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Cablegate: Cuba Buttoned Down Following Death Of

VZCZCXRO2427
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHUB #0107/01 0551857
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241857Z FEB 10
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5208
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOGCA/COMNAVBASE GUANTANAMO BAY CU PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCE/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 000107

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CCA AND WHA/PD
STATE FOR DRL CNEWLING

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV ECON EAID CU
SUBJECT: CUBA BUTTONED DOWN FOLLOWING DEATH OF
HUNGER-STRIKING POLITICAL PRISONER ORLANDO ZAPATA TAMAYO

REF: FEBRUARY 24 PUBLIC STATEMENT

HAVANA 00000107 001.3 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The situation in Cuba is quiet following
the February 23 death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata
Tamayo from a prolonged hunger strike. Several sources
reported that up to 50 Zapata supporters had either been
detained or prevented from leaving their homes, all in
central and eastern Cuba. In the midst of all this, the GOC
is hosting a large Brazilian delegation led by President Lula
da Silva. When confronted by the international press today
at an event with Lula, Cuban President Raul Castro said that
he regretted the death of Zapata. There is no coverage of the
death in local press and little awareness of Zapata among
average Cubans. Zapata's death has united, at least
temporarily, Cuba's normally fractured civil society, with
everyone from bloggers to political party leaders expressing
shock and disbelief that the Government of Cuba (GOC) allowed
Zapata to die. Zapata's families and friends thanked the USG
for our efforts and solidarity. USINT has maintained regular
contact with Zapata's family since his sentencing in 2004 and
continued to stay in touch with the family during the final
days of his life. WHA PDAS Kelly raised Zapata's situation
directly with the GOC last week during the Migration Talks,
and USINT invited his family to meet PDAS Kelly at an event
hosted by the COM in honor of the delegation. END SUMMARY.


PREVENTIVE MEASURES TO QUIET SUPPORTERS
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) There was no evidence of political unrest following
Zapata's death on February 23. Havana and the eastern
provincial capital of Holguin, where Zapata hailed from, were
quiet. The GOC has reportedly taken a number of steps to
prevent protests and disrupt activists' plans to attend the
funeral, which will be held tonight in Zapata's hometown of
Banes, northeast of Holguin. Following Zapata's death, state
security reportedly took immediate steps to collect the body
and escort the family from the capital as quickly as
possible. Independent journalists have reported that state
security detained several dissidents in eastern Cuba and
threatened others with arrest if they attempt to attend the
funeral or lead any public protests. Multiple sources told
poloffs that national police have surrounded the houses of
several opposition leaders in Banes, including that of
Zapata's family, and are preventing members of civil society
from approaching the house.

OFFICIAL SILENCE, STUNNED REACTIONS
-----------------------------------

3. (SBU) While there has been no local press coverage of the
death and few among the general public know anything about
Zapata, word of his death spread quickly among civil society.
Zapata is the first political prisoner to die of a hunger
strike in Cuba since Pedro Luis Boitel's death in 1972 and
most activists seemed stunned at the news. "This is a
disaster for Zapata's family," the leader of one human rights
group told poloff, "but also for the GOC." Laura Pollan,
spokesperson for the Damas de Blanco (a group composed of the
female relatives of political prisoners), expressed disbelief
that the GOC would allow a political prisoner to die. Zapata
was not transferred to Havana until mid-February, when he
arrived at a prison hospital in the capital, and he did not
go to a larger, better equipped hospital until he was on the
brink of death. By then, it was too late.

RARE UNION IN MOURNING
----------------------

4. (SBU) Zapata's death has succeeded in uniting Cuba's
famously fractured civil society. Prominent blogger Yoani
Sanchez, who normally shies away from traditional opposition
groups, has reported extensively on Zapata's hunger strike
and his death. Sanchez shot video of Zapata's mother, Reina
Luisa Danger Tamayo, outside the hospital shortly after the
death, then posted it on her blog. She also quoted noted
human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, while calling on

HAVANA 00000107 002.3 OF 002


other activists for outrage at Zapata's death. Fellow
bloggers also reported extensively on his death. Martha
Beatriz Roque and Vladimiro Roca, who have been increasingly
isolated from other opposition figures in recent months,
joined the Damas de Blanco in making the long drive to Banes
in an attempt to attend the funeral.

FAMILY, DISSIDENTS THANK USG EFFORTS ON BEHALF OF ZAPATA
--------------------------------------------- -----------

5. (SBU) Roque, Pollan and Elizardo Sanchez thanked USINT and
the USG for our solidarity with Zapata during his ordeal,
including our February 24 public statement. Throughout his
detention, USINT had maintained contact with his family and
met with Zapata's mother. Poloffs continued to receive
updates from Zapata's family and supporters as the hunger
strike progressed and his condition worsened.

6. (SBU) During the Migration Talks held in Havana on
February 19, the delegation leader, WHA PDAS Craig Kelly,
raised Zapata's case with Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister
Dagoberto Rodriguez (Rodriguez claimed not to know of
Zapata.) Zapata's mother, step-father and sister were also
invited to participate in an event hosted by the Chief of
Mission on February 20 in honor of the delegation. We
learned later that the GOC scheduled them to visit Zapata at
the prison hospital at the same time and told them that it
was the "only" time available.

BACKGROUND: A DEFIANT BRICKLAYER-TURNED-ACTIVIST
------------------------------------

7. (SBU) At around 4:00 PM on Tuesday, February 23, 2010,
political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in police
custody in a Havana hospital following an 86 day hunger
strike. Zapata, an Afro-Cuban bricklayer turned
human-rights-activist, was arrested at the home of prominent
activist Martha Beatriz Roque in March of 2003 while
participating in a hunger strike in support of political
prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet. Although he was arrested as part
of the "Black Spring" crackdown, Zapata was initially charged
with minor, non-political crimes and sentenced to only three
years in prison and thus is not included among the more
famous 75 who were charged with political crimes and
sentenced to much longer terms. Zapata's continued activism
while in prison eventually earned him additional charges and
a sentence of more than 25 years, as well as the distinction
of being recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of
conscience.
FARRAR

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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