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A Cuban Political Prisoner Nears Death, Is the World Watching?

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Today's guest post is from the blog Crossing the Barbed Wire, by Luis Felipe Rojas, a free and independent writer, journalist and poet from the town of San German in Holguin, Cuba.

They Are Killing Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Black Cuban

The old saying that a lie always returns as a banner against the one who told it came to pass, and this time not in favor of the current Cuban regime.

The hoax that the revolutionary state of Fidel Castro ended racist practices falls apart before the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political prisoner of the renowned Group of 75, arrested during the Black Spring of 2003, in the days when the world's attention was distracted by the American invasion of Iraq. Zapata was condemned to 25 years, and during the seven years he has been imprisoned he has been summarily tried on several occasions so that with the time added he is now sentenced to 47 years.

Now the authorities, acting together and in collusion with the courts and the attorney general of the republic, have handed down a new sentence that leaves him at 25 years again, but without credit for the seven he has already served. This, among other reasons, is why today he is on a hunger strike and is at the point of death in a room in the Amalia Simoni Hospital in Camaguey.

But ... who is Zapata? Why has he been subjected to such torture? Why should his punishment be so long?

Zapata Tamayo is a black Cuban and a front-line opponent of the Castro dictatorship -- clear enough reasons for him to be punished. He is a member of the illegal Alternative Republican Movement whose work focused on taking to the streets and explaining person-to-person about the atrocities of the Cuban military regime against its people. But for the Cuban government, all black people, supposedly, ought to pay homage to Fidel Castro, "the liberator of the black race, and the good master who came to free us blacks." And that was exactly the lesson that Zapata did not want to accept.

Since his incarceration he has led strong protests, which, although peaceful, were intolerable to the prison authorities, and for this he has suffered beatings, humiliation, prolonged solitary confinements, and has since been subject to the maximum prison severity in his first phase.

Before being transferred on December 3, 2009 from the Holguin provincial prison to another special regimen in the Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey he was subjected to a huge beating. He told his mother during a brief visit weeks after the punishment that they handcuffed him and beat him to bring him down; they struck him with an iron bar on the knee where the imprint is still visible. During the transfer he was stripped of his cold-weather clothes, food, water purifying implements and other utensils. Then they threw him in a punishment cell where he was kept without food until he had to be taken urgently to the nearest hospital where he was barely breathing.

On several occasions when they beat him, the guards yelled "black!" as if it they were spitting out an insult. They want to bring him down, but he is still standing proud of the color of his skin - he said- and firm in his ideas about true justice, freedom, and respect for the right of all Cubans to live a different life.

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Luis Felipe Rojas