Miami – Relatives of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo arrived here carrying the late dissident's ashes in a box draped with Cuba's flag and vowed to continue from exile his battle against the Communist government in Havana.
Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, and a dozen other family members were greeted at Miami International Airport by representatives of the city's large and influential Cuban exile community.
"This mother, this family, will continue their struggle for (brothers Fidel and Raul) Castro to leave power," Tamayo told reporters.
"Long live free Cuba" and "Zapata lives," she shouted, as exiles held up a large banner emblazoned with her son's name along with photographs of the late dissident, who died behind bars after a hunger strike.
"The Zapata family thanks the people of the United States, their government and all the people who have struggled so we can find ourselves in a free country and so the ashes of my son rest in peace," the 62-year-old Tamayo said.
Seen as a martyr by many in the Cuban diaspora, Zapata was cremated this week in Havana after the body was exhumed from the cemetery in his family's hometown of Banes, in eastern Cuba.
Orlando Zapata. one of the "Group of 75" dissidents jailed in March 2003 amid Cuba's harshest political crackdown in decades, died in February 2010 after a lengthy fast aimed at forcing authorities to acknowledge his designation by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.
President Raul Castro's unprecedented public expression of regret over Zapata's death did not stop an international outcry against the Cuban government.
In what could be seen as a response to the criticism, Castro launched in May 2010 a dialogue with the Cuban Catholic hierarchy that led to the release of more than 100 political prisoners, including all of the remaining Group of 75 members.
With the Catholic Church acting as intermediary, the Cuban government reached out last October to Zapata's family, offering them permission to emigrate.
A few months later, the U.S. government issued refugee visas for Zapata's mother and 12 other family members, but Reina Tamayo said she would not leave Cuba without her son's ashes.
Tamayo's arrival in Miami was hailed by exile activists as a symbol of their more-than-50-year-long battle against the Castro brothers.
Orlando Cordoves, president of a Miami-based group of former Banes residents, said his organization plans to erect a monument to Zapata.
"We are urging the Cuban exile organizations to help us raise funds to build a statue of Zapata Tamayo," Cordoves told Efe.
The Banes group will offer a tribute to Zapata on Saturday at a theater in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.