June 10, 2011
Juan Carlos Chavez, El Nuevo Herald
The ashes of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died following an 85-day hunger strike, arrived in Miami Thursday in a shoe-size box held by his mother. His final resting place will be in exile — among veterans killed during a failed invasion 50 years ago in a battle against the same dictatorship.
It is the first time a Cuban not associated with the Bay of Pigs invasion will share space at a mausoleum reserved for heroes of the 1961 fight against the Castro regime — a symbolic unity between the "old" and "new" Cubans in the call for change on the communist-ruled island.
“It’s an honor for us to have the ashes of this man buried with us,’’ said Felix Rodriguez, president of the Association of Veterans of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. “We consider this man a hero and a patriot for standing up to Cuba’s communist government and fighting for a free Cuba.”
Brigade leaders, who are marking the 50th anniversary of the invasion this year, said the burial will take place at noon on June 25 following a morning service.
Zapata, who died at 42 in February 2010, will have his ashes placed in an ornate mahogany urn with an insignia of Cuba and his hometown of Banes donated by artist Lauriano Borges. He will be placed in a Bay of Pigs veterans’ mausoleum at Dade South Memorial Park cemetery, 14200 SW 117th Ave.
He became the face of the dissident movement in Cuba. In an unusual move, his body was exhumed and his ashes brought by his mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, 62, who won asylum in the United States.
On Thursday, she was greeted at Miami International Airport by dozens of exiles and the local and international media. She clung firmly to a simple urn wrapped in a Cuban flag containing her son’s ashes.
Flanked by dozens of Miamians, she gave thanks for the solidarity and said she would continue her son’s political activism.
“I thank the people of the United States, their government and all of those who have fought to make possible that today our family can be in a free country,” Tamayo said. “This mother, this family, will continue the fight to made the Castro brothers disappear. They murdered Zapata depriving him of water for 18 days.”
She immediately shouted slogans in favor of Cuba’s freedom and repeated “Zapata lives” amid a strict police cordon. People waved Cuban flags and banners with Zapata’s photograph.
Exile groups such as Vigilia Mambisa, the Cuban Democratic Directory, the Florida chapter of the Ladies in White and Exilio Unido Ya! were at the airport to welcome Tamayo. Among local political leaders who went to the airport were Republican U.S. Rep.David Rivera, and Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez.
Rivera said that the presence of Tamayo in Miami strengthens the exile and sends a message of rejection to the Cuban government.
“Her arrival also represents the need of many people in Cuba to get out because of the existing repression and who have even sacrificed their own children,” Rivera said.
“It’s important to honor and recognize her.”
Of very humble origins, Tamayo endured the rigor of being the mother of a dissident who became an icon against the 52-year dictatorship.
In recent months she was verbally and physically attacked, was harassed by government mobs during her habitual Sunday walks in Havana to demand the freedom of political prisoners, and she was arrested in numerous occasions.
Her home in Banes, a remote town 530 miles east of Havana, where she lived with her husband, José Luis Marino Ortiz, and two of her four children and grandchildren, was under permanent vigilance. Her situation was denounced by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
In mid-October the Cuban government offered Tamayo the opportunity to leave the island, but the idea of forced exile was bluntly rejected by the woman until she received her son’s ashes.
Zapata, a boxer and bricklayer, died demanding freedom for peaceful protesters. When his jailers finally took him to a hospital, Tamayo said her son was only “skin and bones” and she accused the government of premeditated murder.
However, Zapata’s sacrifice, at Kilo 7 prison in Camaguey province, strengthened the opposition movement and opened new channels for the peaceful internal struggle.
Zapata was buried in a private ceremony under military vigilance.
El Nuevo Herald staffer Jose Iglesias contributed to this report.