The death of dissident Wilman Villar following a hunger strike in the custody of the Cuban authorities is a scathing condemnation of the island’s repressive regime.
The Cuban government has recently taken a series of measures to gradually open up the private sector’s role in the economy, but that same openness is notably absent in the political sphere.
The pardon of 2,900 Cuban prisoners in December and the negotiations with the Church that led to the release of inmates were significant gestures by Raúl Castro’s government. Yet the opposition group Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) has also noted an upsurge in politically-motivated harassment. The Commission said that in December, there were 796 temporary arrests of dissidents.
Villar was detained and sentenced to four years last November for contempt and resisting arrest. Fifty days ago he began a hunger strike that led to his death yesterday.
Cuba has downplayed the importance of this event, calling Villar a common criminal, despite the fact that Amnesty International recognized him yesterday as a prisoner of conscience. The same recognition was bestowed on dissident Orlando Zapata who also died in a hunger strike in February 2010.
Alongside the names of Villar and Zapata belongs that of Wilfredo Soto, who was arrested in an antigovernment protest in May 2011 and was beaten to death while in custody.
Cuba wants to follow the Chinese model of economic openness behind closed political doors. That is unacceptable and Cuba, for many reasons, has no business following in China’s footsteps.
Villar’s death once again focuses attention on a regime that steadfastly refuses to abandon its dictatorship, where critics are detained, harassed, and unjustly imprisoned. But for both Villar and Zapata, even all that was not enough to keep them from one final act of protest.