[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 
Code, under 
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 
incarceration, the 
<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.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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