OZT, the Three Letters that Became a Nightmare for the Cuban Regime

A book of condolences for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, at the headquarters of the Ladies in White on Neptuno Street, in Havana, in February 2010. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 23 February 2022 — In times when everything goes very fast and every minute a new topic of debate or conflict arises on the social networks, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that twelve years ago three letters created the first viral hashtag on Twitter that came out of Cuba. Then, the initials of the name of Orlando Zapata Tamayo won the pulse of official censorship, repression and the computer police.

That 23rd of February 2010, when the opponent died, after a long hunger strike in prison, the use of digital platforms was in its infancy on this island. The few of us who used the Bluebird’s platform did so blindly, sending phrases through text-only messages (SMS). We could not see if they were finally published, read the answers given by other Internet users or know the final scope of those characters.

Despite all the obstacles, in a few days we managed to get the outrage over the dissident’s death into the world’s news, parliamentary and civic agendas. Politicians, deputies, artists and priests demanded an official response to the injustice of a man languishing for more than 80 days in a prison, without tasting food, under the cruel gaze of his guards.

The hashtag #OZT became a nightmare for a Cuban regime that deployed its militants on the networks to try to silence that cry. Right after that moment, the Plaza of the Revolution undertook the massive creation of online soldiers, popularly known as clarias (catfish). But for at least a few hours, those most dispossessed of resources and technology won the game of dissemination.

Now, despite the high prices charged by the State telecommunications company Etecsa, and the common connection failures, more than seven million* Cubans have a mobile phone line and more than five million connect to the web through their cell phones. In the virtual square, Cuban civil society has one of the few places to meet and express itself, although in recent years criminal punishments and fines for issuing dissenting opinions have multiplied.

There has also been a proliferation of clashes, bickering, sterile fights between people who seek the same thing: a free and democratic country. That confluence of 12 years ago, around just three letters and a deceased body, seems like a thing of the past. And yet, part of these possibilities that we have today arose on a Tuesday when we learned that a man had stopped breathing. The San Isidro Movement, 27N [27 November] and the social explosion of 11J [11 July] were also born from a Cuban who refused to eat anything until he died.

*Translator’s note: Cuba’s on-Island population is 11.3+ million.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.