Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Second or Twelfth? [Updated]

A recent news release from the Cuba Archive, an online database that "records" human rights violation cases in Cuba, states that they have "documented eleven other cases of death by hunger strike in protest of prison conditions under the Castro regime."

The statement is at odds with several other news reports indicating that the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was only the second death of a political prisoner in Cuba due to a hunger strike. The first recognized as the death of Pedro Luis Boitel, dissident who died in Castillo del Principe prison in 1972. Even Elizardo Sanchez, dissident inside Cuba who keeps records of all political prisoners, says that Zapata Tamayo is only the second death of this type.

So I reviewed some of the files from the Cuba Archive. And I found poor or conflicting data.

- Miguel Lopez Santos' cause of death is recorded as "hunger strike" in the Cuba Archive database. The date of death is recorded as April 2001. The only source comes from a June 2001 article by the Center for a Free Cuba. Miguel Lopez Santos is also the name of a Cuban dissident that went on a hunger strike in April 2001 [source: U.S. 2001 report], but he didn't die. He was soon released from prison, but arrested again in May 2001 for "social dangerousness" [source: Directorio Democratico Cubano, PDF]. The name Miguel Lopez Santos continues to appear in recent reports as an active dissident inside Cuba.

- Nicolas Gonzalez Regueiro's cause of death is also recorded as "hunger strike" by the Cuba Archive database. The date of death was September 16, 1992. There are more sources in this case, but they conflict. One important conflict of data comes from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which reported that Gonzalez Regueiro "died by hanging on September 16, 1992" [source: IACHR, 1992-93 report].

- And, the case of Santiago de Jesus Roche Valle, recorded as death due to "hunger strike" in 1985, also contains several conflicting sources in the Cuba Archive database.

The Cuba Archive should have warned everyone in their news release about the credibility of their "records." Only until you get to read the "Terms of Use" on their website does one begin to understand how reliable the Cuba Archive really is:

"Cuba Archive provides access to the information as a service to the users and does not take responsibility for such content. It cannot guarantee that any or all details contained in any case record or any of its other reports are true, accurate, or reliable... It is expected that users use caution and common sense and exercise proper judgment when using the material reported by Cuba Archive. Users acknowledge that any reliance on material posted via this website will be at their own risk."

Readers should always be cautious with reports about Cuban dissidents and prisoners. Confirmation of these sources neutralizes attempts to exaggerate and play politics with the victim.

[Update: Ninoska Perez-Castellon, radio host on Radio Mambi, today corrected the Cuba Archive list and said that Miguel Lopez Santos is still alive. The Cuba Archive has now erased that case file. Somebody is reading Mambi Watch.]

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