Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Blacks bear the brunt of Cuba's brutality

    Posted on Sunday, 02.28.10
    Blacks bear the brunt of Cuba's brutality

    Orlando Tamayo — a young, poor, black Cuban worker imprisoned
    since 2003 — died after an almost three-months-long hunger strike to
    protest racial oppression, the denial of civil and and the
    brutality he had endured in . He became the first black Cuban
    during 's 51-year regime to surrender his life in
    such protest.

    Accused of “public disorder, resisting arrest and disturbing the
    peace,'' Zapata received a three-year sentence but was resentenced for
    “rebellion'' to a total of 36 years. He went on hunger strike on Dec.
    3, 2009, after a severe assault by guards that almost left him dead.

    “My son was murdered because of his black skin,'' sobbed his grieving
    mother. Cuban civil-rights activists of the Movement for Racial
    Integration (MIR), Citizens Watch Group Against Racial Discrimination
    (OCDR), Bruno Sayas Human Rights and Center, National Citizens
    Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) and Juan Rene Betancourt
    Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement (MCAC) wholly agree with her.

    These activists report that 85 percent of Cuba's imprisoned population
    is black, with aggressive racial-profiling tactics playing their part,
    as is 60 percent of the island's 200 political prisoners. Black
    detainees have long complained of being racially humiliated, frequently
    beaten and denied amenities available to white inmates. But Zapata's
    determination to die rather than bend reflects a major shift taking
    place inside Cuba.

    No longer passive

    The past 25 years have ushered in new forces that are pushing to the
    forefront issues of , sexism and multiethnic power sharing. This
    has caught off guard both the Castro regime and the overwhelmingly
    white, right-wing external opposition, forcing them to scramble to
    reassert control over those whom they once considered as passive
    political constituencies — Cuban blacks, who make up 62 percent – 72
    percent of the population.

    Cuba's rulers, say activists, see the growing dark face of the
    opposition as “ingratitude'' that requires harsher punishment. They
    point to the case of black Communist leader Juan Carlos Robinson,
    sentenced in 2006 to 12 years in jail for “corruption,'' an offense for
    which former foreign minister, Roberto Robaina, who's white, was
    in 2002 but placed under house arrest.

    They also note the executions as “terrorists'' in 2003 of Jorge Luis
    Martinez Isaac, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo and Bárbaro Leodán
    Sevilla García — three young black men who hijacked a ferryboat in an
    attempt to flee Cuba. That two of them were veterans of the war in
    Angola did not stop the regime from shooting all three within 48 hours
    of their recapture; the first ever execution of anyone for hijacking. (A
    score of U.S hijackers live freely in Cuba).

    Activists believe the regime was sending a coded message to all
    Afro-Cubans: Opposition or dissent would not be tolerated, especially
    from blacks.

    Scoring political points

    Zapata's ordeal is being spun from the other side of the coin, too —
    the predominantly white and U.S.-based, right-wing anti-Castro
    opposition who clearly stand to score political points from the case of
    a black martyr. Righteous declarations can be expected from
    organizations such as Democracy Movement, the Cuban American National
    Foundation, the Cuban Liberty Council and, especially, the Cuban
    Democratic Directorate. Many Cuban civil-rights activists accuse these
    groups of working to corral and control the new internal opposition
    forces on behalf of interests linked to Cuba's former Jim Crow oligarchy.

    That's why they see U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's “indignation'' over
    Zapata's death, as much as president Raúl Castro's “regrets,'' as a
    double farce. A staunch supporter of the tiny, white elite of wealth
    that was overthrown in 1959, Diaz-Balart can cry crocodile tears, but
    during his time in Congress his right-wing, pro- agenda has only
    hindered the ability of black Cubans to improve their lot.

    Tamayo is now a people's martyr. But those who struggled
    with him and share his aspirations may not allow his brave, principled
    legacy to be hijacked — certainly not by those who before 1959 despised
    him for being black and continue to do so in spite of their hypocritical

    Zapata's legacy belongs to Cuba's future, not to its past of overt
    racial segregation and subservience to U.S. neo-colonial interests.

    Carlos Moore is an ethnologist and political scientist and author of
    Pichón, A Memoir: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba.

    Blacks bear the brunt of Cuba's brutality – Other Views – (28 February 2010)

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