Jailed Cuban dissident Wilman Villar reportedly near death

A Cuban political prisoner is in a coma and near death from pneumonia he picked up when he refused to wear a prison uniform and went on a hunger strike, his wife said Monday.

“The doctors told me his death is imminent, that the only thing that can save him is a miracle,” said Maritza Pelegrino, the wife of Wilman Villar, a 30-year-old dissident who was serving a four-year sentence.

He “is in a coma and dying with pneumonia, and breathing only with a machine,” she told El Nuevo Herald by phone from the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

His case has drawn strong expressions of support from other dissidents and comparisons with Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died Feb. 23, 2009, after a hunger strike of more than 80 days.

“If this brother dies, the dictatorship will be responsible, just as it was responsible for the death of Zapata Tamayo,” said Jose Daniel Ferrer García, a leader of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union.

Pelegrino and Ferrer said Villar joined the Union in October and was arrested Nov. 14 during a violent police crackdown on a group of dissidents in his hometown of Contramaestre in Santiago province.

In a closed-door, one-day trial Nov. 24, he was sentenced to four years in prison for disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt and was sent to Aguadores prison near the city of Santiago, his wife said.

Villar launched a hunger strike the next day and refused to wear the prison uniform because he believed he had been railroaded, said Pelegrino, herself a member of the dissident Ladies in White group.

“He has always been healthy, but he stood his ground,” Pelegrino said.

Government officials told her Villar refused treatment during the hunger strike, such as intravenous feedings, she added.

Authorities offered to free Villar if she broke with the Ladies in White, even though he already was in bad health at that point, Pelegrino added. And when she refused, they threatened to take away their two young daughters, she said.

He was transferred to the Zayas Hospital in Santiago only when his health was critical on Jan. 14, added Pelegrino.

“If something happens to him, the only guilty ones are the state security police,” she said.

Pelegrino’s description of her husband’s case showed some parallels with the case of Zapata Tamayo, whose mother alleged that he started a hunger strike to protest a prison beating, was denied water for 18 days and then was rushed to a hospital when it was too late to save his life.

Ferrer, meanwhile, reported that 16 dissidents remained in police custody as of Monday following crackdowns on attempts by the Ladies in White and others to stage a demonstration at the Zayas hospital.

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