The death in custody on February 23, 2010, of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike serves as a tragic reminder of the ongoing repression in Cuba. Zapata Tamayo, a plumber, was one of more than 75 Cubans jailed during a crackdown on civil society leaders, human rights defenders and dissidents in March 2003. Fifty-three of them remain in jail, and scores more have been jailed since Raul Castro came to power in 2006. Political prisoners in Cuba routinely suffer multiple abuses, which can include forced ideological re-education, extended solitary confinement, and the denial of medical treatment. They have no effective mechanism to seek redress, and the government denies human rights monitors access to its prisons. Human Rights Watch documented their plight in "New Castro, Same Cuba."

“Zapata Tamayo’s case is emblematic of the severe abuse suffered by political prisoners in Cuba,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director of Human Rights Watch. “Beaten, deprived of medical treatment, and cut off from the outside world, they are left with no effective recourse for calling attention to their repressive conditions."