Cuban Dissident on Hunger Strike Dies in Custody
January 31, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg | Printer Friendly
On January 19, Cuban dissident Wilmar Villar Mendoz died in custody, CNN reported. The Cuban government has denied any connection between Villar’s involvement in opposition politics and his jail sentence, claiming his arrest and conviction are tied to charges of domestic violence. However, while the Cuban government stated that Villar was a “common criminal,” human rights groups and the United States government have acknowledged Villar as a political prisoner.
In November 2011, Villar was sentenced to four years in prison following his participation in an opposition demonstration. Human Rights Watch reported that Villar was not allowed an attorney at his trial, nor could he speak in his own defense, adding that “arbitrary arrests, sham trials, inhumane imprisonment, and harassment of dissidents’ families… are the tactics used to silence critics” in the country. AFP reported that since his conviction, Villar participated in a 50-day hunger strike. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the death as part of a crackdown on dissent in the country. In a statement, the White House called Villar “a young and courageous defender of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and added that “Villar’s senseless death highlights the ongoing repression of the Cuban people and the plight faced by brave individuals standing up for the universal rights of all Cubans.”
The Cuban government denies holding political prisoners, BBC reported. The state-run Cubadebate news service reported that Villar was convicted for domestic abuse. Cubadebate explained the death as the result of multiple organ failure and septic shock from complications from pneumonia, and called conflicting reports from outside news sources part of an “international defamatory campaign” working “in collusion with domestic counterrevolutionary elements.”
Elizardo Sanchez, a dissident leader in Cuba, called Villar’s death “avoidable” and said that the communist government “bears complete moral, political and legal responsibility for the death of Wilmar.” According to AFP, authorities have arrested more than 30 political dissidents in anticipation of Villar’s funeral.
Yaoni Sanchez, a Cuban blogger, expected the state media to combat the impact of Villar’s death on the Cuban people: “The official propaganda will attempt to downplay the importance of his hunger strike and shower his name with all sorts of derogatory adjectives. All this, because the Cuban government can’t permit even a glimmer of doubt in the minds of ordinary TV viewers. It would be very dangerous if people started to believe that a regime opponent would sacrifice his life for a cause, to be a good patriot and even a decent man.”
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 recognized Cuba as the only country in Latin America that “represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”
For more news on Cuba, please see:
Cuba's Laura Pollan, Human Rights Activist, Dies at 63
AFP – Cuba Dissident Buried as Havana Cries Foul
BBC – Cuba Says Dead Prisoner Wilman Villar “No Dissident”
CNN – Cuba Lashes Out at the US Over Criticism of Prisoner’s Death
Democracy Digest – Dissident’s Death “Part of Larger Wave of Repression” in Cuba
Human Rights Watch - World Report 2012The White House – Statement by the Press Secretary on the Death of Cuban Activist Wilmar Villar