“Why Do You Fight”? That is the question which blogger, writer, photographer and activist Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal asked various of dissidents in Cuba in his latest documentary, produced from within the island.
The reasons which the interviewees give are diverse, but they all coincide in that the Cuban dictatorship destroys freedom for all citizens and that they (dissidents) not only fight for their individual rights, but also for the rights of the entire nation.
Rojas Rosabal interviewed José Daniel Ferrer García (former political prisoner), Marta Díaz Rondon (Lady in White), Caridad Caballero Batista (Lady in White) , Tania Montoya (Lady in White) , Raumel Vinajera (former political prisoner) , Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina (former political prisoner) and Reina Luisa Tamayo (mother of assassinated political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo). In addition, the film includes some everyday images of Cuba taken by Rojas himself.
“Why do you Fight?” was published through the YouTube account of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, also an independent blogger and photographer and includes English subtitles.
Although a few days have passed since the death of Laura Pollan, I have not been able to update the blog during this time. The following report not only serves as proof of the constant repression in Cuba, but also as a tribute to Laura, considering that this Lady in White dedicated the majority of her time to resisting the Cuban dictatorship and fighting for human rights. In my opinion, like in the opinion of many other Cubans inside and outside of the island, the death of Pollan was the fault of the Castro regime. Some have said that the strange infection which she suffered from during her last days, which led her to the intensive care unit of the Calixto Garcia Hospital, was the product of a lethal injection given to her at the hands of government mobs- a theory which I do not in any way doubt, for they are very capable of this and much worse, and this must be kept into consideration. And, let’s say, that there was no lethal injection. Regardless, the reality is that the constant mob repudiation attacks, the brutal beatings, the blackmailing, and the harassment against this brave woman did play a crucial part in the deterioration of her health, and ultimately, her death.
The news of her death has been a very difficult blow for all Cubans, for that hurt, but not weak, resistance. Threatened, but not afraid. The example and spirit of Pollan will continue guiding the resistance, and no dictatorship can ever stop that.
Laura Pollan: A Cuban Repressed by the Regime, a Cuban Loved by her Compatriots
In less than two years, three known figures among the Cuban resistance have been killed by the Castro dictatorship- Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February of 2010, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia in May of 2011, and the most recent- Laura Pollan Toledo during this month of October 2011. And as has occurred after each one of these deaths, the funerary acts have been marked by the regime’s repression against dissidents and all those family and friends who wished to pay their final tributes to the victim.
It was around 7 PM on Friday, October 14th, when the news arrived. “Laura Pollan has passed away“, read various Tweets straight out of the island, after she had spent a little over a week in the intensive care unit of the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana. From the very moment that her death was confirmed, Cubans in and out of the island mobilized to express their solidarity, their pain, and deep frustration. In Miami, Cubans shocked by the news- among them Reina Luisa Tamayo- congregated outside the popular local Versailles Cuban Restaurant, while the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity kept its doors open all night, offering a place to pray for the soul of the dignified Lady in White.
In Cuba, the pain shared by dissidents and relatives of Pollan was not respected by the dictatorship, which was expected. The political police and the National Police carried out an aggressive operation throughout the island, including in Holguin where dissidents Caridad Caballero Batista and Isabel Pena Torres were trying to get to the local bus station to travel to Havana to be present in the wake of Laura Pollan and express their solidarity with her relatives. “It was around 2:40 AM when we were intercepted on the street by National Police and State Security agents who shoved us in police vehicles and took us to the the Pedernales Unit“, the detainment center notorious for its completely dark cells and the aggression which functionaries treat inmates with, “The arrest was very violent, they pushed onto the vehicle, and State Security even gave orders to drag us through the floor“. The activists were kept in separate cells. Caridad added that on Sunday, at around 4 in the afternoon, a lieutenant by the name of Armando Rivera snatched the few belongings of Isabel Pena Torres which included documents of her medical history. Upon seeing this document, officer Rivera tore it to pieces and threw them on the floor. After an interrogation session and an aggressive beat down, Isabel had to pick up the pieces herself. Caridad and Isabel were later released from the dark and humid cells at around 8 PM on Saturday.
Caridad Caballero also informed of other violent arrests in other eastern parts of the country. “In Velasco, Holguin, Yonart Rodriguez Avila and his mother Mariblanca Avila were both detained as they tried to head to Havana. Instead they spent the night in prison cells“, while similarly “In Sagua, Anni Sarrion Romero and Milagros Leiva Ramirez, whom were traveling from Moa, were arrested at around 1:30 AM. Both women were beat off the bus by State Security and Political Police agents”. Caballero adds that despite the fact that she was detained for hours, her home remained surrounded by government agents the entire time.
