Cuba: Wilman Villar Died for Us All

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Wilman Villar Mendoza

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 23 — I remember when Orlando Zapata Tamayo died the Cuban government immediately unleashed a blistering reply.

It was not one of those distant, aseptic news notes that come from the tedious Granma newspaper, but a whole series of articles from their poorly paid bloggers who are always willing to shovel out onto people — living and dead — all the filth generated in their bowels.

I remember the campaign that indiscriminately branded Zapata a thief, an alcoholic, antisocial and schizophrenic.

The truth, though, was that he was nothing more than a simple man who decided to punish the excesses of a corrupt and authoritarian regime with the resignation of his life. And he did so with a level of courage that clearly dwarfed those depraved bloggers of the Cuban government.

Viewing the matter from a distance, I think they were frightened, and that made them give the matter a certain amount of consideration, because fear is the right of the dispossessed. But these poor bloggers are nothing more than carping keyboards degraded by the same power they defend.

Like Zapata, Wilman Villar was also a simple man.

There is very little information available about Villar’s case, and what does exist is very confusing (as always occurs in systems where information is a privilege and not a right).

He must have been a man of his time and place. He lived off odd jobs in a semi-urban area in the southern part of eastern Cuba – and if anyone wants to visit a bad place to live, just go to a semi-urban town in southeastern Cuba.

Wilman apparently carried with him all the machismo violence of our national culture. For legal purposes, a medical certificate was issued pertaining to his wife (dated July 2011) that indicated she showed minor injuries (I believe it was a swollen upper lip) that resulted from a blow delivered by her husband.

This deplorable act prompted Wilman’s mother-in-law to file a formal complaint, which it’s said she subsequently withdrew.

Nonetheless, the initial charges were followed-up on by the police, who Wilman resisted when they arrived at the scene, according to the arresting officers.

After that incident, he later joined a dissident group, says the government, which hypnotized him with the offer that in this way he could avoid the legal process in the making.

He participated in several public protests in the municipality of Contramaestre until he was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced in a summary trial — one reminiscent of Captain-General Tacon — and sentenced to four years in prison.

It was then that he declared a hunger strike and in a state of general weakness, contracted severe pneumonia, which ultimately resulted in a fatal case of multiple organ failures.

After his death, his wife has reiterated her willingness to support the cause of her deceased husband and has denied the stories of her own abuse. The funeral was held under strict security measures that prevented the access of other dissidents; and his wife did not attend.

According to one blogger in Contramaestre, his ceremony was an extremely peaceful. Paradoxically, it received the support of two government vehicles: a truck and a “state citrus bus.”

The Cuban government limited itself to simply posting a news note; first on the Cubadebate website and then in the Granma newspaper, where it said that Wilman was not a member of the opposition, but rather a common prisoner who died despite the painstaking care he received.

Meanwhile, the government bloggers have been extremely careful, though of course they shoveled their filth, repeating ad nauseam the note from the Cuban government, while adding added their own spins, which will likely continue to grow.

For example, they accused the wife of receiving $80 in return for a demonstration of solidarity with the dead husband who allegedly beat her (can anyone imagine a more vile invective?). What’s more, they’ve argued that this doesn’t matter because in other countries the conditions are worse, and they’ve already shown the medical certificate mentioned above.

According to one Argentinian online newspaper (one of those that claims anti-imperialist solidarity, though you can’t tell if it’s just naïve or an accomplice of those who are guilty), the certificate was mysteriously leaked to the press. It was as if at this stage there was a press in Cuba, because the leak seemed to have worked, though it remains something of a mystery.

There’s no doubt that in the days ahead the pressure on the issue will increase. The Cuban government has announced that it has lots of information, and I don’t think that its bloggers can resist this superb new opportunity to lower themselves down into the ditch of disgrace.

With the increasing commotion around the story, the information will get more confusing and the situation will become even murkier. Only with time, when the information becomes a human right, we will know what happened in the seven months leading up to the burial of this young 31-year-old, or his two girls left without a father.

But for now I do not think there’s a need.

I want to imagine the very worst of what the government is describing.

I want to think that Wilman Villar did hit his wife in an unforgivable act of machismo violence, though understandable in the highly patriarchal national culture that’s devoid of feminist or “masculinist” movements, given the rusted over bureaucracies of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and elitist frivolities of Mariela Castro.

