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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Armando Valladares

Interviewed February 4, 2010

Technology is very important. For instance, before Orlando Zapata died on a hunger strike, while I was in prison, 10 of my fellow inmates died in hunger strikes. I have the sad privilege of having two cellmates who died in hunger strikes. Pedro Luis Boitel, a student leader, from whom Castro himself ordered water should be taken away until he died. The other one was Roberto López Chávez, who was almost a child when he got to prison, was my cellmate as I said, and he went on a hunger strike. He was taken to the punishment cells, they took water away from him, and when he was agonizing, asking for water, the guards came in and said: “Do you want water?” And they urinated on his face. He died the next day.

At that time, it took us weeks to get that news from Isla de Pinos, which is South of Cuba, to Cuba. And after weeks, when the news was released to the world, nobody listened. There was not even a single line in a newspaper. There were no statements from anyone. It was as if it had never happened. I am mentioning these two cases because they were my cellmates. I mean, while I was in prison, 10 people died on hunger strikes. One of them lasted 73 days. Olegario Charlot Spileta. It was never published in a newspaper. Nobody ever knew about it, except for us and his family.

However, when Orlando Zapata Tamayo died, thanks to the Internet, 20 minutes after it had happened, the entire world knew about this brutal murder and this cowardice by the Cuban regime towards this poor bricklayer, who could have been saved. It was an unnecessary and avoidable death. That is why bloggers on the island, the new technology, camera phones, the possibility of getting information out of Cuba immediately, all these things have completely changed the situation.

If we had had those means, I am sure I would not have spent 22 years in prison and neither would my fellow inmates. And many of them would not have died. That is why it is so important. And the groups I continue to work with in Cuba and I try to send a computer, a camera, a phone, anything, whenever we can, because that technology is helping us tremendously. This has been proven by the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which had more impact than anything else we had done over 50 years. That is, all our work denouncing violations of human rights in Cuba, conferences all over the world, all this was nothing compared to the reaction that Orlando Zapata´s death caused.

When people listen to news that says: “There is a human being that for 86 days was only asking to stop being beaten and abused, and every time they tried to persuade him to abandon the strike he was beaten, they took water away from him for two weeks, they tortured him and he ended up dead.” People wonder, how is that possible? That is why technology is very important, and it helps us tremendously to be able to tell what is going on in Cuba. By making the entire world aware in a few hours of the abominable act which was the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, it achieved what we hadn´t been able to in over 50 years of denunciation against Castro.