Starting on Thursday January 19th, when Wilman Villar Mendoza‘s murder by the Castro dictatorship was announced, there have been several brutal waves of repression on the island, even against Wilman’s own widow, friends, and brothers of the resistance.
Cuban freedom fighters, in and out of Cuba, have described the pain heard in the voice of Maritza Pelegrino, wife of Wilman, minutes after announcing the unjust death of the political prisoner, as they communicate via telephone with her. The widow could not formulate words to speak over the phone. Only tears and prayers to God could be heard.
The young widow, mother of two little girls who must now grow up without their father, chose to stand firm against the manipulations of the Cuban regime. She remained outside the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital where her husband lost his life. Pelegrino has endured multiple beatings, arrests and threats outside of the hospital during the last days only for trying to see her husband. Each time, however, she was accompanied by dissidents.
The pain was equally shared by Jorge Cervantes, rother-in-struggle of Wilman, who had also led a hunger strike during the beginning of 2011 where he almost lost his life. Cervantes, resident of Contramaestre like Wilman, announced a vigil at his home the moment the news came out of Wilman’s death. Soon after he announced the vigil, uniformed political police officials, as well as members of the Rapid Response Brigade, quickly surrounded his house watching his every move and constantly threatening him. Between pain and hope, Cervantes denounced the threats, Wilman’s death and declared that “now is when Wilman lives…his example is a flag which will guide us”.
In Palmarito de Cauto, José Daniel Ferrer García, ex-political prisoner of conscience and national coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)- a pro-freedom organization which Wilman Villar was a member of- immediately declared that the dissident’s death was “another murder by the Castro regime”. Soon after, Ferrer’s phone line was tapped and blocked- something that happened to many other dissidents, product of the oppressive Cuban dictatorship in attempts to prevent him, and many others, from communicating with the foreign media as well as with dissidents inside of the island.
Dozens of dissidents were arrested, among them Ladies in White Aime Garcés Leyva and Yelena Garcés Nápoles, who were both violently beat when they tried to show solidarity with Maritza Pelegrino outside of the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital. At the same time, in Palma Soriano, according to José Batista Falcón, a group of dissidents carried out a protest march around 9 pm. All of the men who participated in the march were arrested, and in the case of activist Rafael Cabrera Montoya, he was savagely beaten. In response to the violence, 23 members of UNPACU and of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front peacefully protested in front of the PNR unit of Palma Soriano.
The dictatorship continued its repression throughout Thursday night and all of Friday. In the city of Holguin, Lady in White Caridad Caballero Batista denounced massive political police operations since Friday. “All of the roads that lead to Contramaestre have been militarized. The political police is checking all the cars that drive by, and at the same time the homes of various dissidents have been surrounded- in Banes, Holguin, Antilla, Cacocum, among other areas”, explained Caballero, emphasizing that in Banes the activists Rafael Meneses Pupo, Ariel Cruz Meneses, Alexander González Guerrero and Dervin Martínez were violently arrested when they tried to assist to the funeral services of Wilman Mendoza in Contramaestre. With the same brutality, Eusebio Fundicheli and Juan Pedro Fundicheli were detained in the municipality of Antilla.
Caballero Batista held a symbolic funeral service for Wilman Villar Mendoza at her house, where she also had a condolences book open throughout Saturday.Various activists were arrested when they tried getting there to pay their respects. In Banes, Lady in White Marta Díaz Rondón also held a symbolic funeral at her home, which was also under tight surveillance. Meanwhile, the home of dissident blogger Luis Felipe Rojas in San German, as well as that of Franklin Peregrino del Toro in Cacocum were surrounded by the political police.
That same Friday afternoon in Holguin, all the Ladies in White from that area were “visited” by “5 female soldiers dressed in civilian’s clothes”, declared Caballero, “these functionaries alleged they were members of the Provincial Cuban Women’s Federation and came to warn us that we could leave our homes that afternoon or the upcoming Sunday to celebrate weekly mass”.
