Cuba acknowledges dissident's death

State-owned media today reported the death of a jailed, dissident hunger striker, acknowledging four days after the fact a story most Cubans had already heard through word of mouth.

Writing in the Communist Party daily Granma, a government essayist accused opposition groups and “forces of the counterrevolution” of making a martyr out of Orlando Zapata Tamayo when he was actually a common criminal.

“Cuban mercenaries can be detained and tried according to applicable laws – in no country can you violate the law,” Enrique Ubieta Gomez wrote.

Zapata Tamayo died on Tuesday after refusing solid food for weeks. Imprisoned in 2003 for disrespecting authority, he was eventually sentenced to 25 years for activism behind bars and was considered a “prisoner of conscience” internationally.

Cuba tolerates no official opposition to its single-party communist system and dismisses dissidents and political activists as paid agents of Washington, out to topple the government.

Zapata Tamayo was originally held in his native eastern Cuba before being transferred to Havana and later admitted to hospital just before his death.

The case sparked an international outcry, and President Raul Castro took the unprecedented step of expressing public regret – but denied that Zapata Tamayo was mistreated.

In today’s article, Ubieta Gomez wrote that foreign governments and international media were exploiting the death to criticise Cuba.

He voiced similar complaints on a government web site on Thursday. However the Granma story was the first word of Zapata Tamayo’s death in the mainstream Cuban press, which is entirely state-run.

Most Cubans had already heard the news through word on the street, US television broadcasts received via illegal satellite links or contact with family and friends overseas.

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