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A Tragic Death

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On February 23, 2010, Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in a Havana hospital, where he had been transferred from prison after an 83-day hunger strike in Cuba.  Mr. Zapata was among the 75 internal opposition activists detained in Cuba in March of 2003. He and the others were quickly tried and sentenced.  Mr. Zapata was serving a 36-year sentence, extended from an original three-year sentence.  He was one of 55 Cubans who have been designated by Amnesty International as “Prisoners of Conscience.”

The Latin America Working Group expresses our utmost sorrow at his passing and our distress over this tragic and indefensible death. We call upon the Cuban government to institute a thorough investigation into Mr. Zapata’s death.

This tragic death, and the continuing practice of detaining opposition voices in Cuba, calls us even more strongly to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. We look forward to a time when U.S. citizens and Cuban citizens may freely associate, traveling to one another’s countries without restriction from either government. We look forward to a time when our policy reflects our values of generosity, friendship, and reaching out.

For other statements on this tragic occurrence, see:

Amnesty International USA: http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGPRE010672010&lang=e

Washington Office on Latin America:  http://wola.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=articlep&id=1063&Itemid=8

We would like to echo the sentiments of Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA), chairman of the House Human Rights Caucus, on the floor of the House of Representatives:

James P. McGovern (MA-03)
One Minute Special Order
February 24, 2010

SORROW AND OUTRAGE AT DEATH OF CUBAN DISSIDENT ORLANDO ZAPATA TAMAYO   

Mr. Speaker, I want to express my deepest sorrow and outrage at the death of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo.  Imprisoned since 2003, he had been on a hunger strike for several weeks.   We first heard he was seriously ill last week.  Yesterday, he died at the prison clinic.

Zapata Tamayo paid the ultimate sacrifice for his commitment to changing Cuba’s system.  He commands our respect.  No one has starved himself to death in a Cuban prison in over forty years.  Surely the Cuban government could have and should have intervened earlier to prevent this tragedy.  His death is on their conscience.   

I have always felt – and continue to believe – that if we are truly going to do a better job of standing with the Cuban people, then we need to be closer to them and in greater numbers.  We need to travel freely to the island to meet and learn from them, and they from us.  I hope that day comes soon so we can tell all the Cuban people that we remember the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Insert for the Record, “Activists: Cuba Dissident Dies After Hunger Strike,” Washington Post, February 23, 2010

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