During that same somber night when the news of Laura Pollan began to spread, police vehicles and G2 (Secret Police) agents immediately surrounded the home of former political prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia in the eastern town of Palmarito de Cauto. Ferrer’s wife, Belkis Cantillo, also tried to get to the funeral of Laura Pollan together with Aime Garces and Tania Montoya. The three women were arrested at around 11 PM. They were taking to the Police Unit of Contramaestre and from there they were transferred to the the 3rd National Revolutionary Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, where they remained until Monday. Various activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) also suffered violent arrests- Leudis Fajardo Rivera, Martín Ruíz González, Mario Antonio Brocal Borges, Bárbaro Tresol Verdecía, Omar Wilson Estévez, Omar Pérez Torres, Yilian Pérez Sarrión, and Gerardo Guerrero Sarrión.
In Manzanillo, dissidents from the Independent and Democratic Cuban Party (CID) denounced that various activists from this same group had been detained, among them Juan Eduardo Salgado Jurado, Enrique Piñeiro Azahares, Abdel Mecochini Avalos, Manuel Enrique Peláez, Ramón Enamorado and Roberto Jurado Salgado as they tried to get to Moncada Avenue where they would take part in the signing of the condolences book for Laura Pollan. A few hours later, Ubaldo Manuel León suffered a mob repudiation attack in that same town.
In Banes, on Sunday October 16th there was a mass held in which various attendees prayed for Laura. The mass was assisted by dissidents Marta Diaz Rondon and Vivian Tamayo Ramayo. Upon concluding the services, both Rondon and Ramayo tried traveling to Holguin to join in solidarity with their fellow detained dissidents but they were arrested at around 11:30 AM and released at 1:50 PM. Ariel Cruz Meneses, Rafael Meneses Pupo, and Dayami Romero Ortiz were also arrested, at around 7:00 AM and released at 12 in the afternoon.
Former political prisoner of conscience Pedro Arguelles Moran reported that on the same night of Laura’s death, the regime’s police forces surrounded his home in Ciego de Avila, impeding him, and anyone else inside, from stepping outside to travel to the capital. The situation was repeated throughout the country, in a wide range of cities and provinces, while in Havana, the Maseda-Pollan family (accompanied by dissidents and friends) bid their final farewells to Laura Pollan. She was cremated a few hours later. The pastor and independent blogger, Ricardo Medina was present during the wake with his wife Katia Sonia Martin, also a Lady in White. Medina provided religious services for Pollan and published an excellent account which detailed the emotions of that somber moment on his blog. He also reported that his wife, Katia, and other women were intercepted by State Security agents on Sunday October 16th as they were taking floral arrangements to the Santa Rita Church . The government agents snatched their flowers and hurled them on the floor, destroying the arrangement altogether. Katia also suffered an arrest.
Even among so much pain and repression, solidarity and international support emerges
Although this has been a very difficult stage for the Cuban resistance, it is also important to point out that the devastating news of Laura Pollan’s death has also given way to an important emergence of solidarity amongst Cubans inside and outside of the island.
Some of these displays of solidarity have been:
Activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) demonstrated throughout the streets of Moa, Holguin, with signs which read ‘Laura has not died’ and ‘Laura, we will continue your struggle’. In Santiago de Cuba, Father Jose Conrado decided to dedicate his Sunday mass in the Church of Santa Teresita to Laura Pollan, while archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez did the same in another church. According to Jose Daniel Ferrer, various homes throughout the country declared themselves “in mourning”, hanging up signs honoring the fallen leader of the Ladies in White.
“Although it has been very sad for all of us, The Ladies in White and Ladies in Support will continue fighting for freedom, just like Laura always did. For us, she has not died. Laura continues to be alive in spirit, and she will be among us and guiding us, giving us strength to continue fighting against those who assassinated her. And we can say that, yes, she was killed, the government killed Laura through their countless beatings and even the disease she suffered from in her last days, which we cannot rule out the possibility that it was contracted at the hands of government mobs“, declares Caridad Caballero Batista from Holguin. From Placetas, Antunez declared through his Twitter account, “Laura, your brothers from the resistance are honoring you with the Resistance and Dignity Award“, while in Havana, the blogger Yoani Sanchez sported a T-shirt with Laura Pollan’s image all day in public, while also blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo handed the family in mourning a book of condolences.
