CubaBrief Setting the record straight on Cuba – Russia relations, and the need to support Ukraine

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Cuba’s president Miguel Diaz-Canel meet on 2/19/24

The past week has seen two news articles about Russia and Cuba that highlight the close alliance between Havana and Moscow. However, both articles imply that the two regimes’ relationship is based on financial need for Cuba, and diplomatic relations for Russia. A closer look at the relationship between these two countries starting in 1959 reveals that the strength of their relations has been defined by an anti-American agenda.

The  AFP News in their February 19, 2024 article, “Russia’s Lavrov lashes out at US on Latin America visit” claims, “Cuba and the USSR were close allies during the Cold War, but that cooperation ended abruptly in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc.” This is not entirely true. Cooperation did not end abruptly. It never fully ended, but relations did begin to cool during the Mikhail Gorbachev years, and reached their nadir after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. The relationship rebounded with the rise of Vladmir Putin to power in 2000, and ties repeatedly strengthened over the next 24 years.

Putin visited Cuba and met with Fidel Castro on December 14, 2000. This was during the Clinton Administration’s second round of engagement with Havana. President Bill Clinton met and shook hands with Fidel Castro at the United Nations four months earlier in September 2000. One month later in October 2000 President Clinton signed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TEFRA) that opened trade between the Cuban dictatorship and U.S. companies.

In 2014 Vladimir Putin forgave $32 billion owed by Havana to Moscow, and floated the idea of opening Russian military bases in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The Russian Navy’s intelligence collection ship, the Viktor Leonov, docked in Havana just a day before the arrival of the American delegation to negotiate the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States in January 2015. This was a month after President Barack Obama and Dictator Raul Castro had announced their intentions to resume diplomatic relations. The Russian warship was docked in a pier usually reserved for cruise ships to send a high profile message.

Havana fully backed Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but ties had already been strengthened for over two decades. It is worth reviewing some highlights of the Cuban dictatorship’s support for Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine over the past two years. In addition to the visible presence of Cuban soldiers fighting in Ukraine to back Moscow’s illegal war, and the statements made by young Cubans shipped abroad.

  • On October 12, 2022 at the UN General Assembly Cuba was one of the 35 countries that abstained, and its ally Nicaragua was one of the 5 that voted against a resolution condemning the Russian Federation’s annexation of four Eastern Ukraine regions.

  • On September 16, 2022 Cuba was one of seven countries voting “no” at the UN General Assembly together with Belarus, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, and Russia. This “no” vote was to silence Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky from delivering a pre-recorded address at the UN General Assembly.

  • On September 15, 2022 “Russian top propagandist Vladimir Solovyov urged for the establishment of an international coalition with countries” that included Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Serbia, and Venezuela for its war against Ukraine.

  • On April 7, 2022 Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Vietnam, were among those who voted against suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council ( 93 voted to suspend, 24 against, and 58 abstentions.)

  • On March 2, 2022 Cuba and Nicaragua abstained from the vote condemning the Russian invasion at the United Nations General Assembly. ( 141 votes to condemn the invasion, 5 against and 35 abstentions).

  • Euronews reported on February 24, 2022 that “only Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Syria supported the Russian recognition of independence for the occupied regions in Luhansk and Donetsk.”

  • The Cuban government is spreading Russian propaganda both domestically and internationally defending Putin’s invasion, and repeating Moscow’s talking points.

  • Cubans dissenting from this official line on the island have been arrested.

  • Cuba has taken part in Russia’s International Military Exercises that in 2022 were held in Venezuela and Iran.

Meanwhile, Moscow, like Havana, would like Washinton to subsidize their anti-Western activities, as the Europeans are already doing by removing sanctions, and taking Cuba off the list of state terror sponsors, when what should be done is to add Russia to the list for the terrorism they have visited on Ukraine, and dissidents overseas.

