The death on Tuesday of the brave Cuban democracy advocate Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a tragedy, and like many tragedies there are things the world can learn from it.

First, while there has now been almost worldwide condemnation of his death and a call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners, there are still those who would turn a blind eye on what can only be described as an act of murder. Even some who have expressed their “regrets” for Zapata Tamayo’s death would do so while embracing his executioners. During his trip to Cuba this week, Brazilian President Lula said he “deeply regretted” the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo prior to a meeting with Raul Castro in the Presidential Palace. While I am not suggesting foreign heads of State should not meet with members of the Cuban government, I do believe that the president of one of the region’s largest democracies and someone who pretends to be a leader in the region would do well to exert some of that leadership on behalf of freedom and human rights and not just to appease leftists within his party and secure his nation’s investments in Cuba. Meanwhile, we have yet to hear the condemnation from the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Secondly, there appears to be no limit to the cruelty of the Cuban regime nor to the innocent lives it will spare in the name of “preserving” the revolution. While Raul Castro issued an unprecedented statement “lamenting” Zapata Tamayo’s death, he only did so under the pressure of a visit by a foreign head of state and qualified it by blaming the “United States’ hostility toward the island” for his death. Any hope that may have existed that Raul Castro would allow greater personal freedoms once he assumed power have been squashed by a wave of constant repressive acts on peaceful dissidents since he took over for his older brother. What until now had been brief detentions and beatings has now been raised to a new level. The government headed by Raul Castro is now responsible for consciously and purposely letting an innocent and peaceful man die of starvation because his beliefs in human rights and freedom represented such a threat to its hold on power.

Finally, what the world can learn from the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is that Cuba’s democracy advocates are brave, peaceful men and women who believe deeply in the cause of freedom and human rights and are willing to risk their own lives to stand up for what is right. Even when faced with a regime that would harass and beat the wives of political prisoners for marching peacefully down the street, kidnap and beat a woman for blogging about the hardships of everyday life in Cuba, or even let a man die of starvation because it was so threatened by what he represents. Cuba’s democracy advocates have shown a willingness to sacrifice more on behalf of the Cuban people than any of the privileged class that make up the Cuban government.

In the coming days, Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s family and friends will mourn his death, the international community will either issue statements of condemnation or turn a blind eye and the Cuban government will try to manage an increasingly difficult situation that could have been easily avoided by valuing the life of its citizens more than its desire to silence their voices. I suspect however, that the final chapter of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s legacy has not yet been written.   

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Date Title
2/25/10 Current Record