On Sunday, a mass was dedicated in Havana to Laura Pollan in the Church of Santa Rita. It was accompanied by the weekly march of the Ladies in White, for the first time without their leader. It was attended by her husband, Hector Maseda, as well as Berta Soler and her husband Angel Moya, including many other Ladies and White and dissidents. Berta Soler declared that the movement of the Ladies in White had suffered a very strong blow but that it is emerging with much more strength, and that they would continue to be active and united in the name of Laura Pollan.
In the United States, various political figures joined Cuban dissidents in solidarity, from president Barrack Obama to Cuban-American legislators such as Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Marco Rubio, as well as Florida State Senator Bill Nelson. Other international leaders, from countries such as Spain and France, also offered condolences.
Cuban exiles in Tampa announced that there will be a march in honor of Pollan on Sunday, October 23rd, while Cubans in Madrid- in their majority former political prisoners from the Black Spring- also dedicated a mass to Laura.
During the Sunday Mass of October 16th, Miami’s Sanctuary for the Virgin of Charity (La Ermita de la Caridad) dedicated their services to Pollan, praying for her dignified soul. Attending were many former political prisoners and Ladies in White now in exile, who filled the sanctuary with white. The owner of Miami’s popular Versailles Cuban Restaurant- Felipe Vals- hung various signs throughout the locale which read ‘Zapata Lives and Laura Pollan Lives”, along with a note of admiration on behalf of Vals to Pollan which was placed at the entrance of the constantly busy restaurant. And as soon as the news came out, Miami Dade College announced that it would offer a scholarship which would carry the name of Laura Pollan.
Also in Miami, a number of exiled Cuban women have called on the community to carry out a vigil in memory of Laura Pollan, as well as to denounce the atrocities committed by the regime which lead to her death. The activity will take place on Friday, October 21st and will include the presence of a diverse range of exiled pro-freedom organizations such as MAR por Cuba, the Coalition of Cuban American Women, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, Exile United, Young Cubans in Action, and the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights (in exile). Meanwhile, Cuban musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan have announced that they are planning a massive event in honor of Pollan and in solidarity with the Ladies in White and Cuban resistance in general. After the assassination of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February of 2010 and after the brutal beat down of the Ladies in White on March of 2010, the Estefans carried out a march in Miami which was attended by more than 100,000 people marching down 8th street, dressed in white, and flowers at hand.
Another Cuban figure has joined the list of heroes and patriots which have lost their lives for dedicating their efforts for achieving Cuba’s freedom, and although deeply pained, we can now say, with certainty (among many others) that Pedro Luis Boitel Lives! Orlando Zapata Tamayo Lives! Juan Wilfredo Soto Lives! and yes, Laura Pollan Lives!
The American newspaper, The Washington Post, has published a short and extremely misleading article about Reina Luisa Tamayo and her fallen son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. In this “report” the authors of the newspaper write:
I completely agree with the authors of “Capitol Hill Cubans” when they point out the fact that NGOs and human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (to name only a few) considered Orlando Zapata Tamayo to be a political prisoner and a prisoner of conscience. But, besides, we do not need an international, national, or local organization to prove this to us. Any man who goes to prison for his thoughts is a political prisoner. And any regime which sells the cynical idea that men like Zapata are “mercenaries” or “bandits” is a lying, assassin, and extremely corrupt regime. And even worse, any person or media outlet which buys and shares these absurd lies shows much more than ignorance- it is a display of complicity with the totalitarian repression which has drowned the Cuban people for 52 years.
I suggest something to the Washington Post. I think they should fix their grammatical “error” and write: “Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who the assassin and tyrannical Castro brothers tried to deny was a political prisoner and prisoner of conscience.”
Reina Luisa Tamayo and Her Relatives Offer Press Conference
by Raul Garcia
Early in the morning the day after Reina Luisa Tamayo’s arrival to Miami, I had the honor and privilege to assist a press conference that this freedom fighter and her family of 12 members were offering various Spanish speaking media outlets, as well as American ones, in the office of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.
When I saw the Zapata Tamayo family up close, walking into the room where the conference would be held, I felt the same way I felt the previous day in the airport. Inspiration. Pride. Honor. In which other possible way can I describe that scene? A mother whose son was assassinated by a despotic government, carrying the box with his ashes in her hands, accompanied by other children and grandchildren, while they all screamed “Zapata Lives” and “Down with the assassin Castro brothers”. Their words, full of passion and resistance, rang throughout the rather small office. Quickly, the press started taking photos. Questions flew from one side of the room to another, while men and women with microphones tried to get as closest possible to Reina.
