Commentary: Zapata's death shows world must stop coddling Cuba's dictatorship

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was a simple man. A plumber and bricklayer, he was arrested by the Cuban regime in 2003 — part of a sweep of 75 human rights activists, independent journalists and librarians pushing Cuba to follow the international declaration of human rights.

Mr. Zapata, a member of the Alternative Republican Movement, died Tuesday after 83 days of a hunger strike to protest prison conditions. His mother said he was beaten repeatedly. Prison officials didn't send him to a hospital until Feb. 17, too late to save the emaciated 42-year-old prisoner of conscience.

In what may be a new low in cynicism, even for him, Raúl Castro issued an unprecedented -- and totally phony -- statement of regret over Mr. Zapata's death, blaming it on the United States for reasons that no sane person could possibly fathom. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. government was "deeply distressed" at his death.

Sentenced initially in March 2003 to three years in prison for contempt, public disorder and disobedience for protesting Cuba's incarceration of political prisoners, Mr. Zapata's sentence was extended later to 36 years for his protests in prison.

His case is not that rare. During the dictatorship's 51 years in power, other political prisoners have been sent home ill from beatings to die shortly afterward.

Will the world take notice of Cuban authorities' appalling disregard for human life this time? Will sanctions be imposed? Will the regime be put on notice?

We won't hold our breath.

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