Imprisoned Cuban Dissident Dies During Hunger Strike

A prominent leader in the opposition movement to the Cuban government announced that an imprisoned dissident who went on a hunger strike to protest his four-year sentence has died.

Dissident Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that 31-year-old Wilman Villar Mendoza died Thursday night of pneumonia in the eastern city of Santiago.

Sanchez has been in contact with Villar's family and says the prisoner had been hospitalized for a couple of weeks after pursuing his hunger strike for 50 days.

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Villar was arrested Nov. 12, convicted of disrespecting authority and resisting arrest, and sentenced to four years. He protested his sentence by stopping eating.

"The family is mourning the dead. Tyranny has just committed another crime," said Daniel Ferrer García of the Cuban Patriotic Union, according to El Nuevo Herald.

The Miami-based newspaper also reported that Villar had been on life support for a number of days and his condition had recently worsened due to an outbreak of sepsis caused by an infection in the bloodstream.

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On Thursday, his wife Maritza Pellegrino said to El Nuevo Herald that agents of Cuba's state security initially did not allow her to see the body of her husband.

Villar's death has drawn criticism from Castro opponents both on and off the island.

"How many more tragic deaths should occur until the international community wakes up from its comfortable sleep and requires the dictatorship of Castro and the Cuban people to help usher in a new era of freedom, democracy and human rights for country," said Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

Berta Soler, a spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, mothers and wives of political prisoners, said that all of Cuba was morning his death. "We lost a young man of 31-years because the Cuban government is not interested in the lives of its citizens or those men who protest the inhumane conditions," she said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press and El Nuevo Herald. 

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