Journalist José de Córdoba in his article, “How Russia Recruits Soldiers From Cuba to Fight in Ukraine” published in The Wall Street Journal on February 16, 2024 provided context on how “Havana has long been one of Moscow’s closest partners. At the height of the Cold War in 1962, the Soviet Union and the U.S. came to the brink of nuclear war after the U.S. discovered Soviet nuclear missiles on the island. From 1975 to 1991, Cuba deployed more than 50,000 soldiers to Angola and Ethiopia in support of Soviet policies,” but mischaracterized the Cuban military’s role post-1991 “as now more focused on managing tourist hotels and growing beans than fighting in foreign wars.” He omits that the Cuban military remains a serious international threat.

Speaking at a seminar on human rights abuses in Cuba in December 2018, Secretary General Luis Almagro of the Organization of American States (OAS) knew better: “It is estimated that there are some 46,000 Cubans in Venezuela, an occupation force that teaches how to torture and repress, that performs intelligence, civil identification, and migration services.” This number is consistent with prior overseas actions by Havana, including their secret deployment of 3,000 troops in the Yom Kippur War in 1972 that used the cover of being students as they reached their final destination in Syria, before taking part in the invasion of Israel. In the same article,  de Córdoba cites “Maryan Zablotskyi, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who has studied the issue,” and “estimates that between 1,500 and 3,000 Cubans have enlisted as the island’s state-controlled economy crumbles.”

To believe that Russia would be able to run a recruitment program on Cuban soil for troops to fight for them in Ukraine ignores the past 65 years of Cuban history, under the Castro dictatorship. The communist regime in Cuba knows and is profiting from the arrangement with Moscow.

Havana establishing relations with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, to topple neighboring governments, and seizing U.S. properties, led to the U.S. Embargo

On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro toppled the Fulgencio Batista government, which had been subject to a  weapons embargo by the United States since the spring of 1958. Since 1958 , the United States had exerted active pressure on Batista to resign. The Castro brothers’ newly established Cuban government was acknowledged by the U.S. on January 7, 1959. The new regime was recognized in a mere seven days. Comparatively, after Fulgencio Batista’s March 10, 1952 coup, it took the US 17 days to  recognize his government.

  • Fidel Castro visited Caracas on January 23, 1959 and met with Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt, a social democrat, “to enlist cooperation and financial backing for ‘the master plan against the gringos.'”In April 1959 Fidel Castro visited the United States on an eleven day trip that concluded with a three hour meeting with Vice President Richard Nixon on April 19, 1959. Within three months of U.S. recognition of the revolutionary government in Cuba the new regime began targeting American interests on the island and allying itself with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and plotting the overthrow of several Latin American governments.

  • Havana beginning in 1959 sent armed expeditions to Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to overthrow their governments.

  • On July 6, 1960 the Castro regime passed a nationalization law authorizing nationalization of U.S.- owned property through expropriation. Texaco, Esso, and Shell oil refineries were taken.

  • In September 1960 the Cuban government diplomatically recognized the People’s Republic of China.

  • On November 19, 1960 Ernesto “Che” Guevara heading a Cuban delegation in Beijing met with Mao Zedong between 4:20pm and 6:30pm and discussed revolutionary objectives in Latin America.

  • Raul Castro began meeting with a Czech counterpart representing KGB interests in 1961 to establish drug-trafficking networks throughout Latin America and to infiltrate those already in existence, with the objective of flooding markets in the United States, and killing Americans.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Blockade, and first time relations cooled with Moscow

President Kennedy did not impose a “blockade” on February 3, 1962, but he did initiate wholesale sanctions on the communist dictatorship that today is called the U.S.embargo.

A full naval blockade was imposed on October 22, 1962 when offensive Soviet nuclear missiles placed by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were found in Cuba. Fidel Castro did all he could to provoke a violent outcome during the Cuban Missile Crisis, unnerving the Soviets. This blockade was ended by President Kennedy a month later, on November 22, 1962.