Once again, I could not help but point out in my mind just how much things had changed for this family. Just a few days ago, a few hours ago, Reina was not allowed to speak in public in her native land. But now, in exile, everyone wanted to hear her words. We all congregated in that room where Reina was about to answer questions. From behind the room, we could see beyond the circle set up by the press with their cameras, microphones, and reporters. Reina Luisa Tamayo and her family accommodated themselves along the wall and raised their signs, their photos of Zapata, and Reina took a seat and carefully placed the box with Zapata’s remains on the conference table, along with small Cuban and American flags. In that room, there were former political prisoners, Ladies in White, human rights activists, political figures, and bloggers.
The conference kicked off with more screams of “Zapata Lives” and Reina quickly began to speak. In her voice, one could hear the pain of a mother worn out by so much violence, so much death, and so much repression. But beyond that profound pain, once could hear the firmness and certainty of a woman who is sure of her convictions. Behind her, her daughter, Reina Maria, held up a sign with a phrase that Orlando Zapata would frequently say during his imprisonment and even during his final hunger strike: “To die for the freedom and democracy of the land is to eternally live in it”. Next to her, a sister-in-law of Reina held a photo of Zapata and next to her stood Reina’s 13 year old granddaughter who was holding up a Cuban flag.
Reina thanked all those who were present, the United States government, the political representatives who facilitated her arrival to Miami (not Arizona) and all those who were always in solidarity with her, her son, and her family. She brought up Orlando Zapata frequently, which made many of her relatives and people present cry. What captured my attention the most was that strength the harbored and passed on to the listeners, that strength which so many dissidents in the island would constantly describe. Reina would conclude each of her statements with a slogan in favor of Cuba’s freedom or in commemoration to her son. During those moments, I felt as if I was standing alongside her in her native Banes walking down the streets surrounded by watchdog political police officials. It was at that very moment when I understood, even before, the bravery of this family and of all those dissidents still in Cuba who continue fighting for freedom everyday.
Afterward, various guests had the chance to speak to her and show their solidarity with the Zapata Tamayo family. It was also the first time that Reina met in person certain activists which always fought to tell her story and to protect her from exile. But in my opinion, one of the most emotional moments was when the former political prisoner Fidel Suarez Cruz had the chance to speak and sat down beside Reina. Suarez Cruz expressed his admiration for Zapata and Reina and also paid homage to the fallen hunger striker, first with a moment of silence and then by shouting inspirational slogans.
The reporters asked Reina many questions. I imagine that in the upcoming days all the different news channels were going to try to talk to the entire family. And I think that is a good thing. I agree with a friend of mine who told me that now, from exile, Reina and her family will represent a hard blow to the Cuban dictatorship because here she will be free to speak her mind, and free to denounce every single crime she was subjected to in the island. And although back in Cuba she never let her voice be shut down, it is very difficult to get messages out when phone lines are tapped and jammed, when the media dubs you a “mercenary”, and where physical blows are the response to any comments that go against the backwards status quo. I believe that people who have access to the media here, whether it be an international, national, or local television channel, a radio station, or a blog navigating through the web, can now capture this face full of pain and sacrifice in person, informing the world about her truth, which is the truth of Cuba. Those who defend the dictatorship by describing it as a just institution which offers an exclusive health and education system or as a legitimate government which respects human rights will have absolutely no excuses left.
When all the cameras were turned off, and when all the journalists wrapped up their reports, I was able to chat with a few Cuban heroes, young and old. One of them was Normando Hernandez, who just recently came to Miami from Spain. It was very pleasant to chat for a few minutes with this friend, and when I saw him hugging Reina Luisa Tamayo I could not help but feel very emotional. Here I was, witnessing this in person- a man who shared prison time with her son, who lived through the entire macabre process from within the dungeons, and who now, standing in freedom and in exile, were sharing a hug. When I then had the opportunity to meet Reina, my words quickly evaporated. I simply did not know what to tell her. All I could do was give her a strong hug. And it was at that moment that she, once again, injected that hope in me. It was then that I felt that Cuba would be free very soon. And through that embrace, I felt the struggle of so many others who continue fighting on the streets of Cuba.
Reina Luisa Tamayo, your indescribable pain is also the pain of so many other Cuban mothers who lost their sons to the hills of Escambray, to the execution walls, to the punishment cells, to the concentration camps, and to the ocean. But your faith is also the same one shared by millions of Cubans, that one day soon, we will all reclaim our freedom and we will all, despite whatever shore we live on now, celebrate together.