Ultimately, we understand that the battering of women in Cuba has historically been a ludic exercise of our versatile political elite.

I would like to think that Wilman had effectively joined the opposition without a clear idea of ??what it meant, possibly in an attempt to navigate in that sea of ??uncertainty, lack of opportunities, poverty and mediocrity that exists in small rural communities in Cuba.

This would have been like what happened to many members of the M-26-July movement in the 1950s, who then passed on with an abundance of rights in the national pantheon of martyrdom.

I want to think that when he was arrested, he resisted and tried to prevent the action of the police, especially when he saw these officers as representatives of the cause of his meaningless life.

I want to think that everything is true that the Cuban government, its bloggers and the “anti-imperialist solidarity” newspapers are saying.

But it doesn’t matter, because if Wilman Villar, in this final instance of his short life, believed that he was entitled to speak his mind, to enjoy basic civil rights in the land of his birth, to be free and not to be imprisoned for any of those reasons, then Wilman was a superior being.

If, in addition, Wilman placed his life on the table to continue believing in freedom, then he is a hero.

Wilman Villar has left us another tragic example that freedom, as Manuel Azaña said, doesn’t simply free people – it makes them human.

And in this sense, even if all the mud they sling at Wilman Villar is true, his death made us all freer and also more human.

His tormentors and detractors will of course sink the deeper into that hole where they seem to enjoy the unfeelingness, the immorality and the political mediocrity of their own unchallenged power.

One of the governments spokespeople, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, stated what Cuban officials always claim: that the governments of the European Union and the United States have no moral standing to say anything about human rights.

I want to believe he’s right, but nor is that important here.

What concerns me, as a Cuban, is in that the Cuban government — definitively — lacks that moral standing too.

* A Havana Times translation of the original posted in Spanish by

6 thoughts on “Cuba: Wilman Villar Died for Us All

  • Well said Mark! I also wonder where some of the other commentators have lost their sense of humanity.

  • Cuba has neither an independent judiciary or a free press. It is unlikely that the real story about Wilman Villar’s incarceration, hunger strike and death will come to light. The official response of the Cuban government borders on the hysterical and will fail to convince anyone other than the regime’s handful of true believers.

    Kudos to Haroldo for at least trying to shed some light on these events. Haroldo’s is the most complete and credible account I’ve read thus far. It’s a further example of how the information blockade imposed by the Cuban government is breaking down.

  • Bottom line is this: Hunger strikes cannot be allowed to succeed in getting the prisoner his desired outcome…. no more than giving terrorists their demands. NO I am not comparing Villar to a terrorist. I am just making a point…. If a manipulator is rewarded for his behavior (from the point of view of those being manipulated) then the behavior will be continued and adopted by others. A prison cannot release someone for going on a hunger strike. That precedent would be disastrous….every one with a life sentence or on death row would stop eating immediately. Of course in the US they would force-feed the prisoner so as to prevent the challenge from being made by the prisoner in the first place. The Cuban government in this situation has only 2 options: take away the man’s right to decide whether to eat or not and force feed him… OR to let the person do what he wishes…starve. There is NO option of release.

    Now the person who chooses hunger strike must know this and therefore does not undertake the strike in order to get released. He undertakes the hunger strike 1. for the damage it will do to the Cuban government’s public image…which does not serve the best interests of the Cuba people because it only makes the US less likely to improve relations with the island… but perhaps he was of the team that wishes instead for violent upheaval… 2. and/or because he feels this damage will cause the Cuban government to lessen it’s repression…but the exact opposite has always been the case. 3. and/or simply because he desired attention and importance. His goal was never to be released. So the Cuban government gave him just what he wanted.

  • It’s amazing how much martyrdom one can squeeze out from a single tragic death.

  • Do you also remember the web of dissident lies that were exposed for all the world to see in Soto case last year? I don’t think their cause ever fully recovered from that little setback. The US point-main in that campaign also went on a brief “hunger strike” afterwards, but the international media, still reeling from the revelations in the Soto case, refused to dignify this staged event with so much as a comment. And I guess the characterization by the USINT chief of mainstream dissidents on island as a bunch of money-grubbing losers who couldn’t get elected dog-catchers didn’t help much either.

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