President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev reached a peaceful outcome, but the Castro regime continued to protest and was unhappy with their Soviet allies. Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s essay “Tactics and strategy of the Latin American Revolution (October – November 1962)” was posthumously published by the official publication Verde Olivo on October 9, 1968, and even at this date was not only Guevara’s view but the official view:

“Here is the electrifying example of a people prepared to suffer nuclear immolation so that its ashes may serve as a foundation for new societies. When an agreement was reached by which the atomic missiles were removed, without asking our people, we were not relieved or thankful for the truce; instead we denounced the move with our own voice.”

In the same essay, the dead Argentine declared: “We do assert, however, that we must follow the road of liberation even though it may cost millions of nuclear war victims.” Relations between Havana and Moscow cooled due to the Soviets failure to start WW3, despite all of Fidel Castro’s efforts.

Nora Gamez Torres in her February 20, 2024 article “Cuba welcomes Russia minister as ‘a dear friend,’ suppresses news of Navalny’s death” points out that like “Vladimir Putin, who is believed to have never mentioned Navalny’s name publicly, it’s difficult to find any mention of the fierce Putin critic in Cuba’s state media, which did not report his death Friday ahead of Lavrov’s visit.”

Havana is deeply embedded in the Ukraine war with a presence not only in Russia, and on the battlefield in Ukraine, but also in neighboring Belarus. The regimes’ in Belarus, Cuba, and Russia are coordinating their efforts to end Ukrainian independence, but they share other features.

On human rights Havana, Minsk, and Moscow share a common disdain for international standards. They murder nonviolent dissidents, and their prisons are brutal and too many prisoners of conscience die there under suspicious circumstances. We know the names: Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Alexei Navalny, and Ihar Lednik, to name a few of the too many. There are over a thousand political prisoners in Cuba today alone.

Upper left to lower right: Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Alexei Navalny, and Ihar Lednik.

The Cuban diaspora understands this all too well, and this is why the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, having suffered the abandonment of the West six decades ago, now asks Washington to help the Ukrainian people in their struggle, and not abandon them at this critical hour.

Miami Herald, February 20th, 2024

Cuba welcomes Russia minister as ‘a dear friend,’ suppresses news of Navalny’s death


Just days after the death in an Arctic penal colony of Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, embarked on a Latin American tour with the first stop in Cuba on Monday and scheduled visits to Venezuela and Brazil.

Just like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is believed to have never mentioned Navalny’s name publicly, it’s difficult to find any mention of the fierce Putin critic in Cuba’s state media, which did not report his death Friday ahead of Lavrov’s visit. Instead, Cuban official media outlets, controlled by the Communist Party, welcomed the Russian minister “as a true friend of Cuba.”

AFP News, February 19, 2024

Russia’s Lavrov lashes out at US on Latin America visit

AFP News Mon, 19 February 2024

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov railed Monday at Western “blackmail, ultimatums, threats” against countries like his own and ally Cuba, where he kicked off a Latin American tour.

Lavrov, who will also visit Venezuela and Brazil — hosting a G20 foreign ministers meeting — told Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez in Havana that both nations were victims of “illegal pressure” from the US and its allies.

“The realities of a multi-polar world… are provoking an aggressive reaction from the United States and other countries of the world minority which by all means want to preserve their domination, hegemony and diktat,” he said.

“The means used by representatives of the United States and other Western countries for this purpose do not include diplomacy, but blackmail, ultimatums, threats, the use of brute military force and sanctions.”

The US has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba since after the revolution led by Fidel Castro six decades ago, and instituted strict sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

“Cuba knows first-hand what illegal pressure is: a total embargo which the United States alone defends as a legitimate course of action,” said Lavrov, on his ninth visit to Cuba — the second in a year.

“It is unacceptable to all other members of the world community. But that does not stop Washington,” he added.

Russia and Cuba have strengthened ties since 2022, with an increasingly isolated Moscow seeking new diplomatic and trading partners.