The following essay was written by Jennifer Hernandez, a Venezulan-American who also runs this blog.
My Heroes Live
Ever since I was a little girl, I always heard my family tell me great stories of courageous men and women that gave their lives in the name of freedom. I would imagine them on horses, sword fighting like knights from King Arthur’s round table, deep in mountainous jungles under trees so high that reach up to the sky, hiding and planning how to overthrow emperors that oppress their own people. As the years passed, these same heroes wore military uniforms and fought against the Nazis, Hirohito’s Imperial army, as well as Italians under Mussolini’s command. Then one day I discovered just like a child that finds a treasure chest with a map that contains the coordinates to an unknown world, that only 90 miles from my everyday life there was country being oppressed by a murderous dictator with the last name Castro. It was that day that I met the heroes that have inspired me and changed my life- those who have fought, and continue fighting for Cuba’s freedom. My heroes are all of the men and women who took up arms, those who remained unbreakable against the dictatorship, as well as those who were executed, the political prisoners, and the dissidents. My heroes are the grandparents who had to leave the island so that their children have a better life on free soil; the ones that from the first day in which their grandchildren opened their eyes, taught them the love for the land of Marti, and of son. The parents who have lived most of their lives outside of the island, sometimes not even remembering it that well and yet are determined to continue the struggle for its freedom. The grandchildren who have only seen the island when their eyes are closed, and still feel profound love for it and have joined the fight so that it is democratic and free. The dissidents who, at this very moment, are marching down the streets shouting, “The streets belong to the people, Long Live a Free Cuba, Down with the Dictatorship, Long Live Zapata,” and receive beatings on behalf of the government police, and are detained for hours, days, months and even years. My heroes are all the Boitels, Orlando Zapatas, Cari Caballero, Marta Diaz Rondon, Luis Felipe, Mario de la Peña, the ones who took up arms in the mountainous area of Escambray , the millions of Cubans in and outside the island who continue fighting even after over 5 decades of a murderous dictatorship.
I can say that I have had the honor to have met some of these heroes, speak to them over the phone, and even share meals with them. I found my heroes; I met them, and now, together with them, I fight for the freedom of the land of the Virgin of Charity and of Chango. Today I had the honor to embrace Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of the Cuban martyr Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and shout with her, “Zapata Lives, Long Live Free Cuba.” Reina is a very strong woman, and with an immense heart. She has been verbally and physically attacked, and even then she has not renounced her conviction for a free, democratic Cuba. Today she reaffirmed that she will continue to fight here in exile until her last days and until her son’s ashes rest once again in the island. Full of love and pain, Reina thanked the exile for helping her, and said that she will not stop until there is freedom in Cuba, and until all Cubans could say, “Nation and Freedom!” Her words inspired me and I realized that, once again, I was like that child who finds the map in the treasure chest, or who excitedly reads through a comic book filled with stories of supernatural men and women who fight for good- with the difference that the men and women that I admire are real. These extraordinary men and women have taught me to love freedom, and without them this would not have been written. My heroes live in the Cuban communities in exile and in Cuba itself, and they daily fight to achieve Cuba’s freedom. Now, I tell my family stories about brave men and women who fight in the name of justice, and afterward I have the privilege of meeting with these patriots and chatting over some good Cuban coffee. My heroes live. “Long Live a Free Cuba!”
After a Difficult Journey, Reina Luisa Tamayo arrives to Miami
by Raul Garcia
Just a year and a few months ago, the life of a humble woman from the small town of Banes, Holguin, Cuba, was being destroyed. She had already carried an unbearable weight for 7 years, knowing that her son was innocent yet he languished behind the bars of Cuba’s dungeons. Now, that same son was slowly dying just because one government decided it should be that way. This story is the story of Reina Luisa Tamayo, the dignified mother of the Cuban political prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died after an extensive 85 day hunger strike and a brutal beating on behalf of the prison authorities as they carried out orders from Cuba’s dictators. But Reina’s suffering did not cease there. She decided to take to the streets to protest her sons assassination and to confront the Cuban dictatorship, echoing her son’s demands: freedom, democracy, and the respect of human rights.
