Cuban citizen Wilman Villar Mendoza, age 31, belonged to small dissident group, the Cuban Patriotic Union. He reportedly joined it in the summer of 2011 in eastern Cuba.
On November 12, Villar participated in one of the numerous protest actions that spring up here and there around the island. Villar was arrested by Cuban authorities on charges of “disrespecting authority” and “resisting arrest.” Within days he was tried and sentenced to four years in prison. The regime treated him as a common criminal, its customary way of dismissing dissent.
Villar began a hunger strike to denounce inhumane treatment in which he was, according to the Coalition of Cuban Women, isolated in a humid punishment cell, confined naked, deprived of water and medical assistance, and transferred to a medical facility only when he was in a critical state of health.
As his heath deteriorated and complications set in, he removed to a hospital in Santiago, where he died on January 19 at the end of a 56-day hunger strike.
Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights clearly stated: “We hold the Cuban government categorically responsible because he died under their care. We consider this another avoidable death.”
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted the news of Villar’s death and asked, “How many more have to die? How many more?”
A pro-Castro blogger callously responded: Villar’s death meant more scraps for “scavengers,” a swipe at those prejudiced and ignorant enough to question Castro justice.
The year 2011 saw the deaths of valiant hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the founder of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollan, as well as the continued and unjust imprisonment of U.S. citizen Alan Gross.
With Villar’s death, 2012 begins with another defiant act of ultimate protest aimed at keeping the attention of the world focused not on economic tinkering going on in Cuba or with the saga of Fidel Castro’s battle with human mortality but where it should be: on the struggle for freedom and dignity for humble Cubans like Villar.
Nearly four years ago in Miami, then-candidate Barack Obama stated: “My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad. And the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly; and it must lead to elections that are free and fair.”
At the time, before entering the White House, candidate Obama talked the talk. But since then, he hasn’t walked the walk.