HAVANA – Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died Tuesday in a Havana hospital after mounting an 85-day hunger strike to demand that authorities acknowledge his designation by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, opposition sources said.
Citing confirmation from family members, the sources told Efe that Zapata died between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. at Amejeiras Hospital, where he was taken Monday night from a prison hospital in the capital.
Zapata’s death, “apart from being a tragedy for the family, is more bad news for the entire Cuban human rights movement and also for the government, because that death was avoidable,” Elizardo Sanchez, head of the unofficial Cuban Human Rights Commission, told Efe.
He said Zapata’s death would have “serious consequences” because of the dissident’s international profile as an AI-designated prisoner of conscience.
Zapata’s situation was raised by Spanish Foreign Ministry officials last week during a meeting in Madrid with Cuban counterparts.
Zapata was one of 75 government opponents rounded up and jailed in Spring 2003 on charges of conspiring with the United States to undermine the Cuban Revolution. While some of those dissidents have since been freed on medical grounds, more than 50 remain behind bars on the communist-ruled island.
Officials added years to Zapata’s original sentence because of his repeated protests over prison conditions.
He began the hunger strike in December after authorities denied him permission to wear white – the color of Cuba’s dissidents – instead of the standard prison uniform.
Zapata was transferred last week from a penitentiary in the eastern city of Camagüey to the prison hospital in Havana.
“What happens to Zapata Tamayo is the responsibility of the Raul Castro regime,” the co-director of Cuban exile group Directorio Democratico told Efe in Miami hours before the prisoner’s death.
“We don’t know what will happen to him, but both the political activists in Havana and his mother, Reyna Luisa Tamayo, fear the worst, since we’ve never seen a prisoner admitted to that hospital,” Lissete Rivero said. EFE