The violence on behalf of the Cuban tyranny only multiplied itself. Days after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Reina Luisa was victim of, together with other Ladies in White, a physical mob attack where she was arrested, beaten, and threatened while the eyes of the democratic world only stared at their television screens as if it was all part of a horror film. The weeks, months, and, in total, the year which followed only got worse. Cuban political police agents, as well as soldiers in uniform, constantly impeded this hurt mother from marching through the streets of her own town as she tried to pay homage to her fallen son at his tomb. Dozens of other dissidents were beaten just for accompanying this brave Lady in White, her house was constantly surrounded by political police agents, and the rest of her relatives suffered from blackmail and layoffs in their work places, in school, and even in their day to day lives in their own neighborhood. Reina feared that they were going to take another son from her, or a daughter, a granddaughter, or her husband. But she never feared what could happen to her. She suffered innumerable arrests, beatings, and harassment but she always raised her voice on the streets, in her house, and through the international press, demanding that the murderous brothers who rule the Caribbean island leave power and pay for what they did to her peaceful son.
The rain fell heavily on that 7th of June over the small town of Banes when Reina had to firsthand witness how they exhumed the remains of her son before parting to exile in Miami. And even then she remained strong, but the repressive watchdogs also remained stationed all around the cemetery ready to beat, detain, and even kill. “The military, the police, and State Security took control of all the streets“, explained the dissident Marta Diaz Rondon who stood at the side of Reina during such a difficult moment. This long day began at 7 in the morning and that meeting at the cemetery was followed by a march which set off from Reina’s home. Relatives and dissidents alike began screaming the usual slogans, “Zapata Lives”, “Freedom for Cuba”, and “Long Live Human Rights”.
“All the streets were under the tight watch of the military“, reiterates Diaz Rondon. “(At the cemetery) there were high ranking officials- Colonel Sanper, Major Duglas (who was responsible for the arrest of Caridad Caballero a few weeks ago) from the Confrontation Unit of Holguin, along with others and also the doctors who were brought over from Havana to conduct the exhumation“. The dissidents paid no attention to the guardians of the dictatorship and began to pray an Our Holy Father and an Ave Maria while the exhumation began. After that process they started shouting slogans like “down with the assassin Castro brothers” in honor of Orlando Zapata Tamayo who also shouted similar slogans while in prison and even during his final hunger strike. “When the process concluded we all walked to the corner of the street where a bus awaited to take Reina and her family to Havana. We also walked before the funeral car while holding images of Zapata and shouting his name“, remembers Marta. According to this dissident, who also has a long history of having suffered beatings and arrests, many neighbors cried and bid their farewells to Reina and her 12 relatives.
It was at that moment, when Reina and her family had to board the bus which would take them from Banes to Havana to cremate Zapata’s body, that Marta Diaz Rondon realized it would be the last time she would see her infallible friend until Cuba is free. “I felt a very deep pain“, she said with a voice clearly wrapped with emotions and grief. “I thank God that I was able to stand beside Reina until the very last minute“, declares Diaz who never separated from the Zapata Tamayo family during the extremely difficult moments they faced since that black spring of 2003. “I felt like crying but I told myself to be strong. I have to give strength to that mother so she can keep fighting and make it to Havana. I never stopped supporting her. I am sad because Reina was not only a sister in struggle, but I loved her as if she was my mother, like family. I feel like I am missing something already and its her, for she always guided me and gave me strength“, said Reina’s good friend through a few emotional knots in her throat.
Meanwhile, the blogger and dissident from Holguin, Luis Felipe Rojas explains that the fact that Zapata’s remains will leave Cuba and be relocated in exile “reaffirms a thesis” of his which he published on his blog a few months ago. He posted it on an entry titled “Orlando Zapata: The Extension of his Body”. Luis Felipe states, “Zapata’s body extended itself to activists who were detained, beaten, surrounded, etc.“, adding that, “while his body is now moved to Miami, and saving the distance, we must remember that the remains of Felix Varela remained in the United States for a long time, and he never stopped being Cuban. On the contrary, that land has offered a peaceful resting spot for many Cubans ever since the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Many rested in American soil“.
Although it is difficult for the majority of dissidents to see Reina Luisa, her family, and the remains of Zapata leave the country, Rojas considers it to be a “blessing” explaining, “After this pitched battle in which the Cuban political police continuously impeded dissidents from traveling to the Banes cemetery, he will now be in a place where there are many Cubans. And these Cubans will be able to see Zapata, while we were not able to, not even when we live less than kilometers from Banes because the repressive forces impeded it“. The activist reaffirms his point, explaining that “it is better for those remains to rest as closest possible to Reina. I think the best argument Reina has responded with to any form of criticism on her decision is this: ‘I have already lost one son, I do not want to lose another. And that is why I am taking all of them with me’. I believe it was a wise decision“.
