Sunday, January 22, 2012
MIAMI HERALD: WORLD REACTS TO THE DEATH OF WILMAN VILLAR MENDOZA
The death of political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza, who was on a hunger strike for more than 50 days, prompted a quick and extensive wave of national repudiation against Raúl Castro’s regime, as it gets ready to welcome the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in March.
Villar, 31, was buried in a private ceremony under a huge operation of security forces at a modest cemetery in his native Contramaestre. Throughout the country, law-enforcement officers were mobilized to prevent government opponents from paying him a final tribute.
This is the second political prisoner on a hunger strike to die in less than two years while in custody.
A few hours after Villar’s death, President Barack Obama expressed his condolences to the family and said his administration will not cease to support freedom for the Cuban people.
“Villar’s senseless death underscores the permanent repression of the Cuban people and the misfortune faced by courageous individuals who defend universal rights for all Cubans,” read a White House communication.
On a hunger strike since Nov. 25, Villar died about 6:45 p.m. Thursday after painful agony at Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital in Santiago de Cuba. He had contracted pneumonia after being confined to a punishment cell under freezing temperature.
In Madrid, vice president and spokesperson of the Spanish government, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, expressed the nation’s consternation over Villar’s death and called upon Cuban authorities to release all political prisoners.
“The defense of human rights and freedoms will be a constant in Spanish foreign policy, especially in the case of Cuba,” she said.
Because of its traditional links to Cuba, Spain plays a key role in the European Union’s position toward the Cuban regime.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Common Security, deplored Villar’s death and urged Cuba to continue working to make progress on respect of human rights and freedom of expression.
“It’s the second death in similar conditions in a very short time and it poses doubts concerning Cuban’s judicial system and penitentiary,” Ashton said.
Villar was a member of the illegal Cuban Patriotic Union. He was arrested Nov. 14 during the police raid against dissidents in Contramaestre. Ten days later, he was sentenced to four years for assault, disobedience and resistance during a closed-door trial that lacked adequate guarantees. He was immediately sent to the dreaded Aguadores prison, near Santiago de Cuba. The following day, he began his hunger strike and refused to wear the uniform of common criminal prisoners, alleging that his trial had been abusive.
“Soon, Cuba’s real criminals will have to account for these crimes,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz Balart, R-Miami. “Until then, President Obama must cease rewarding the regime’s human rights abuses with unilateral concessions in the form of eased sanctions that channel hard currency to Castro’s thugs. It is shameful that this administration has chosen to assist the Cuban people’s oppressors in the face of such relentless, unabashed brutality.”
Another Republican Miami Congressman, Rep. David Rivera, said: [Villar’s] pacifist opposition to a murderous dictatorship ultimately cost him his life, and he shall be remembered as a hero in the fight for a free and democratic Cuba. Mr. Villar’s blood is on their hands.”