HAVANA – The widow of Cuban prisoner Wilman Villar, who dissidents say was a government opponent who died after a lengthy hunger strike to protest his sentence, slammed an official statement denying that her husband had been fasting and calling him an ordinary inmate.
Maritza Pelegrino, Villar’s widow and the mother of their two daughters, said on Saturday that the official version provided by President Raul Castro’s government is “the political police’s story” aimed at “staining (her husband’s) image after his death.”
Cuba’s Communist government on Friday released a statement on the official Web site Cubadebate that described Villar as a “common inmate” and said there was “abundant proof and testimony that show that he was not a ‘dissident’ nor was he on hunger strike.”
Cuban authorities said Villar, who died Thursday at a hospital in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, was jailed on Nov. 25 after a domestic violence incident in which he was accused of injuring his wife in the face.
Villar’s mother-in-law called the authorities and when police arrived at the scene he violently resisted their attempts to arrest him, the statement said.
After Villar was booked and released, he “began aligning himself with counter-revolutionary elements in Santiago de Cuba who convinced him his apparent membership in mercenary groups would allow him to avoid justice,” Cubadebate said.
“I deny all of that ... it’s false,” Pelegrino said from Contramaestre, the town in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba where Villar was buried Friday.
When the government says he was booked and released, they are referring to an incident in which police arrested and beat Villar while he was in an inebriated state and released him on bail a few days later, she said.
“At no time did he hit me,” Pelegrino said. She accused the government of not treating her husband in time and said she believes they “let him die.”
Pelegrino said her last visit to her husband in prison was Dec. 29, when he looked dehydrated and “very skinny,” adding that she is the best proof that he was in fact on a hunger strike because she followed the whole process.
The government, for its part, said in its statement that Villar was rushed to the hospital with symptoms of pneumonia and later died at a leading medical center in eastern Cuba of multiple organ failure after suffering septic shock due to a severe respiratory infection.
The government said “foreign press agencies, particularly in Miami” are behind an “intense international smear campaign, in conspiracy with internal counter-revolutionary elements, to present Villar as an alleged ‘dissident’ who died after staging a hunger strike in prison.”
On Friday, prominent Cuban dissidents blamed the Cuban government for the “avoidable death” of the 31-year-old Villar.
They added that he had been on a 50-day-hunger strike to protest the four-year prison sentence he received after being arrested in Contramaestre in November along with other members of the Cuban Patriotic Union dissident group.
In Miami, several Cuban exile organizations termed Villar’s death a homicide, while Spain’s conservative government said it was “dismayed” over his death and urged Cuban authorities to free all political prisoners on the island.
Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland lamented the death of Villar and said he was a young and courageous defender of human rights in Cuba.