In November 2022, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel traveled to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

And in April 2023, Diaz-Canel assured Moscow of “Cuba’s unconditional support” in its “clash with the West.” Cuba has never criticized Russia’s assault on its neighbor.

Cuba, under US embargo since 1962, is facing its worst economic crisis in three decades, and has received Russian oil to help ease a crushing shortage of fuel.

Cuba and the USSR were close allies during the Cold War, but that cooperation ended abruptly in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc.

As they work on repairing ties, the allies have signed cooperation agreements in the areas of construction, information technology, banking, sugar, transport and tourism.

According to Russian figures, commercial exchanges with Cuba reached $450 million in 2022, with 90 percent of that in sales of oil and soybean oil to Havana.

Last September, Cuba announced it had made arrests over the alleged trafficking of its citizens to fight for Russia in Ukraine.

No information on the investigation has been forthcoming ever since.

Lavrov will meet Diaz-Canel before traveling to Venezuela on Tuesday and then Brazil for the G20 summit.



The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 20 February 2024

Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Republic of Cuba

On February 19, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a visit to the Republic of Cuba as part of his trip to the Latin American region.

He was received by the President of the Republic of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez and held talks with Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez.

During the meetings, which took place in a traditionally friendly and constructive atmosphere, the sides had a substantive exchange of views on cooperation in politics, trade and the economy, culture and the humanitarian field. They noted the key achievements of the two countries over the past year in the material sphere, which will help Russian economic operators to play a more active role in the implementation of Cuba’s large-scale plans for socio-economic development until 2030.

The parties had a detailed discussion on the parameters for strengthening close coordination between Russia and Cuba in the global arena and on regional platforms. They confirmed mutual willingness to fully strengthen the Russian-Cuban strategic partnership.

The officials noted that their approach had not changed regarding the categorical unacceptability of unilateral illegitimate restrictive measures, and the desire to jointly advance in building a multipolar world based on genuine equality of states, respect for mutual interests and fundamental principles and standards of international law.

The Russian side reaffirmed its unwavering support for Havana in its just demand for the complete and immediate lifting of the US embargo and the removal of the country from the US State Department’s list of states sponsors of terrorism.



The Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2024

How Russia Recruits Soldiers From Cuba to Fight in Ukraine

Eager to escape Communist island’s poverty, Cubans are joining Russian army

By José de Córdoba

Updated Feb. 16, 2024

On a blazing hot day in November, Raibel Palacio and three neighborhood friends boarded a flight at Cuba’s Varadero beach resort, taking selfies and chattering in excitement. They had a job offer that promised a way out of the island’s misery.

A few weeks later, Palacio was killed by a drone as he tried to tie a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding from a leg wound on the freezing front lines of Ukraine, said Danelia Herrera, his mother.

“Cubans are cannon fodder and they will kill them all,” she said, weeping in her home, a wooden shack on the outskirts of Havana.

[ Full article ]

Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, January 18, 2024



The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance (ARC) is a coalition of Cuban Exile Organizations and Opposition Groups operating in Cuba, working worldwide in a peaceful but fervent manner to rid Cuba of its communist, tyrannical regime. In 2021 Cuba was designated as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” by the United States Government.

The members of the ARC are seriously concerned with the dire situation in Ukraine and the perceived danger of stopping or reducing the resources and logistical support being provided by the United States and other countries. We care and support the Ukrainian people in their noble quest to defeat the Russian invasion and denounce the involvement of the Cuban regime in the war, by sending thousands of soldiers to join Russia in the genocidal war against Ukraine.

Ukrainians are fighting for survival, with limited resources, but with resolve, courage and love for their country, and the proper and timely level of support and assistance must continue without delay. Considerations for the continued support are as follows:

  1. In 1994 an agreement known as the “Budapest Memorandum” was signed by the U.S. and England, in which Ukraine would return their nuclear arsenal to Russia. In return, the U.S. and U.K. would guarantee Ukraine’s security and that Ukraine would not stand alone when facing a threat to their sovereignty.

