|Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on hunger strike on August 7, 2020|
Long time Cuban dissident Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on Friday, August 7, 2020 in Cuba while in police custody following a 40 day hunger strike. He had been jailed on false charges in the Kilo 8 prison of Camagüey. His body was quickly cremated by the dictatorship.
Yale professor and author Carlos Eire writing in Babalu Blog highlighted Yosvany's untimely passing and placed it in context:
It’s happened again. Another Cuban dissident has died in prison. Strangely, unlike previous hunger-striking political prisoners who received international attention, Yosvany Arostegui was barely noticed in social media and totally ignored by the world’s news outlets. He joins a long list of hunger-strikers who have been pushed to their deaths by the Castro regime. May his self-immolation in prison be the last, and may he rest in peace and eternal freedom.Exiled Cuban lawyer and human rights defender Laritza Diversent over Facebook wrote:
I feel deep sadness and pain. I imagine how lonely he felt and how convinced he was that he preferred to exhaust his body until it was turned off. His death reminds me of the thousands of people who, in Cuban prisons, use their body to protest against unjust criminal proceedings. It makes me more aware of all the activists who, like Silverio Portal, are locked up as punishment for exercising their rights to free expression, criticize, protest, meet and associate.Particulars about Yovany's case are now emerging and being reported on, but it is important to remember that the Castro regime's repressive practices have led to several hunger strike deaths over the years along with efforts to slander the dead, and cover up what happened.
However there are two cases that the Castro regime failed to silence that aroused international attention and concern within the Cuban diaspora.
Pedro Luis Boitel was a student leader who fought by Fidel Castro's side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However as Castro came to impose a communist regime on Cuba and abolished academic freedom and independent student activism at the University of Havana dissidents emerged. One of the most well known and popular among students opposing the new regime was Pedro Luis and he was sent to prison for 11 years in 1961. He served his sentence, but the dictatorship refused to free him. This drove Pedro to start a hunger strike that ended in his death on May 25,1972 after 53 days.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was by vocation both a brick layer and a human rights activist. He gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution with the objective of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards. Orlando was repeatedly arrested for his human rights activism on July 3, 2002, October 28, 2002 and in November 2002.
Orlando was rearrested on March 20, 2003 while nonviolently protesting for the release of other dissidents. Amnesty International reported that on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations. Orlando managed to smuggle a letter out that was published in April of 2004:
"My dear brothers in the internal opposition in Cuba. I have many things to say to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink, because I hope to go to you one day when our country is free without the Castro dictatorship. Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we of the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners [movement] are subjected to and are victims of."*On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial. This did not silence him. When prison officials chose to attack his human dignity, and engaged in acts of physical and psychological torture, Orlando Zapata would respond with nonviolent defiance. He carried out hunger strikes within the prisons he was transferred to. The regime's response to his nonviolent defiance was to pile on prison years to his sentence. Between May 2004 and December 2009 they carried out nine trials without due process guarantees for a total sentence of 25 years and six months.
Cuban human rights defender Orlando Zapata Tamayo's hunger strike in 2009-2010 placed a national and international focus on human rights in Cuba that within two years led to the release of 75 other Cuban prisoners of conscience arrested along with him in March of 2003. Efforts by the Castro dictatorship to slander the martyred prisoner of conscience failed.
International media gave a great amount of coverage around the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 but scant coverage around the January 19, 2012 death of prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza who left behind a wife and two little girls.
Wilman Villar Mendoza was arrested on November14, 2011 during a violent crackdown by the political police on nonviolent Cuban democrats. Wilman and the others had engaged in a public protest in the town of Contramaestre in Santiago, Cuba on November 2, 2011. Ten days later in a closed-door, one day sham trial on November 24 Wilman was sentenced to four years in prison for disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt and was sent to Aguadores prison.
Outraged at the injustice committed against him Wilman launched a hunger strike on November 25, 2011 and refused to wear the uniform of a common prisoner. There was little press coverage or official protests regarding his plight until his death appeared imminent.
Ladies in White and other opposition activists marched and demonstrated on his behalf suffering brutal beatings and detentions but the international press remained silent. Now that he has died, as was done in the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010, some in the international media reported on it, but not to the degree that hey had with Orlando's case.
|Plaque in memory of Roberto López Chávez|
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has documented other Cuban political prisoners who have died on hunger strike on Cuba that little to nothing is known about:
- Roberto López Chávez, 25 years old, died on December 11, 1966 in Isla de Pinos prison on hunger strike without medical assistance. Armando Valladares, in his prison memoir, Against All Hope described the circumstances surrounding his death: “When Roberto López Chávez, went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses in the prison, the guards withheld water from him until he became delirious, twisting on the floor and begging for something to drink. [...] He died the next day.”
- Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, died in La Cabaña prison in April of 1969 on hunger strike, after suffering mistreatment and torture over eight and a half months, without receiving medical care and was the third political prisoner that has died on a hunger strike.
- Olegario Charlot Pileta, died in the infamous "Escaleras" (staircase) of the Boniato prison, in of January 1973 during a hunger strike, without medical assistance and is described in documents as a “black youth.”
- Enrique García Cuevas died on a hunger strike, without receiving medical care, in cell No. 4 of the new Provincial Jail of Santa Clara, on June 24, 1973.
Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros joins a long list known and unknown of dissidents who have died on hunger strike protesting their unjust imprisonment and terrible prison conditions.
|Keilylli de la Mora Valle: Life in danger in Cuba|
|Silverio Portal, prisoner of conscience, going blind in a Cuban prison|
These cases need to be looked at within the larger context of the prison system in Cuba today.
Cuba in 2020: World's largest per capita prison population.
Cuba, under the Castros, continues to be the one country in the Americas that has not allowed the Red Cross in to inspect its prisons since 1989, and Amnesty International is barred by the dictatorship from visiting the island.
There is one spot in Cuba that has not escaped scrutiny, but that is because it is a U.S. military base.
The world knows of the human rights situation in the prisons at the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base because access has been granted. The reason that so much is known and documented is because the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the Guantanamo detention facility over 100 times since 2001 when the United States government began housing detainees.
Over that time there have been zero visits by the International Red Cross to Cubans prisons, and what we do know is limited and incomplete, but should arouse deep concern.
Let us hope that the untimely death of Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros draws calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be given access to all prisons in Cuba.
Below is a video in Spanish of Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer announcing the death of Yosvany, and denouncing the slanders of the regime.