Thursday, July 19, 2018

AI Cuban prisoner of conscience José Ramón Gabriel Castillo dies at 61 from chronic illness contracted in a Cuban prison

Did the Castro regime inoculate him with the disease that claimed his life?

José Ramón Gabriel Castillo with Omar Pernet Hernandez and Pedro Pablo Álvarez
Former Cuban prisoner of conscience José Ramón Gabriel Castillo died of cirrhosis of the liver on July 16, 2018. He was just 61 years old. The disease may have been the product of a purposeful inoculation of hepatitis while he was jailed. Cuban authorities sentenced José Ramón Gabriel Castillo to a 20-year prison term in 2003 for his pro-democracy activism. He was one of 75 activists sentenced to long prison sentences in March-April of 2003 in what became known as the "Black Spring." He spent five years of his life in a Cuban prison before being exiled to Spain in 2008.

Attending the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance, and Democracy in 2009 I met José Gabriel there and after listening to Soe Aung, from the National Council of the Union of Burma speak about the situation in his country. José Gabriel turned to me and explained how reading a book by Aung San Suu Kyi in Cuba had led him to decide to become a political dissident and join the ranks of the Cuban opposition to the dictatorship. Years later he would be part of a group of former political prisoners demanding her release.

Later that same year we would meet Vaclav Havel in Prague, present him with a list of political prisoners, and obtain his support in a campaign to release them.

José Ramón Gabriel Castillo addressed the first two Geneva Summits and in 2010 spoke of the then recent and untimely death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010.  He also spoke of the tortures he had been subjected two while imprisoned in Cuba.

José Ramón, or Pepin to his friends, was from Santiago de Cuba and worked in the Universidad de Oriente (University of Oriente) where he was expelled in 1993 for founding the first human rights organization in the Eastern region of Cuba, called the Instituto Independiente Cuba y Democracia.

Requiescat in pace Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo.

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