Unmasking the U.S. and European Union outcry against the death of Cuban prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo

The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an Afro-Cuban prisoner who died as the result of a hunger strike, is being cynically exploited by the U.S. govern- ment and European Union as part of their ongoing campaign to kill the Cuban revolution and restore capitalism on the island. Zapata had been demanding food cooked by his mother and a phone, stove and TV in his cell. Originally arrested in 2004 on a variety of minor charges, his assaults on prison guards earned him a 25 year sentence. His political views are unclear but he has been chosen as a symbol of supposed Cuban repression against anti-socialist dissidents.

Barack Obama's administration, England's BBC, and a host of other capitalist governments and mainstream media are seizing upon Zapata's purported status as a political prisoner, which the Cuban government disputes, as justification for a fresh burst of orchestrated outrage. A number of prominent liberals and intellectuals are also voicing condemnation.

A blatant double standard

Raging hypocrisy has always marked the capitalist propaganda campaign against the Cuban workers' state, and this particular firestorm of criticism is no exception. The torture of prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantánamo on Cuban soil comes to mind as an example of this hypocrisy, as do the politically motivated incarcerations of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Lynne Stewart, Leonard Peltier, and the Cuban Five, who infiltrated right-wing Cuban American organizations in the 1990s in order to expose terrorist plots against Cuba. In France, 22 prisoners committed suicide in the first two months of this year, one of them a 16-year-old boy in juvenile detention. Where were the statements by the European Parliament and the White House condemning their deaths? Where are the condemnations of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia, a long-running national scandal?

Zapata's death has been taken up as a cause within Cuba by a group called the Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco), most of whom are relatives of 75 people arrested in March 2003 for taking money from the U.S. to work for the overthrow of the Cuban government. The involvement of the Ladies in White has helped the Western media frame Cuba's treatment of political dissidents as a human rights issue.

Which side of the class line?

Setting aside the question of Zapata's political convictions or lack thereof, the question of political dissent is a class question-and most especially so in a workers' state besieged from birth by the most powerful country in the world. It matters whether dissidents in Cuba are for the socialist revolution or against it. The Cuban government has a right and responsibility to protect the revolution from its enemies.

At the same time, Radical Women (RW) and the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) believe that the rights of critics who support the revolution should be scrupulously respected and strongly defended. Although Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leaders speak of the revolution as though it were invincible, it is actually in grave danger of capitalist restoration from external and internal pressures. To cope with economic crisis caused by the longstanding U.S. blockade, fall of the USSR, and global economic downturn, the PCC has instituted capitalist-type market measures that have widened inequality and increased discontent on the island. The government needs its pro-revolution critics and an expansion of workers' democracy in order to find solutions that will enable the revolution to survive.

Many critics on both the left and the right call for establishing a multi-party system in Cuba. If the threat of U.S.-funded counterrevolution were not so omnipresent, FSP and RW would be in favor of a system of multiple parties, at least those in support of the revolution. But given the generously financed overt and covert U.S. efforts to destabilize the Cuban state, including $20 million in open funding under review in the current budget, this move could only bring disaster.

The way forward

There are many ways to increase workers' democracy in Cuba without instituting multiple parties at this time, including allowing for pro-revolution tendencies with programmatic differences within the PCC and the establishment of workers' councils with the authority to make direct decisions about production and distribution. RW and FSP believe that if workers controlled social decision-making, they would find ways to reemphasize the socialization of the economy, reverse the trends of inequality, and improve conditions for Afro-Cubans and women, who have felt the sting of the crisis economy the most keenly. Alongside the direct benefits to Cuban workers, this would also undermine attacks by the enemies of Cuba who use its shortcomings in these areas as a counter- revolutionary weapon.
Radicals and social-justice advocates in the United States and other top capitalist countries have a special responsibility to defend the Cuban revolution and to counter the lies and distortions of our own governments and press. Our solidarity with the Cuban people in their battle for self- determination and socialism is key to holding back the full force of imperialism against them and allowing them to fight for a day, a year, a decade longer-until that moment we make our own revolutions and the world is free.

Issued by:

Radical Women, U.S. Section
625 Larkin St. #202
San Francisco, CA 94109

Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. Section
4710 University Way N.E. #100
Seattle WA 98105