CubaBrief: Vigil for justice for Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Brothers to the Rescue members martyred by Communist Cuba for defending human rights

On February 22, 2024 at 5:30pm at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC activists gathered to hold a silent vigil in memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo killed by prison guards on February 23, 2010 and Armando Alejandre Jr, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales the four murdered by Castro on February 24,1996 when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down. This event was co-hosted by Center for a Free Cuba, Cuba Decide, and the Patmos Institute.

Fourteen years ago on February 23, 2010 Cuban human rights defender and prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo was killed while on hunger strike, after being denied water by prison authorities for 18 days causing his kidneys to shut down.

Currently, there are over 1,000 political prisoners in Cuba, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been able to see any of them. The last time the ICRC was able to visit Cuban prisons, and meet political prisoners was in 1989.

Orlando Zapata had worked on human rights campaigns with Medal of Freedom laureate Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and gathered signatures with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas for the Varela Project petition. Oswaldo Payá, together with youth leader Harold Cepero, were killed extrajudicially on July 22, 2012 by agents of Cuba’s Communist government, revealed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in their June 2023 report on the merits.

Twenty eight years ago, on February 24, 1996 Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29) were in two planes engaged in a search and rescue flight for rafters when they were blown out of the sky by missiles launched from a Cuban MiG following Raul Castro’s orders. International investigations concluded that the civilian planes were shot down in international airspace in violation of international norms.This was a premeditated act of state terrorism by the Cuban regime.

The vigil ended at 6:30pm with Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart praying for the martyrs demanding justice for them and for a free Cuba to emerge after decades of dictatorship.