The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights today condemned the death of dissident Wilmar Villar Mendoz (left) and expressed solidarity with his next of kin, as Cuban rights groups called on the regime to halt the persecution of Villar Mendoza’s family.
Autocratic regimes are increasingly using criminal charges to deny political status to dissidents and rights activists in an attempt to deflect international criticism.
With Villar Mendoza’s death, “once again the old system of State insult repeats itself,” writes Yoani Sanchez, a prominent Cuban blogger:
A note in the newspaper Granma described him as a common criminal, and perhaps soon there will be a TV program — Stalinist style — introducing the alleged victims of his abuses. The objective is to minimize the political impact of the death of this 31-year-old citizen…. The official propaganda will attempt to downplay the importance of his hunger strike and shower his name with all sorts of derogatory adjectives. All this, because the Cuban government can’t permit even a glimmer of doubt in the minds of ordinary TV viewers. It would be very dangerous if people started to believe that a regime opponent would sacrifice his life for a cause, to be a good patriot and even a decent man.
“Villar Mendoza’s case shows how the Cuban government punishes dissent,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Arbitrary arrests, sham trials, inhumane imprisonment, and harassment of dissidents’ families – these are the tactics used to silence critics.”
In 2011 Raúl Castro’s government continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel restrictions.
The government increasingly relied on arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move about freely. Cuba’s government also pressured dissidents to choose between exile and continued repression or even imprisonment, leading scores to leave the country with their families during 2011.
Cuban rights groups also called on international media to stop the uncritically regurgitating regime propaganda:
It is a sad state of affairs that much of the international media in Cuba have not caught on to these practices and regurgitate the Castro regime’s position without underlining the skepticism it merits. Instead some hedge their language rather than get at the facts of the matter.
For weeks Cuban exiles had been calling on governments and human rights organizations for help. We do not know if Cardinal Ortega Alamino, who has access to General Raúl Castro, interceded privately with him on behalf of Wilmar who is the father of two children; or if the Cuban Cardinal, who participated in the arrangement where Cuba released political prisoners and forced many of them and their families, including children, into banishment in Spain, alerted the Holy See about the impending death……
Another Cuban, a gay man, was beaten to death by Cuban police earlier in the week. A few days ago, many of the Ladies in White, the group of mothers, wives and daughters of political prisoners who attend mass dressed in white were detained by police in Havana and other provinces when they tried to travel to a meeting of the group. The leader of the group, Laura Pollan, who had been beaten and harassed repeatedly by the police, died under unclear circumstances in a Cuban hospital last year.