Thursday, February 25, 2010

Orlando Zapata, R.I.P.

Month after month, much of the discussion on this blog has to do with the how the United States and other countries deal with Cuba. In that debate, there are legitimate positions in favor of different degrees of engagement or sanctions, but I don’t think there’s a legitimate position that ignores the cause of human rights in Cuba.

We are reminded of that by the death of Orlando Zapata, 42, a prisoner of conscience who was serving a 36-year sentence and saw a hunger strike as his only recourse, a statement of last resort. His body lost the battle yesterday at a Havana hospital.

Cuban President Raul Castro was cited by Reuters as saying the following: “We regret it very much. That’s the result of relations with the United States…We didn’t murder anyone, here no one was tortured. That happens at the Guantanamo base, not in our territory.”

It’s not clear to me how a death of a prisoner in Cuban state custody, or his incarceration in the first place, can be blamed on the United States. Either is beyond imagination, as it would be for the United States to shirk responsibility and accountability for prisoners it holds at Guantanamo or anywhere else.

Here are editorials from Madrid’s El Pais and the Miami Herald, and a statement from Amnesty International.

The El Pais editorial chides Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero for making only a vague statement about Zapata’s death yesterday. Zapatero has now called on Cuba to release all political prisoners, as reported in a news story in the same paper.

El Pais goes on to report that Zapata was buried in Banes in eastern Cuba at 7:00 this morning, under such tight security that the town resembled “a town taken by the Japanese army in the Philippines,” in the description of human rights monitor Elizardo Sanchez. Also: “The Cuban government advised foreign correspondents – the majority of whom are waiting a year for renewal of their press credentials – not to travel to Banes to cover the burial, which was treated with silence by their colleagues in Cuban media.”

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