  2. History has shown that abandoning allies has serious consequences. Cancelling the U.S. support of the freedom fighters at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 resulted in the nuclear missile crisis of 1962, and the shameful Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement of “no invasion to Cuba”, which consolidated Castro’s communist regime in our hemisphere and the creation of guerrilla movements throughout Latin America and beyond.

  3. Russia will be emboldened by a victory in Ukraine, as already suggested by Mr. Putin, who would continue with the efforts to redraw European borders and reconfigure the world order under an authoritarian axis.

  4. Also, totalitarian regimes around the world, such as China and Venezuela, would stiffen their resolve to pursue their own expansionist objectives.

Ukrainians are engaged in a deadly struggle in defense of their freedom and their territorial integrity. The United States and allies must not flinch in its support. We call upon the U.S. Congress to expedite its proceedings and vote for the national security supplemental, which would provide Ukraine the desperately needed security assistance to thwart Russia’s onslaught. As the steward of global democracy, supporting Ukraine is in the national security interest of the United States of America.

Full list of signatories available here.

Reuters, February 16, 2024

Putin foe Alexei Navalny dies in jail, West holds Russia responsible

By Guy Faulconbridge and Felix Light

February 16, 2024

MOSCOW, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable domestic opponent, fell unconscious and died on Friday after a walk at the “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony where he was serving a three-decade sentence, authorities said.

The death of Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, robs the disparate Russian opposition of its most prominent leader as Putin prepares for an election which will keep the former KGB spy in power until at least 2030.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was outraged and joined other Western leaders in criticising Russia over Navalny’s death, blaming it on “something that Putin and his thugs did.”

Navalny rose to prominence more than a decade ago by documenting and speaking publicly about what he said was the vast corruption and opulence among the “crooks and thieves” running Putin’s Russia.

There are no other opposition leaders in Russia of Navalny’s stature. For some young urban Russians, Navalny had offered hope of an alternative future to Putin, who has served as Russia’s paramount leader longer than anyone since Josef Stalin.

The Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

He lost consciousness almost immediately and died shortly afterwards, it said, adding that resuscitation attempts failed.

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said there was “almost no hope” that he was alive.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, told the Munich Security Conference she could not be sure her husband was dead because “Putin and his government… lie incessantly”.

“But if this is true, I want Putin, his entire entourage, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family, to my husband,” she said.

The Kremlin said Putin had been informed of Navalny’s death. The 71-year-old former KGB spy was shown meeting workers at a factory in Chelyabinsk, in the Ural mountains. He said nothing in public about Navalny.

Western leaders paid tribute to Navalny’s courage as a fighter for freedom. Some, without citing evidence, accused the Kremlin of murder and said Putin should be held accountable.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the reaction of Western leaders to the death was unacceptable and “absolutely rabid”.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did,” Biden said at the White House.

“Russian authorities are going to tell their own story,” Biden said. “But make no mistake. Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.”


Navalny’s movement is outlawed and most of his senior allies now live in exile in Europe.

“If this (news of Navalny’s death) is true, then it’s not ‘Navalny died’, but ‘Putin killed Navalny’,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, said. The Kremlin did not respond to the accusation.

Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said his movement and aims would live on.

“We are convinced that we will be victorious in the end,” she said. “Russia is our country, it belongs to us and we need to return it us.”

Navalny’s lawyer was on his way to the tough penal colony where Navalny was serving sentences that would have kept him in prison beyond the age of 70.

Navalny earned admiration from Russia’s opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent.

Navalny said at the time that he was poisoned in Siberia in August 2020. The Kremlin denied trying to kill him and said there was no evidence he was poisoned with a nerve agent.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a veteran liberal, said Navalny’s death showed the need for reform and echoed many opposition figures in saying he feared for the health of other activists in jail.

In Moscow, at a memorial to the victims of Soviet political repression in the shadow of the former KGB headquarters, some people laid roses and carnations. Police looked on.

