Archive | February, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Black Cuban They Are Killing

7 Feb


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.  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 Holguín 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.

Alcohol, Sledge Hammer and Literature

4 Feb

We live in the forgotten little town of San German, in the Eastern Cuban province of Holguín, and it seems that “nobody is going to notice”.

Suppose that’s what the executives at CIMEX SA, a Cuban corporation that sells cigarettes, alcohol and sundry items to Cubans throughout all of the Cuban archipelago, must have been thinking.

It happens that a synthetically constructed kiosk was installed at the site where before there had been the only bookstore in town, which was moved to a cramped space of 5 meters long by 3 wide, with books stacked and getting wet when it rains, with the threat of a permanent shut-down.

At this kiosk, where they sell domestic beer at a prohibitive one CUC or US $1.20 and the deliciously unique Sabrosuras Bim Bom ice cream (at equally prohibitive prices)  editions of “Cecilia Valdés” or “The Brothers Karamazov ” were once sold for the ridiculous price of half a peso in national currency (the only one in circulation then).

Almost a block ahead in my tiny San  German stands a shiny, glass-enclosed coffee shop selling exclusively in foreign currencies (Carpentier, excuse the superfluous language). Three years ago, they sold an almost impossible to swallow coffee at twenty Cuban cents for an espresso-size cup, but comforting nevertheless to those without class. That was the “deceit” of a hundred or so workers at the sugar cane factory, early rising travelers and sleepless people without dreams of any kind.

One day they came, hammer, cement and tiles in hand and set up a business selling pizza and ready-made, microwavable spaghetti, malts, candy, and condensed milk.

For the last two decades, the executives at CIMEX, SA have been the fortunate vanguard of “Cuba”, the scramble that is poking its head into the houses of all Cubans.

Mid-night motels, boutiques, luxury watch stores and disco nightclubs on the cliffs at the beaches have already been taken over (for now) by this successful construction and investment commercial enterprise.

Like fifty years ago, when they tried to turn the army barracks into schools, today, the advanced totalitarian machine has come, seizing every space to get in tune with the times.

Instead of the old habit of buying a book and going home, the thinking brains of the new, mixed-purpose ventures have imposed this half-metal half-plastic structure where before there was a library, which they erected before the eyes of the citizens like a public offense.

Translated by: Norma