Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and his brother Raul, chat on December 23, 2003 in Havana, during a meeting of the Cuban Parliament. Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel Castro as the president of Cuba on February 24, 2008, in a historic power shift expected to keep Havana firmly on its communist path, officials said.

As noted before at the Foundry, the free expression that we take for granted in the United States is unknown to those living under the Castro regime. In a chilling reminder of the cold authoritarian repression that still exists only 90 miles from the American mainland, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political prisoner, died Tuesday. His death came after he had initiated an 80-day hunger strike aimed at improving his conditions.

Raul Castro made a rare motion of “lamenting” over the death of Zapata. In a depressingly predictable move, however, Castro managed to somehow lay the death of Zapata at the feet of the United States, inferring that tortures and executions only occur in Cuba at the Guantanamo Bay military base, which is of course controlled by the U.S.

Zapata’s mother, Raina Luisa Tamayo Dangier, has not minced words in her response to her son’s death, stating in a testimony, “I think my son’s death was a premeditated murder. My son was tortured throughout his incarceration.” She also compared her son’s death to the death of Pedro Boitel, a Cuban poet opposed to the Castro regime who died during a hunger strike in 1972, before calling on “the world to demand the freedom of the other prisoners and brothers unfairly.”
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero was surprisingly forthcoming on the issue. Speaking before the Spanish parliament, Zapatero declared that “we must demand that the Cuban regime restore the freedom of prisoners of conscience and respect human rights.”

If Prime Minister Zapatero, a socialist who has worked to have the European Union remove sanctions toward Cuba, is willing to issue a clear condemnation of Cuba’s state repression of dissidents, there may be room for optimism.

Michael Orion Powell is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: