here, there is no torture. Killings and torture only happen in Guantanamo.”
Amazingly, and despite Tamayo's death, many in the press believe the regime's spin. In 2006, one of the Castro-approved “reporters,” Anthony Boadle of Reuters, claimed that “There are no credible reports of disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture in Cuba since the early 1960s, according to human rights groups." The late Orlando Zapata-Tamaya would probably disagree.
For those willing to see through the regime's propaganda, Castro's murder tally is not difficult to dig up. Simply open The Black Book of Communism, written by French scholars and published in English by Harvard University Press, neither an outpost of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Here you'll find a tally of 14,000 Castroite murders by firing- squad. "The facts and figures are irrefutable. No one will any longer be able to claim ignorance or uncertainty about the criminal nature of Communism." So wrote the New York Times (no less!) about the book.
The Cuba Archive project headed by scholars Maria Werlau and the late Armando Lago estimates the death toll from Castro's regime, including firing squads, prison beatings and deaths at sea while attempting escape, at slightly over 100,000. This project has been lauded by everyone from The Miami Herald to the Boston Globe (no right-wing outposts) to the Wall Street Journal.
Castro's chief hangman, Che Guevara, had laid down the rules very succinctly: "Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution. We execute from revolutionary conviction."
Fast forward to that period Boadle assures us is untainted by any "extra-judicial killings." A 17-year-old named Orlando Travieso was armed with only a homemade paddle when he was machine-gunned to death in March 1991. His “crime,” as spelled out perfectly judicially in Cuba’s legal code, was trying to flee Cuba on a tiny raft. Loamis Gonzalez was 15 when he was machine gunned to death for the same “crime.” The “criminal” Owen Delgado was 15 when Castro’s police dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy where he sought asylum and clubbed him to death with rifle butts.
Boadle will be pleased that these boys and thousands upon thousands of others who perished in similar fashion well after the early 1960s were all deemed "criminals” by Castro’s judicial system.
Angel Abreu and Jose Nicol were 3, Gisele Borges and Caridad Leyva were 4 and Cindy and Yolindis Rodriguez were 2 on July 17, 1994, when their mothers held them in a tight embrace on the deck of a tugboat. Castro’s coast guard rammed the tugboat and water-cannoned them from their screaming mothers arms and into a turbulent sea to drown. Boadle will be pleased that Castro’s regime ruled this—quite judicially— an "accident," exactly as they rule Tamayo’s death.
May Orlando Zapata-Tamayo rest in peace, may his family accept our condolences, and may his murderers eventually face justice.
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant and Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Visit hfontova.com.