One note read: “Alexei Navalny – we remember you.”

Russian prosecutors warned people not to take part in any mass meetings in Moscow. Supporters arranged meetings to honour Navalny in London, Paris, Oslo, Rome, Brussels, Berlin, Geneva, Prague, Yerevan, Tbilisi and Vilnius.


Navalny had forecast Russia could face political turmoil because he said Putin built a brittle system of personal rule reliant on corruption. The Kremlin dismissed his accusations about vast corruption and about Putin’s personal wealth.

Russian officials cast Navalny as an extremist who was a puppet of the CIA, which they say is intent on sowing chaos and turning Russia into a client state of the West.

A day before his death, Navalny peered through a barred window, laughing and cracking jokes about his depleting funds and the judge’s salary.

“Your Honour, I will send you my personal account number so that you can use your huge salary as a federal judge to ‘warm up’ my personal account, because I am running out of money,” he said via video link.

When demonstrations against Putin flared in December 2011, after an election tainted by fraud accusations, he was one of the first protest leaders arrested.

In an interview in Moscow in 2011, Navalny was asked by Reuters if he was afraid of challenging Putin’s system.

“That’s the difference between me and you: you are afraid and I am not afraid,” he said. “I realize there is danger, but why should I be afraid?”

Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and John Irish in Munich, Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, and Reuters bureaux; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Gareth Jones, Timothy Heritage and Toby Chopra


The Kyiv Independent, February 20, 2024

Belarusian political prisoner reportedly dies in custody

by Nate Ostiller

Ihar Lednik, a member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (BSDP), reportedly died in prison, BSDP announced on Telegram on Feb. 20.

Repressions against opposition figures and dissenters escalated in Belarus following the 2020 presidential election, in which Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko certified his hold on power through electoral fraud and a violent crackdown.

According to the Viasna human rights group, Lednik is the fifth political prisoner to die behind bars in the last two years.

Lednik was sentenced to three years in prison in 2022 for allegedly “slandering” Lukashenko. His health subsequently declined in prison. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarusian service, the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

His former colleagues said Lednik was an outspoken opponent of the so-called union state between Belarus and Russia and Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.

Lednik also served as the co-chairman of the Belarusian Committee of Solidarity with Ukraine.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya commented on Lednik’s death, saying, “It is an incredible injustice and tragedy that the regime is killing Belarusians in prison who wanted to change the life of their country for the better.”



Amnesty International, February 24, 2010

Death of Cuban prisoner of conscience on hunger strike must herald change

Amnesty International has urged Cuban President Raúl Castro to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience after a political activist died following a hunger strike.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was reported to have been on hunger strike in protest at prison conditions for several weeks before his death in Havana on Monday.

“The tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a terrible illustration of the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration,” said Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International’s Caribbean researcher.

A full investigation must be carried out to establish whether ill-treatment may have played a part in his death”, added Amnesty International.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested in March 2003 and in May 2004 he was sentenced to three years in prison for “disrespect”, “public disorder” and “resistance”.

He was subsequently tried several times on further charges of “disobedience” and “disorder in a penal establishment”, the last time in May 2009, and was serving a total sentence of 36 years at the time of his death.

“Faced with a prolonged prison sentence, the fact that Orlando Zapata Tamayo felt he had no other avenue available to him but to starve himself in protest is a terrible indictment of the continuing repression of political dissidents in Cuba.

“The death of Orlando Zapata also underlines the urgent need for Cuba to invite international human rights experts to visit the country to verify respect for human rights, in particular obligations in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Background informationOrlando Zapata Tamayo was one of 55 prisoners of conscience who have been adopted by Amnesty International in Cuba.

The majority were among the 75 people arrested as part of the massive March 2003 crackdown by authorities against political activists. With no independent judiciary in Cuba, trials are often summary and fall grossly short of international fair trial standards, once sentenced the chances of appeal are virtually nil.