An 85-day hunger strike ended in death today for an imprisoned dissident activist, according to opposition sources in the Cuban capital.
According to Elizardo Sanchez of the illegal Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, died at 3:30 in a Havana hospital where he'd been taken because of his deteriorating health. His body, according to Sanchez, was then taken for an autopsy by legal authorities.
His mother, Reina Louisa Tamayo, and other relatives, Sanchez told CBS, were on their way back to Banes, a town in eastern Cuba, an approximately 12 hour drive from Havana, where they intend to bury Zapata. Attempts to reach his mother on her cell phone were unsuccessful.
"I expect the government will send his body back there by plane because they will want to get it in the ground as fast as possible," Sanchez said.
"Frankly, I never have anything good to say about the Cuban Government but I am surprised that they let Orlando die. They've acted very arrogantly but his death is going to draw a big reaction domestically and internationally. It's a great tragedy," he stressed.
Sanchez added that opposition figures in the area say Banes, Holguin and other nearby cities are under a virtual siege by State Security.
Nevertheless, Laura Pollen, a leader of Ladies in White - an organization of the relatives of political prisoners - and others were trying to get a bus to Banes to attend Zapata's funeral. They expected his body to arrive there sometime tonight and that a wake would be held in the morning followed by a midday burial
Zapata, a Black plumber, imprisoned in 2003 on charges of disrespect and public disorder was serving a 25 year sentence. According to reports his work as a relentless prison activist had blossomed into a major confrontation with penal authorities.
Amnesty International listed Zapata as one of 58 "prisoners of conscience" in Cuba. Sanchez's organization says there are about 200 political prisoners in all remaining in jails here. The Cuban Government accuses the dissidents of being "mercenaries" on Washington's payroll.
On Sunday nearly 50 Cuban dissidents currently jailed released a letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva asking him to intervene on their behalf during conversations with Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro this week. Lula arrived in Havana this evening. It is not known whether or not he intends to take up their cause.
Cuban authorities are giving no indication that they are ready to ease up on the opposition. Migration talks between the U.S. and Cuba in Havana last week ended on a sour note when the Cuban Foreign Ministry blasted the American delegation for meeting with a large group of dissidents, holding the gathering up as evidence of Washington's continued policy of fostering regime change.