HAVANA – Thirteen relatives of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last year in prison after a hunger strike, plan to leave the Communist-ruled island next month for the United States, the late prisoner’s mother told Efe Friday.
Officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana “confirmed to us yesterday that we will travel June 9 and we are already making arrangements,” Reina Luisa Tamayo said by telephone from her home in the eastern town of Banes.
Those arrangements include asking the government to extend their exit permits – due to expire May 24 – and finalizing plans for the exhumation and cremation of Orlando Zapata’s body, she said.
Reina Tamayo vows not to leave Cuba without the ashes of her son, who died behind bars in February 2010 after a lengthy fast.
State Security officials have previously told her the process of exhumation will take place within 72 hours of the family’s setting a firm date for their departure, she said Friday.
Once the travel arrangements are complete, the family will leave Banes for Havana, where authorities have promised to lodge them in a “safe place” pending their departure for the United States, Reina Tamayo said.
The U.S. government issued refugee visas in February for Reina and 12 other family members.
With the Catholic Church acting as intermediary, President Raul Castro’s government reached out to the family last October, offering them permission to emigrate.
Orlando Zapata was among the “Group of 75” dissidents jailed in March 2003 amid the harshest crackdown in decades. His ultimately fatal hunger strike was aimed at forcing the Cuban government to acknowledge his designation by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.
Raul Castro’s unprecedented public expression of regret over Zapata’s death did not stop an international outcry against the Cuban government.
In what could be seen as a response to the criticism, Castro launched last May a dialogue with the Cuban Catholic hierarchy that led to the release of more than 100 political prisoners, including all of the remaining Group of 75 members. EFE