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Leading Cuban dissident Zapata dies after hunger strike

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-02-24

Leading Cuban dissident and political prisoner Orlando Zapata died Tuesday in a Havana hospital on the 85th day of a hunger strike, medical officials told AFP. Zapata had been protesting prison conditions he blamed for his deteriorating health.

AFP - Leading Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata died Tuesday in a Havana hospital on the 85th day of a hunger strike, medical officials told AFP.
"He died at 1:00 in the afternoon," said a spokesman for Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital, where the 42-year-old political prisoner was transferred late Monday from a smaller clinic near his prison in the eastern province of Camaguey.
Zapata, jailed since 2003 and deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, had been on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions that he blamed for his deteriorating health.
In Camaguey, authorities put him in a provincial hospital before he was transferred by ambulance to Havana's Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital, one of the biggest in the capital and with more care and surgical options.
Hours before Zapata's death, the banned Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation had said in a statement that his condition was "very serious," and that it demanded the Cuban government "take every measure necessary in terms of emergency medical care" for Zapata.
In Miami, a Cuban exile group quoted his mother as saying he had died Tuesday in Havana.
"They have done him in. My son's death was a premeditated murder," his mother Reina Tamayo said in a statement released by the Cuban Democratic Directorate.
According to a major US Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, it is the first time in nearly 40 years that a Cuban opposition figure has died while on a hunger strike.
The last was poet and student organizer Pedro Luis Boitel, who died in prison in 1972 opposing Fidel Castro's rule.
Zapata was convicted in 2003 for political activities anathema to the only one-party communist regime in the Americas. While jailed, his sentence was boosted to 25 years in subsequent trials.
The Cuban government denies holding any political prisoners, calling instead those imprisoned "mercenaries" in the pay of US opponents of the regime. Dissident sources however put the number of political prisoners at 200 in a country of more than 11 million.
Zapata's death could cast a shadow over a Wednesday visit to the island by Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Cuban dissidents had written a letter to Lula urging him to intercede to try to help Zapata or secure his release.
"It would be a wonderful intervention to" press the Cuban government to undertake "the economic, political and social reforms that are urgently required" in the country, said the letter which was delivered to the media.
Zapata's death also comes just days after a visit by Washington's highest-level delegation to Havana in years, during which a US diplomat met with "dozens of its mercenaries," according to Cuba's foreign ministry.
The ministry slammed the action as a "provocative event" and "bald-faced meddling" in Cuba's internal affairs.

Date created : 2010-02-24