Both dissidents- Marta Diaz Rondon and Luis Felipe Rojas- agree that regardless of where Orlando Zapata’s remains reside, his example and his spirit will continue guiding the Cuban opposition, giving them strength to keep resisting until a Cuba free from dictatorship is achieved. The tireless dissident from Placetas, Jorge Luis Garcia “Antunez”, who is an active member and leader of the National Civic Resistance Front which has been named “Orlando Zapata Tamayo”, also affirmed similar sentiments in his Twitter account declaring that “Zapata is With Us”. From Havana, the blogger Ivan Garcia declared in his most recent post that the voice of Reina Tamayo, although exiled, will “continue to be heard as if it were over here, in your beloved Banes”. Luis Felipe also established a parallel between Zapata and other historical Cuban freedom fighters, “Although the body of Zapata will be in Miami, his spirit will remain in his battlefield, which is the same one of Boitel, Huber Matos, Marti, and many others who passed through the Cuban prisons. The Cuban prison is the battlefield of the island, as are the streets“.
In Miami, the capital of the Cuban exile, the atmosphere was bittersweet on the 9th of June- after having suffered so much by the side of Reina and her family from a distance, many were happy to finally see this brave woman in person and knowing that she will be safe and will not be victim of violent government-sponsored mob attacks. I was able to firsthand witness these emotions. At 4 in the afternoon at the Miami International Airport, Cubans of all ages began arriving. Various exiled organizations which tirelessly fight for the island’s freedom, as well as patriotic individuals were congregated around the airline arrivals hallway waiting to see the woman who was dubbed “The Mother of All Cubans”. Local bloggers send out Twitter messages, many waved Cuban and American flags, others carried signs with Zapata’s face, some had white flowers, and the press took pictures and waited anxiously. There were former political prisoners, exiled Ladies in White, grandparents, and grandchildren. For a moment, that bridge of water which separates the Floridian city from the major of the Antilles seemed to dissolve. We were all one people, waiting to give that long awaited hug to a relative who was returning home.
Finally the moment everyone was waiting for arrived. The doors at the end of the hall swung open. Various people walked out and began walking towards the crowd. Someone screamed “Zapata Vive” and everyone present echoed the phrase in unison. Surrounded by her husband, by friends, and (very important) by police officials who were protecting her and not repressing her, Reina Luisa Tamayo addressed the public while holding a box which contained the ashes of her sun and which was covered by a Cuban flag. The “Zapata Vive” chants continued, accompanied by “Long Live a Free Cuba”, “Long Live Christ the King”, and “Long Live the Ladies in White”. Many began to cry. I couldn’t help but think how this tireless woman must feel. Just a few days ago, Castro-sponsored mobs hurled insulting slurs at her, they threatened her, and beat her. Now, dozens of Cubans shouted slogans in her favor, longed to giver her a hug, and welcome her to her new home. The press quickly surrounded her, interested to capture what she had to say. Clearly marked by stress and lack of rest, this did not keep Reina from speaking without a microphone. With a strength that only someone so sure of their convictions can have, Reina thanked the exile community, the American government, and assured that she will continue her struggle so that her son’s reality is known around the world and so that freedom will arrive to Cuba. She concluded her emotional discourse by declaring “Long live a Free Cuba!”. Before departing, she stared towards the faces in the crowd and reaffirmed, this time in a stronger tone, “Long Live a Free Cuba!” until everyone repeated the phrase.
“I felt proud and honored to have the chance to witness her arrival, and that of her murdered son, in the United States“, shared the author of the blog “Uncommon Sense”, the Cuban-American Marc Masferrer, who drove down from Tampa to share this emotional and historical moment alongside Reina and many other Cubans. “It was bittersweet, but let us not forget that to get to this moment, Reina Luisa survived the worst the dictatorship it could throw her. Its goons have threatened and assaulted her, preventing her from properly mourning her son. Yet, they did not break her. Those of us who have been inspired from afar, saw and heard for ourselves on Thursday what an amazing and courageous woman she is. I was moved to tears. I just hope she now has the chance to properly mourn Orlando Zapata Tamayo“, added Masferrer.
Exile is difficult whichever way one paints it. Here, Cubans can be free, can establish their businesses, study, and enjoy their fundamental rights, but the land in which they were born (or their parents were born) never stops calling them, producing a strong sentiment of pain and separation. But aside from this, many believe that from Reina’s new city of residence she can still a great deal for the freedom of Cuba. “Reina Tamayo will now become an international voice which will present the world with the moving testimony of the Cuban resistance“, affirmed the national secretariat of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, Orlando Gutierrez Boronat who was holding a white sign with the phrase “Zapata Lives” drawed on.
