HAVANA – Cuban parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon said those who foment a “media campaign” against the communist-ruled island in the United States and Europe are responsible for the recent death of a hunger striker and any other such deaths that may occur.
“I’d say that those who encourage and extol those who have lent themselves to this media campaign against Cuba are responsible for the lives of these people,” Alarcon said in an interview published Saturday by the government Web site Cubadebate.com.
He added that the international media also share “responsibility” for the death in Havana on Feb. 23 of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike.
Zapata was designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, although President Raul Castro’s government described him as a common criminal.
Alarcon said the media response to Zapata’s death may have several objectives, including damaging Cuba’s image and its relations with the outside world and trying to “distort the true meaning of the revolution.”
“It’s outrageous to talk about the unfortunate death of Zapata as if it were Cuba’s responsibility. Nobody forced that man to declare himself on a hunger strike,” Alarcon said, adding that the death was “regrettable” and “absurd.”
The speaker of the island’s National Assembly said Zapata “was not a political prisoner” but was adopted by the media as a dissident “when they discovered they could make him an instrument of its campaign.”
“Unfortunately he lost his life,” said Alarcon, who added that the Cuban revolution, which is known for having one of the lowest infant-mortality and highest life-expectancy rates in the Americas, has saved many other lives.
Alarcon said the current “media campaign” against Cuba dates back to the start of the revolution, according to documents that were declassified by Washington in 1991 and which provide evidence of a “covert action program” against the communist-ruled island.
“The foundation of the whole plan is to create an opposition and, secondly, a powerful propaganda offensive to elevate it,” Alarcon said, adding that a portion of the content of those documents remains classified.
“The history of the United States with respect to Cuba is that of an aggressor country that has always tried to crush this nation,” he said.
“Cuba is a small island coveted by the United States dating back to that nation’s founders, who always regarded us as a colony, as a subject,” Alarcon said, adding that that same attitude persists under current President Barack Obama.
Referring to Europe, he criticized a recent European Parliament declaration demanding the release of jailed dissidents on the island.
That declaration was triggered in part by a hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who began fasting more than a month ago – after Zapata’s death – to pressure the government to release 26 ailing political prisoners.
“Europe’s common position is nothing more than an act of subordination to the Americans and of cowardice,” Alarcon said, adding that “Europe has been and remains a subordinate accomplice to the Americans’ policy against Cuba.”
Referring to Fariñas, the speaker said he has been hospitalized with the consent of his family and is receiving all the necessary medical attention.
Two other dissidents, one of them behind bars, are also on a hunger strike to demand the release of the 26 ailing political detainees.
Cuba’s government says there are no political prisoners on the island, dismissing most dissidents as “mercenaries” in the service of the United States, which has imposed an embargo on the island since 1962.
The opposition, however, puts the number of political detainees at roughly 200. About a quarter of that group, including the late Zapata, have been designated by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.
An international uproar over the Zapata case prompted Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel, to take the unprecedented step of publicly expressing regret for the prisoner’s death, though he denied the government bore any responsibility for the tragedy.