[Ppnews] Cuban Prisoners, Here and There
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 16 10:35:01 EDT 2010
Prisoners, Here and There
by Michael Parenti and Alicia Jrapko
For more than half a century Western political
leaders and their corporate media have waged a
disinformation war against socialist Cuba. Nor
is there any sign that they are easing up. A
recent example is the case of Orlando Zapata
Tamayo, an inmate who died in a Cuban prison in
February 2010 after an 82-day hunger strike.
Zapata's death sparked an outcry from Western
capitalist media and official sources, including
of course the United States. Almost without
exception, in literally thousands of reports, the
corporate media portrayed him as a "political
prisoner" and a "political dissident" -- without
offering any supporting specifics. In March 2010
the European Union voted to condemn Cuba for his demise.
Since 2004, Amnesty International has treated
Zapata Tamayo as one of Cuba 's 75 "prisoners of
conscience," without offering evidence to
buttress this assertion. Like the Western media,
Amnesty failed to specify what were the political
activities that had led to Zapata's imprisonment.
Amnesty International article (24 February 2010)
stated that in May 2004 Zapata Tamayo was
sentenced to three years in prison for "public
disorder" and "resistance." According to some
reports he launched his hunger strike not only to
protest his conditions of detention but to demand
a personal kitchen in his cell, a television set,
and a cell phone, amenities that were not likely to materialize.
Zapata was subsequently tried several times on
charges of assaulting guards and "disorder in a
penal establishment." The offenses began to add
up. At the time of his fast he was facing a
total sentence of 36 years. Again Amnesty made
no mention of any political activities.
Cuban doctors attempted to keep Zapata alive with
intravenous feedings and other stratagems. One
psychologist testified that she tried to convince
him to cease the hunger strike and try to
register his grievances by other means. Zapata's
mother remarked that her son had the best Cuban
doctors at his bedside and she thanked them for
their assistance. Later she would change her
story and claim that he was a "dissident" who had been mistreated.
According to the Cuban writer
Ubieta Gomez, Zapata was a common criminal who
was convicted of "unlawful break-in" (1993),
"assault" (2000), "fraud" (2000), and "public
disorder" (2002). One of his serious
transgressions occurred in 2000 when he attacked
someone named Leonardo Simón with a machete,
fracturing his skull and inflicting other injuries.
Ubieta Gomez concluded that Zapata had been
involved in a wide range of criminal doings, none
of which were remotely political. He was in jail
for breaching the peace, "public damage,"
resistance to authority, two charges of fraud,
"public exhibitionism," repeated charges of
felonious assault, and being illegally armed.
Despite this extensive rap sheet Zapata was
paroled in March 2003, eleven days before the
arrests of the 75 so-called "prisoners of
conscience." Later that same month he was
charged with another crime and imprisoned for parole violation.
To repeat: while his 2003 arrest happened to come
within days of the imprisonment of the 75, Zapata
was never part of that group. The Cuban
government never accused him of conspiring with
-- or accepting funds and materials from -- a
foreign power, charges that were leveled against the 75.
Contrary to what was claimed by the Spanish news
agency EFE, Zapata's name does not appear on the
list of the 75 Cuban prisoners drawn up by the
United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2003.
Since 2003, at least 20 of the 75 have been
released due to health problems, shrinking the
number still incarcerated to 55 -- a level of
humanitarian leniency not likely to be emulated
in the US criminal justice system. Apparently
this news has yet to reach the US media. As of
17 March 2010 the
York Times still referred to the "imprisonment of
75 dissidents." Even more recently (5 April
2010) an NPR commentator referred to the "75
dissidents being held in Cuba 's prisons."
The Cuban government argues that to describe the
75 (or 55) as being "prisoners of conscience" or
"political dissidents" is to misrepresent the
issue. They were never tried for holding
dissenting views but for unlawfully collaborating
with a hostile foreign power, receiving funds and
materials from the US interest section, with the
intent to subvert the existing political system in Cuba.
Many countries have such laws, including the
USA. As Arnold August points out, the US Penal
115 entitled "Treason, Sedition, and Subversive
2381 stipulates that any US citizen who "adheres
to" or gives "aid and comfort . . . within the
United States or elsewhere" to a country that US
authorities consider to be an enemy "is guilty of
treason and shall suffer death, or shall be
imprisoned not less than five years and fined
under this title but not less than $10,000." So
too, Cuba has legislation directed at those who
are funded by hostile foreign powers.
In comparison to the media's tidal outcry on
behalf of Cubans imprisoned in Cuba, consider the
coverage accorded the five Cubans imprisoned in
the United States. During almost 12 years of
<http://www.thecuban5.org/>Cuban Five have been
largely ignored by the corporate media and
consequently remain mostly unknown to the US public.
The Five possessed no weapons and committed no
act of terror, sabotage, or espionage. Gerardo
Hernandez, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino,
Antonio Guerrero, and Rene Gonzalez came to the
United States during the 1990s to infiltrate and
monitor the terrorist activities of private
right-wing groups of Cuban exiles. The
information they gathered in their undercover
work was forwarded to the Cuban government which
in turn passed much of it on to the US government
with the understanding that the two nations were
now supposedly cooperating in a war against terrorism.
In 1998 after receiving evidence of impending
terrorist activities planned against Cuba, the
FBI went into action. But instead of arresting
the right-wing Cubans who were planning the
attacks from US soil, the feds apprehended the
five Cubans who were working at uncovering such plots.
The five were tried in a federal court in Miami,
home to over half a million Cuban exiles. Miami
is a community with a long history of hostility
toward the Cuban government -- a record that a
federal appellate court in the United States
later described as a "perfect storm" of
prejudice, designed to make a fair trial impossible.
The Cuban Five were kept in solitary confinement
for 17 months, denied their right to bail and the
right to a change of venue. After the longest
trial in the history of the United States, they
were sentenced by a jury in Miami to four life
sentences plus 77 years collectively. The US
public outside Miami heard next to nothing about
this case -- in striking contrast to the lavish
treatment later accorded to Zapata Tamayo.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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