Cuban dissident Wilman Villar died during the early morning hours of January 20 at a hospital in Santiago de Cuba, following complications arising from a hunger strike the democrat began while imprisoned by dictator Fidel Castro’s communist government. He had been jailed in November 2011 and had received a 4 year sentence because of his alleged anti-revolutionary activities.
Villar was 31 years old. He began his hunger strike for over 50 days to protest his sentence. According to Elizardo Sánchez of the independent Cuban Human Rights Commission, Villar was sentenced “without the right to trial,” for having been an “active opponent” of the Castroite regime. He belonged to a group called ‘Patriotic Union of Cuba’, which was founded in mid-2011 and led by former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García.
Villar was sentenced on November 12 last year for outspoken resistance to Cuba’s government. Sánchez, who leads the human rights group, said that charges such as Villar’s are commonly given to dissidents on the island. In his case, Villar was remitted to the feared high-security lock up at Aguadures in Santiago de Cuba. Sanchez said that Villar’s imprisonment at Aguadures was “surprising” given the level of charges against him. Once Villar arrived in prison, he began his hunger strike having declared himself innocent of the charges against him. Sanchez said “The Commission considers that the Government of Cuba is absolutely responsible for this new and avoidable death of a person who was under the custody of the State. Also, the treatment given by the authorities accelerated the fatal result, because since the first day he was not given medical treatment but instead put in a punishment cell.” Villar had refused to don the clothes of a prisoner provided by the jailers. In punishment, Villar was put in solitary confinement without clothes and on short rations. Ferrer said, “The family is weeping over their dead loved one. The tyranny has committed another crime.”
Villar was taken to hospital on January 14 and had been on artificial respiration for several days. When sepsis was noted in his blood stream, doctors at the hospital gave him a grave prognosis.
Villar’s widow, Maritza Pelegrino, found her husband in a grave condition on January 19. A January 18 medical report by the Surgical-Clinical Hospital of Santiago de Cuba indicated that Villar was suffering from pneumonia as well as kidney and liver failure. He died hours later. Sanchez said that Villar contracted pneumonia because of the low temperatures and “inhuman conditions” at the Aguadures prison. “He was a 31-year-old person without any known illness, suddenly he got pneumonia.” The human rights activist added, “This case is similar to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which demonstrates the inhumane attitude of the authorities in cases such as these.”
Famed dissident Oscar Elías Biscet expressed sorrow over Villar’s death, “This is a sad and painful case. Villar was someone who was only demanding his rights. The Cuban government went overboard and has again castigated the opposition.” Berta Soler, speaking for the Ladies in White – a group of wives and mothers of imprisoned dissidents- said “Villar demanded that his rights be respected; but the Cuban government simply allowed him to died without the care he needed,” added that the Castro government “is not interested in the lives of their citizens.”
In Spain, demonstrators are expected to appear at Cuba’s embassy in Madrid. The ruling People’s Party has long been critical of the Cuban government and tensions between Cuba and Spain are expected. In light of Villar’s death, Teofilo de Luis of PP demanded an end to the “oppression” and said that the dissident had died under “absolutely intolerable” conditions. The former Socialist government of Spain, under President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, was also critical of the Castro government and allowed hundreds of dual-nationals to emigrate to Spain.