The tragic death of Cuban dissident Wilman Villar after a 50-day hunger strike should make clear that the Cuban people seek freedom and are increasingly willing to defy a repressive regime to get it.

They deserve outside moral support, which is best expressed by a repudiation of the regime that brutalizes them, not by establishing relations that would only legitimize the dictatorship of the Castro brothers.

The Obama administration has already begun to take steps in the direction of progressively establishing links with Cuba.

It has relaxed travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba, therefore replenishing the generals’ hard-currency coffers and helping to validate their unelected, illegal and repressive regime.

Mr. Villar’s death, however, makes a sad mockery of many of the arguments used by those who want U.S. ties with the island’s communist leaders.

Among these arguments: that 80-year-old Raul Castro, Fidel’s little brother and successor, is liberalizing his island fiefdom.

We also hear that the docile Cubans don’t care that they lack political freedom anyway and that American companies should go into Cuba headfirst and transact with the tormentors of 11 million Cubans.

The more than 4,000 political detentions and arrest in Cuba in 2011, and Mr. Villar’s death, are powerful reminders that none of these premises are true.

Outside the administration, no man has taken up the cudgel of the defense of normalization more than one senior official who, ironically, served in the Bush administration -- Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

As it happens, I debated Col. Wilkerson last Wednesday, precisely 24 hours prior to Mr. Villar’s murder, in front of a very friendly crowd (very friendly to him) at the World Affairs Council. His comment at one point that “the Cubans couldn’t give a rat’s ass about who governs them,” pretty much describes the patronizing mindset.

Well, tell that to Mr. Villar, or his widow, or the dissidents the Cuban authorities are roughing up today to prevent them from gathering to denounce Mr. Villar’s death.

In fact, Col. Wilkerson’s comments were fairly typical of the pro-normalization crowd and are worth delving into. For example, he expressed the opinion that it was okay to forge joint ventures with the military. Yes, the same military that suppresses the rights of Cubans and controls 80 percent of the Cuban economy.

That these generals pocket over 90 percent of the compensation foreign corporations pay Cuban workers also didn’t seem to dissuade him. This is “what happens all over the world,” he snorted.

More troubling was the obvious contempt Col. Wilkerson expressed for the democratic institutions of a country he once served, such as the FBI and our judicial system.

Even more disturbing were his references to a fellow American languishing in a Cuban prison, Alan Gross, for the “crime” of distributing computers to fellow Jews in Cuba. Mr. Gross, Col. Wilkerson said at one point, could very well be a U.S. spy.

What’s most amazing about this is that not even Cuba’s communists say this. They have put Mr. Gross in prison precisely for distributing computers in Cuba.

Cuba has one third the Internet penetration of Haiti, perhaps the world’s poorest country, because the Castros want it that way.

Col. Wilkerson knew that there were two representatives of the Cuban government in the audience -- two goons who work that Interest Section here -- and that justifying the imprisonment of a fellow American in front of them is injurious to the effort to free him.

Col. Wilkerson, against all evidence, spoke as though he thought that people who want world-wide condemnation of Cuba’s regime didn’t have principle on their side, but were only afraid of losing the Cuban-American vote.

My ears perked up when he said that Karl Rove had prevented Sec. Powell from rapprochement with Cuba (did Sec. Powell really want that?). He said, “Karl Rove told us that we needed to win Florida’s 27 electoral votes.”

I served in the Bush administration and that didn’t sound right to me, so I e-mailed Karl Rove. His reply was swift:

“Total fabrication. A lie. Never had any such meeting or conversation.

In my experience, Col. Wilkerson found questions of principle hard to grapple with if the opinion of Secretary Powell differed from the convictions of President Bush.

President Bush had deep and well-informed opinions about Cuba and a clear-eyed understanding of how best to hasten the day of freedom for the Cuban people.”

That day will indeed be hastened if we all keep this mindset, and we will have fewer sacrifices like Mr. Villar’s. May he rest in peace.

Mike Gonzalez is Vice President for Communications at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @gundisalvus.