Orlando Zapata Tamayo was one of Cuba’s least-known political prisoners, a 42-year-old Afro-Cuban plumber and bricklayer from the remote eastern town of Banes.
But when he died one year ago Wednesday at the end of an 83-day hunger strike, he became the face of the island’s dissidence – his photo projected onto Cuban government buildings, his name invoked in condemnations of the Castro regime around the world.
Zapata’s death energized other dissidents, turned hunger strikes into a credible weapon against the communist system and arguably forced Raúl Castro to ease the harassment of the Ladies in White and later to start freeing their 52 jailed men.
The anniversary of his death on Wednesday will be marked, on the island and abroad, by Castro critics as an example of the revolution’s human rights abuses and lack of concern for the life of a dissident.
“No one should allow the date to pass by because finding a martyr in the 21st century is not easy,’’ said dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who launched a hunger strike a day after Zapata died and halted it the day after Castro agreed to free the 52 men.
Fariñas and several other dissidents in Cuba declined to reveal their plans for marking the anniversary.
“I don’t want to make the work of State Security any easier,’’ he said by telephone from his home in the central city of Santa Clara.
State security agents, however, are widely expected to detain scores if not hundreds of dissidents around the island to avert any large gatherings of opponents on Wednesday, said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz.
Zapata Tamayo’s mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, told El Nuevo Herald Saturday that security agents already have her house “and all of Banes surrounded to prevent the arrival of the brothers who support us in this struggle.’’
Agents armed with rifles are patrolling the woodlands behind her house and others are checking the documents of all passengers on buses arriving in Banes, said the mother, who was detained for 12 hours Friday after a confrontation with a security agent.
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