Ten years ago today the Castro dictatorship in Cuba launched an island-wide operation to violently crackdown on Cuban opposition leaders and independent journalist. In total, 75 innocent Cubans were arrested and given long prison sentences — as much as 25 years — simply for exercising free speech. The day, March 18, 2003, came to be known as the Black Spring of 2003 and it sparked an international backlash against the Castro dictatorship that they did not expect.
In spite of the severe criticism, many of these brave human rights activists remained imprisoned by the Castro dictatorship until 2011. That is when Cuba’s Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, intervened and worked out a sinister plan with dictator Raul Castro to finally deal with the regime’s public relations disaster. The plan was to release all the remaining prisoners incarcerated during the Black Spring and forcibly send them into permanent exile in another country. After years of beatings and tortures in a Castro gulag, many of the prisoners of conscience understandably accepted the terms of their release. A handful, however, like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Guido Sigler Amaya, and Angel Moya, refused to trade their unjust imprisonment for unjust forced exile. Naturally, these political prisoners were the last to be released, and to this day, they remain on “parole,” not allowed to leave the country unless it is permanently and their every move carefully watched.
Other prisoners of conscience were not so lucky. Orlando Zapata Tamayo never lived long enough to be offered expulsion from his own country in exchange for liberty. In 2010, the Castro dictatorship murdered Zapata Tamayo in prison. His body severely weakened by a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment, the Cuban regime denied Zapata Tamayo water while subjecting him to vicious beatings. It was only when his organs began to fail that the Cuban authorities transferred him to a prison hospital. By then, however, it was too late.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was martyred on February 23, 2010.
Ten years after Cuba’s Black Spring, not much has changed in Cuba. The Castro dictatorship remains as brutal and repressive as it was ten years ago. The prisons on the island remain filled with political prisoners who are tortured and beaten on an almost daily basis. Yearly, human rights activists are arrested by the thousands and dozens of female opposition members are sexually violated. And sadly, the Castro dictatorship continues to murder its opponents.
The tenth anniversary of the Black Spring is a reminder that Cuba remains smothered under the same darkness.
More coverage of the 10th Anniversary of Cuba’s Black Spring:
Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter: The Cuban Black Spring: A Personal Reflection
Uncommon Sense: 10 years later, Cuba remains under the Castro ‘black spring’
Punt de Vista: 10 aniversario de la Primavera Negra de #Cuba
Yoani Sanchez in The Miami Herald: Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez recalls Black Spring detentions