It is with great sadness that we report the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner in Cuba, whose passing was the culmination of a hunger strike he started nearly three months ago.
Had his captors released him, as they provided medical paroles for other prisoners in the past, he might still be alive and Cuba’s government would not be accountable for this tragedy. But the arc of his life and their disregard for it converged to leave us where we are today; lamenting his death and asking for direction on the right way forward.
Sadness is certainly the right emotional reaction.
But then, we part company with those who will reach for reasons to justify their abiding faith in what has failed before. The Washington Post did that this morning in an editorial on Orlando Zapata’s death. In keeping with the quality and tone of their general thinking on Latin America, they referred to U.S. policy makers and foreign leaders as “Castro lovers” for urging a new approach to the policy on Cuba, while eliding the fact that he died with nearly all of the old policy in place and unchanged.
Congressman James P. McGovern, the Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said these words on the House Floor which strike us as much closer to the mark:
Zapata Tamayo paid the ultimate sacrifice for his commitment to changing Cuba’s system. He commands our respect. No one has starved himself to death in a Cuban prison in over forty years. Surely the Cuban government could have and should have intervened earlier to prevent this tragedy. His death is on their conscience.
I have always felt – and continue to believe – that if we are truly going to do a better job of standing with the Cuban people, then we need to be closer to them and in greater numbers. We need to travel freely to the island to meet and learn from them, and they from us. I hope that day comes soon so we can tell all the Cuban people that we remember the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
We could not agree more.
In that spirit, and in this very same week, a forward-looking and bipartisan group of Congress Members introduced legislation to promote U.S. food sales to Cuba and to permit free travel for all Americans to Cuba.
Rather than standing just symbolically with Cubans at a distance, as those who embrace the Cuba embargo and all of its facets continue to ask us to do, these legislators believe — and we agree – that the better, more courageous, and ultimately more effective course is to stand with them literally, in person, in their country, and to put food produced here in America on their kitchen tables across Cuba. Actions like these would reflect the best of our values and provide precisely the kind of sustenance and support that the Cuban people deserve.