Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Human Rights Defender
May 15, 1967 - February 23, 2010
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born 45 years ago today in Cuba on May 15, 1967. A bricklayer and carpenter with a heightened sense of dignity he became a human rights defender. He gathered signatures for Project Varela, a citizen initiative to reform the Cuban system and bring it into line with international human rights standards. Orlando was arrested with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and other activists in December of 2002 for gathering to discuss how to empower Cubans with knowledge about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and nonviolent resistance. Released in March of 2003, he would be rearrested for engaging in a fast demanding the release of Dr. Biscet and his other imprisoned colleagues that same month. Amnesty International recognized Orlando Zapata Tamayo as a prisoner of conscience.
He would spend the last seven years of his life in Cuban prisons suffering beatings tortures, and constant assaults on his human dignity. Orlando Zapata was defiant until the end demanding his right to be treated like a human being. His struggle ended after a prolonged hunger strike on February 23, 2010. Cuban officials, in an effort to break his spirit, had denied him water for days to force him off the water only hunger strike. They contributed to his death.
Following the international outcry Orlando's extra-judicial killing generated, agents of the Castro regime engaged in a campaign of slander against the dead human rights defender in a crude attempt to deny his history of activism.
They have failed because people were paying attention and refused to remain silent. In Canada, a punk rock band composed and played a song titled Orlando Zapata that placed his death in context. The video above was edited by the Free Cuba Foundation, a student group formed at Florida International University in 1993.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo should have been 45 years old today but his physical life ended at 42. What the dictatorship did not count on was that his courage and sacrifice would live on. He is now a symbol of resistance in the defense of human dignity and freedom.
Orlando Zapata Vive!