Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas
The following is a testimony from Abel Lopez Perez who, a few days before the 3rd of December, was transferred from the Provincial Prison of Guantanamo (in his native city and where he served a political prison sentence) to the horrid dungeons of a prison in Camaguey, where Orlando Zapata was also taken.
In that prison, there was a group of more than twenty political prisoners and common prisoners who supported Orlando Zapata in his civic protest — the hunger strike. The situation in the prison became complicated for the jailers, and they resorted to countless vile deeds in order to try to make the prisoners, and Zapata, give up.
Abel Lopez was released months later with an extra-penal license due to his delicate state of health. He returned to his home in Guantanamo, but the police authorities informed him that he now must comply with certain restrictions. Among them, the principal one is that he cannot travel out of his home municipality — and if he does, he will once again be arrested and sent back to prison.
He has still not been able to visit the cemetery where the remains of the Cuban martyr, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, lie.
I leave you all with his experiences, the same exact way in which he told them to me a month after his release from prison.
“I got to see him within the first days. When we saw each other, I was also carrying out a hunger strike. The guards casually made a mistake and walked him down the same corridor I was in. He recognized me by the tattoo of Marti that I have on my arm, and he said, “Abel”. I responded, “Yes, Zapata. We must continue”. Even though prisoners tend to keep silent and harbor lots of fears, deep inside they have a free person longing to see their country in freedom. And they also keep each other informed, and they did the same with me, informing me of everything that would happen with Zapata.
Before Zapata was checked into the hospital, he was regularly taking some vitamins. He was in a weak state of health. A military chief known as ‘Gordo’, who was the one responsible for ordering all of Zapata’s things to be taken out of the cell and to stop giving him water, also took his bottle of vitamins and poured all the pills down a drain. He told him, ‘Those who are in protest here don’t drink vitamins. I think those are pills sent to you by the Yankees so you can continue your hunger strike.’ Those were the exact words said to him, I verified them. His vitamins were taken away, as were any other medications. And they stopped giving him water for a while.
When they saw that Zapata was determined to reach the last consequences, they changed their strategy. They rushed him to the hospital. During Zapata’s stay in the hospital, a security guard visited me and told me, ‘Abel, someone has to talk to Zapata. Would you be willing to go talk to him?’ I flat out told him that I wasn’t. I would not talk to Zapata. Zapata knew what he was doing, and I was not one to try to influence his decisions.
That was a method of operation used by them to try to discredit him, to try to get people, one by one, to talk to him and convince him to leave the hunger strike. Once in the hospital, he and I were finally able to talk.
Many prisoners who surrounded him, like Otero, and Frank Alvarez (a young man with a life sentence who resided in the cell next to where Zapata was being held), told me that a few days before being taken away, Zapata stood up and shouted, ‘People, don’t let yourselves be lied to. Don’t believe anything that they tell you. I’m not demanding a kitchen or any of the things they took away from me. I’m demanding an improvement of treatment for all prisoners, and so you all know, I am going to die for it.’ I remember the day when we received the tragic news of his death. A few prisoners came running to me and told me, ‘Come here, hurry’. We walked into the small room where there was a television*. There, the young man who was telling me this started to cry and told me, ‘My friend, I was there. Abel, I’m a witness of it all, of his death. Zapata was not demanding any of this’.
I must say that the Granma newspaper committed a crime by saying that Zapata was demanding absurd things like a telephone, a kitchen, a personal room, and a television.
But within that prison itself, I am a witness that in the hospital* section there is a “revolutionary prisoner” who stole large amounts from the state. He is treated differently, and exclusively. While they said that Zapata demanded absurd things, which were just pure lies, this other prisoner enjoyed a “suite”. That prisoner was the one who was at the forefront of managing the hospital of Prison 26. For more than 20 years he has been taking money and resources from there. One day, they casually told me to go visit the hospital, and I actually accepted. That same prisoner resided right in front of Hospital 26. He has a room, a telephone, a radio, an electric kitchen, and even a heater. When I saw the State Security Major, Bombino*, I told him, ‘How is it that Granma tauntingly says that Zapata demanded these things. How is it possible that right there in number 26 resides the engineer, the prisoner in charge of the construction of the hospital and he has all of these things?’ He responded, ‘Well, that is the engineer who is in charge of the hospital.’ And I looked at him and said, ‘But he is a prisoner. Isn’t he supposed to be confined to a high security prison, just like the rest of us?’ He simply told me, ‘No, no, he can have all that stuff.’
And while the newspaper mocked Zapata, this was occurring. Goes to show you the differences between a “revolutionary” prisoner and the rest of us, the defenders of human rights.
And I must repeat: those were very grim days, filled with sorrow because of Zapata’s death.
*they told me: Abel is referring to those who would report from prison that they had taken Zapata’s water and vitamins.
*the hospital: Referring to the Camaguey Amalia Simoni Civil Hospital which has a waiting room for those who are sentenced. They check in prisoners from various jails in the province in this hospital.
*the television: Referring to the images played by the Cuban Television in which they discredited the hunger strike of Zapata where Raul Castro, together with the Brazilian president, referred to “some prisoner who died”.
*Bombino: Refers to the political police guard by the name of Julio Cesar Bombino, one of the figures deeply involved with the fate of Orlando Zapata in Camaguey. He is one of the highest ranking State Security officials in that province.
Translated by Raul G.
November 24 2010