Family of late Cuban hunger striker to go to U.S

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2011 2:03 PM
Family of late Cuban hunger striker to go to U.S

HAVANA (Reuters) - Family members of late political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in a hunger strike last year, were taken to the Havana airport and kept away from the press as they prepared on Thursday to emigrate to the United States.

His mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, said by telephone the 13 people, including herself and husband Jose Ortiz, were to take a mid-afternoon flight to Miami where members of the Cuban exile community awaited them.

"This whole process has been very hard, but we have endured it," she told Reuters.

"It satisfies me that I have in my possession the ashes of my son and that I could see everything from the exhumation until they delivered his warm ashes," she said. Tamayo insisted she would not leave without the remains of her son.

Zapata was 42 when he died in February 2008 after an 85-day hunger strike. His body was exhumed in the eastern city of Banes on Tuesday, brought with the family to Havana and cremated in the Cuban capital.

The process has been directed by the Cuban government, which is happy for the dissident family to go elsewhere.

Zapata was serving a long jail sentence for crimes such as disobedience and contempt when he launched his hunger strike for improved prison conditions.

The Cuban government said he was nothing more than a common criminal, but his death brought criticism of Cuba's human rights situation from the United States and Europe and contributed to Cuba's decision a few months later to release its political prisoners.

"We were very repressed by the government. The opposition is oppressed," Tamayo said.

In Miami, the International Rescue Committee said the family would be settled in four apartments, assisted with essentials such as clothes and food and provided English classes and job placement help. The group gives aid to victims of humanitarian crises and helps resettle refugees worldwide.

Tamayo said she would carry on her son's opposition to the Cuban government.

"I'm going to keep up from there the struggle for democracy and freedom of Cuba, like my son wanted. I'm keeping my word to him," she said.

(Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Jeff Franks and Jackie Frank)