Wilman Villar Mendoza: May 30, 1980 - January 19, 2012
In this fifth entry will focus on a Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who died on hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment in 2012.
Previous entries in this series where about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently. The first entry concerned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble bricklayer turned courageous human rights defender who paid the ultimate price in 2010 for speaking truth to power. The second entry focused on Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Catholic lay activist, nonviolence icon, husband, father of three and the founder of a Cuban opposition movement that shook up the Castro regime with a petition drive demanding that human rights be respected and recognized in Cuba. This action and speaking truth to power led to his extrajudicial killing in 2012. The third entry focused on one of the great crimes of the Castro regime that has been well documented by international human rights organizations and reported on ABC News Nightline that claimed the lives of 37 men, women, and children. They were trying to flee the despotism in Cuba to live in freedom and were extrajudicially executed. In the fourth focused on an act of state terrorism when two planes were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21 and 3:27 on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters killing four humanitarians. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro.
On Sunday, January 15, 2012 (on Martin Luther King Jr's birthday) a large group of the Ladies in White were brutally beaten up and detained as they marched from the Cobre to the hospital Juan Bruno Zayas calling for the release of Wilman Villar Mendoza and that his life be saved. Wilman has been on a hunger strike for over 50 days protesting his unjust imprisonment. Comparisons are being drawn between his plight and that of the late prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
Four days later he was dead. On January 19, 2012 two little girls lost their dad; a young wife her husband; and a mother her son. Wilman Villar Mendoza died after his kidneys and other organs failed. He died, the result of a prolonged hunger strike provoked by outrage over a profound injustice committed against him by the communist regime in Cuba. He was just 31 years old.
Wilman Villar Mendoza was arrested on November 14, 2011 during a violent crackdown by the political police on nonviolent Cuban democrats. Wilman and the others had engaged in a public protest in the town of Contramaestre in Santiago, Cuba on November 2, 2011.
Police told him "he would be disappeared or face imprisonment on criminal charges stemming from an earlier arrest if he did not stop his protests and leave the dissident group."
Ten days later in a closed-door, one day sham trial on November 24 , where the judge "refused to accept testimony from his wife or other defense witnesses," Wilman was sentenced to four years in prison for disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt and was sent to Aguadores prison.
Outraged at the injustice committed against him Wilman launched a hunger strike on November 25, 2011 and refused to wear the uniform of a common prisoner. There was little press coverage or official protests regarding his plight until his death appeared imminent.
Ladies in White and other opposition activists marched and demonstrated on his behalf suffering brutal beatings and detentions but the international press remained silent. When confronting a brutal totalitarian dictatorship there is a very simple equation:
silence = violence = death.International official protests and heightened press scrutiny on behalf of brutalized dissidents means less bloodshed. Silence means that Maritza Pelegrino Cabrera, Wilman's wife, is now a widow and her two young daughters ages 5 and 6 will not get to grow up with their dad.
On January 20, 2012, the Special Adviser at Amnesty International, Javier Zúñiga condemned the regime:"[t]he responsibility for Wilman Villar Mendoza’s death in custody lies squarely with the Cuban authorities, who summarily judged and jailed him for exercising his right to freedom of expression."
Five years later the human rights situation remains dire, but the untimely death of Wilman Villar Mendoza is not forgotten or the need for justice for him and his loved ones.