Sat, Jan 21, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Cuban dissident dies in hunger strike

POLITICAL PRISONER:Rights activists say Wilmar Villar Mendoza died partly as a result of prison conditions, and that the government was therefore responsible

Reuters, HAVANA

A 31-year-old jailed dissident, Wilmar Villar Mendoza, died on Thursday in eastern Cuba from the effects of a 56-day hunger strike and what fellow opposition activists believe was mistreatment by the Cuban government, a human rights activist said.

Villar launched his hunger strike shortly after he was arrested in November, put on trial and sentenced to four years in prison for crimes including disobedience, resistance and crimes against the state, Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights said.

He said Villar joined an opposition group in Santiago de Cuba Province called the Cuban Patriotic Union last summer and had been an active dissident since then.

He was placed in solitary confinement under difficult conditions that, combined with his hunger strike, caused serious health problems that led to his death, Sanchez said.

He was taken to a hospital in Santiago de Cuba City last Saturday as his condition deteriorated, and died there.

“We hold the Cuban government categorically responsible because he died under their care. We consider this another avoidable death,” he said.

Cuba drew international condemnation when another imprisoned dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died in February 2010 after an 85-day hunger strike.

Cuban President Raul Castro said Zapata was just a common criminal, but his death is believed to have contributed to Castro’s decision in the summer of 2010 to release 130 political prisoners in a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church.

Zapata was classified a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, but Villar’s case has drawn little attention.

The Cuban government has not yet said anything about Villar’s death.

However, pro-government blogger Yohandry announced it in his blog, saying: “The delinquent Wilmar Villar Mendoza died.”

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