Brazil’s Lula in Havana, on the Side of the Perpetrators

Fidel with Lula in HavanaThey are of a shameful cynicism the comments by president Lula on the death of Cuban activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which occurred hours before his fourth visit to the island since taking office. Tamayo, a 42-year-old mason, was one of 75 dissidents sentenced in 2003 to up to 28 years in prison.

Initially, his sentence was set at 3 years. Then increased to 25 years and 6 months for offenses like “defiance”, “public disorder” and “resistance”.

Although not a prominent member of the human rights movement in Cuba, Amnesty International has included him in its list of “prisoners of conscience” – victims adopted by the organization because they were arrested only because of their ideas.

In December, Tamayo began a hunger strike for better conditions for the 200 political prisoners of the regime, from which he would die 85 days later.

Lula managed to surpass dictator Raúl Castro on cynicism and mockery. Castro said that Tamayo “was taken to our best hospitals.” In fact, only last week, already semi-conscious, they transferred him from the maximum security prison in Camaguey to Havana. And only on Monday he was taken to a hospital.

The outcome was anything but a surprise to their tormentors. Days earlier, the Spanish authorities had expressed their concern about the situation of Tamayo, during a human rights meeting with envoys from Cuba.

He died because they left him die. They could, but they didn’t want to feed him intravenously. “It was a murder with judicial airs,” summarized Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights.

Lula on the other hand practically blamed Tamayo for his own death. When he finally agreed to talk about the matter, without disguising his irritation, the self-named driver of the Brazilian “hyperdemocracy” and recent enactor of the National Human Rights Program said to be deeply sorry “that a person let himself die by a hunger strike,” noting that he is opposed to this kind of protest, which he had used (when, as a trade unionist, was arrested by the military regime).

No word therefore thus on what lead the dissident to this reckless attitude: nothing about his imprisonment for the crime of opinion, nothing about the conditions the opponents of the regime are subjected to, nothing about the fact that Cuba is the only country in the Americas with political prisoners. No gesture of disapproval to the violence of a tyranny.

On second thought, why would he upset his fraternal friendship with compañeros Fidel and Raul, bothering them with these details? At his side, Raul had just asked the journalists to “leave them alone, going normally along with our activities.”

Lula accepted the request. After all, as his international adviser Marco Aurélio Garcia noted, “there are human rights problems all over the world.”

But Lula furthermore called liars the 50 political prisoners who wrote him on Sunday to warn him about the seriousness of Tamayo’s health and to ask him to intercede for the release of all of them.

Who knows, they may have imagined, naively or in desperation of cause, that the Brazilian could be “the voice in defense of protecting the lives of Cubans,” as the religious man Dagoberto Valdés, one of the few opponents of the dictatorship still free on the island, would put it.

Lula has denied having received the correspondence. “People need to stop the habit of writing letters, keeping them and then saying that they sent them to other people,” he complained. And with a touch of refinement in his own cynicism, concluded: “If these people had spoken to me before, I would have asked him to stop the strike and perhaps this would have prevented his death.”

Apart from the lack of elementary human solidarity that his words show in the open – he said he could be accused of anything but that – the coincidence of Lula’s visit with the tragedy of Tamayo left him exposed to the eyes of the world – and not exactly the way that makes him so flattered.

The death of a “prisoner of conscience,” his mother’s statement that he was tortured and the outbreak of repression that followed – the arrest of dozens of Cubans to prevent them from attending the funeral of the dissident in his native village – transform an episode already sordid in an international scandal.

Lula is part of it for fraternizing with the perpetrators of a continuous crime that has lasted 51 years.

Editorial of daily O Estado de S. Paulo published on February 26, 2010.

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