On that day, June 9th of 2011, I realized what the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo meant to me, as well as the bravery displayed by Reina Luisa Tamayo and all of her family members. For me, they represent the pain of an entire island which has suffered day after day for 52 years. It symbolizes all the other mothers who have lost their sons to executions, imprisonment, and beatings at the hands of the dictatorship. It represents the millions of Cubans who left their country to search for freedom and life, as well as the millions who stayed to continue resisting from within the belly of the beast. It symbolizes all the political prisoners which have gone to the dungeons just for defending democracy or for thinking differently. It is a symbol of my grandmother who always spoke to me about “The Beautiful Cuba”- of what it once was, what they turned it into, and what it will once again be one day. For me, listening to Reina assured me that the torch of Maceo, Marti, Varela, Boitel, and of so many other Cubans, has been passed to a worthy relay who will keep fighting for freedom wherever she may be. I understood what dissidents on the island have always said, that Reina was a source of inspiration and a representation of the spirit of resistance. But this also reminds us that the repression continues and that the ruthless dictatorship continues assassinating and jailing its dissidents, as well as destroying the entire nation. If this were not the case, then Reina Luisa Tamayo would have never joined the exile. She reminds us that the resistance in the island is still there, and continues to grow. Each passing day, more and more Cubans take a stand against injustice in their country, in our country. Right now, there are Cubans who risk their own lives through hunger strikes in order to demand that there be a new and just government, their are Cubans who risk their lives just to access the internet for a few minutes, or to scream in the streets that they also have rights. There, in the airport of “the other province of Cuba”, amid Cuban flags and signs which demanded freedom, there was also a profound pain. But more than anything, there was an even stronger emotion- hope. The hope that one day, soon, we will all be able to travel to Cuba without shackles and stand before a monument dedicated to thousands, the millions, who have given their lives for the freedom of their country, shouting in unison, “Zapata Lives On!”
The remains of the Cuban martyr Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was assassinated by the Castro regime, were exhumed today, Tuesday, in the early morning in the Eastern town of Banes.
Reina Luisa Tamayo made some declarations to various news sources about what she and her family have been going through. Here is an excerpt of an article published in El Nuevo Herald (my translation):
Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Zapata, told El Nuevo Herald that she was able to assist and verify the exhumation together with relatives and about three other dissidents from Banes.
“We are now on our way to Havana and will be there at around 8 pm. Everything began this morning at 7 and I was able to see it all”, the 62 year old woman declared early this Tuesday morning. “It was very brief. We have never participated in anything like this before and I really thought it was going to take much longer. The cemetery was completely surrounded by soldiers and State Security agents,” added Tamayo with a tired voice.
Tamayo declared that the exhumation process was “calm”, lasted about 15 minutes, and those present shouted various slogans demanding Cuba’s freedom and commemorating her son, such as “Zapata Lives!”
She also declared that for the remainder of the process she will only drink water until she is finally in the United States as a tribute to her son who spent 85 days on hunger strike.
“I will do this together with my daughter Reina Maria and with Ernesto Medero”, Tamayo manifested. “This is the decision of a mother who, with her strength and spirit of struggle, has always maintained herself firm”.
Tamayo and 12 other relatives will be exiled to Miami on Thursday afternoon. The family would only accept exile if the ashes of Orlando Zapata would be given to them. At this moment, Tamayo and her family are traveling from Banes to Havana.
Reina Luisa explained that she could see numerous neighbors and locals of Banes waving her and her family goodbye. The remains are being taken on a funeral car and being followed by at least 6 State Security vehicles.
“All along the road there were people, and many cried,” Zapata said.
And that is how the Cuban regime functions. Not only do they oppress and even assassinate peaceful dissidents but they also unleash a strong wave of repression against their relatives which in many cases, as occurred with the Zapata family, culminate in exile. But while in Cuba political police agents and other representatives of the dictatorship oppress the Zapata Tamayo family through constant mob attacks, beatings, and other forms of harassment, when Reina Luisa and her relatives arrive to Miami they will be received with much solidarity and under chants of “Zapata Lives!” And one day, not too far from now, we will all be able to travel together to a free Cuba where government led mob attacks will no longer exist and where we could all pay the fitting tribute which Orlando Zapata Tamayo deserves.