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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dissidents Remain Prisoners of Cuba

This article originally published as Cuba Welches On Freedom For Dissidents
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Cuba refuses to release 13 dissidents being held in order to silence their voices.  The terms of a July 7th agreement are in default.  An international human rights advocate says he is going back on a hunger strike that nearly took his life.  Through all of this, Cuban President, Raúl Castro remains mum.

Things came to a head for Cuban leadership on February 23rd, 2010, when Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42 year old plumber and ‘prisoner of conscience’, died after a 72 day hunger strike. Tamayo was imprisoned on multiple occasions including once for taking part in a human rights workshop in a Havana park. He was jailed in the 2003 crackdown called Black Spring,

Originally, Zapata-Tamayo was to be imprisoned for 36 months. However, once incarcerated, authorities added additional charges extending his sentence by 36 years.

Cuban President, Raúl Castro, issued a statement expressing regret for the death of Zapata-Tamayo. He then summarily detained over 50 activists, thus preventing them from attending his wake and staging a public protest over the death.

Guillermo Farinas during hunger strike

As this most recent crop of dissidents rots in jail, the international community has demanded their release, including dissident Guillermo Farinas who staged his own 134 day hunger strike. First, Farinas won Europe's Sakharov human rights prize in October, a public disgrace for Cuba.

Then, while Farinas lie near death, Castro flinched. The hunger-strike death of Zapata-Tamayo was bad enough. Two hunger-strike deaths was a lot to defend. Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Roman Catholic Church brokered a deal.

Castro agreed to release all 52 prisoners over a four month period. Most of the dissidents earned freedom because they agreed to leave Cuba and go into exile. However, 13 prisoners have refused to agree to leave after their release. Castro refuses to honor his deal. The final date for their release has passed. Farinas threatens to return to his hunger strike.

In a sense, the US holds its own political prisoners as it busts down doors and uses subterfuge to enter dwellings.  See Ice Fakes Accident, Invades Home

"To not release them would be fatal to the promise given to the Church, and a fraud against the international community," Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said hours ahead of the deadline.

"It is not what we thought would happen," Father Jose Felix Perez said after holding mass for the dissident group Damas de Blanco, or “Ladies in White” which is comprised of the family members of the 2003 prisoners, primarily their wives.

Meanwhile, at stake is Cuba's desperate need to normalize relations with democratic countries including the U.S. Castro must weigh which will be more dangerous. Is it 13 dissidents who insist a one party system will not provide reforms, or is it the growing discontent from the Cuban people at being isolated through the hands of the Castro's?

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