“They (Castro regime) killed Orlando Zapata Tamayo, they killed Wilfredo Soto, they have killed so many other political prisoners and now they have killed Wilman Villar Mendoza. The Castro dictatorship continues to arrest and beat dissidents. The repression has not stopped but we are going to continue protesting” declared Caballero.
In Placetas, the political police surrounded the house of Jorge Luis García Antúnez and Yris Tamara Aguilera. Antunez, who is also the national director of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front, announced that there will be a “pots and pan” protest against the assassination of Wilman Mendoza on January 24th, which is the national day of the Resistance, at 8 pm. In Havana, the Ladies in White opened a condolences book at the group’s headquarters, located in the home of the fallen Laura Pollan in Neptuno Street. All of Friday and Saturday numerous Ladies were kept from arriving to the house, according to the independent journalist from ‘Hablemos Press’, Roberto de Jesús Guerra. “Also on Saturday, independent journalist Héctor Julio Cedeño Negrin was arrested” added Guerra, who also had his phone line cut for many hours- product of nationwide censorship tactics enforced by the regime, impeding dissidents from communicating with one another. In the case of Guerra, for many hours he could not provide news for his independent dissident news agency, due to the fact that he could not confirm names of those arrested or even find out about arrests in the first place.
As a result of the massive censorship, very little information is available about Wilman’s funeral service in Contramaestre. Caridad Caballero, who also was without phone service for many hours, was able to communicate with one of the Ladies in White who assisted the funeral. “According to the information”, reports Caridad, “few Ladies in White made it to the cemetery since many were arrested” Caridad, herself, was arrested along with her husband Esteban Sande, and activists Marco Delmao, Ángel Treyes and Nismidia Cruz on Sunday, when they were heading to mass in Holguin to pray for Wilman Mendoza and all political prisoners that Sunday. Similarly, in Banes, Marta Díaz Rondón and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez were arrested on their way to Holguin to join other activists in mass.
35 Ladies in White, however, made it to mass at El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba that same Sunday, according to Jose Daniel Ferrer. There, Father Jorge Palma dedicated mass to Wilman Villar and denounced the repressive tactics utilized by the Cuban regime against the family of the deceased freedom fighter. In other declarations, Palma classified the Cuban dictatorship as “murderous” because of Wilman’s death. In addition, “12 Ladies were able to reach Contramaestre, and accompanied Wilman’s widow for a couple of hours”, narrates Ferrer, adding that one of the Ladies in White that was on her way to El Cobre was arrested-Yumila Cedin Martínez. In Moa, 3 Ladies were arrested- Maritza Cardosa Romero, Milagro Leyva Ramírez and Osmeidy Domínguez, along with one of the coordinators of UNPACU Juan Carlos Vázquez Osoria.
Ferrer also added that in Holguin a violent mob attack, organized by the regime’s police, took place nearby the local church. Such was the harassment, declares Ferrer, that the church’s “Monsignor Emilio Arangur had to intervene”.
International Solidarity with Wilman Villar Mendoza
Solidarity with Maritza Pelegrino was shown all over Cuba, as it is always was, among dissidents. The Castro dictatorship attempted to discredit Wilman Villar Mendoza by airing false information on TV and on written media. The regime’s journalists formulated a report describing Wilman as a common prisoner jailed for beating his wife, a defamation tactic that was also used on Orlando Zapata, Juan Wilfredo Soto and so many other Cuban political prisoners and activists. The tightly controlled state media also claimed that he had never declared himself on hunger strike and was in jail for beating his wife.
These false accusations display the regime’s desperation, as they try to diffuse this information in the face of the international solidarity with Wilman Villar Mendoza. In the United States, for example, political figures denounced the murder. President Obama affirmed that Wilman’s death had been a crime perpetrated by the Castro regime, while other public figures- both Democrat and Republican- released similar statements (Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R), Bob Menéndez (D), Marco Rubio (R), David Rivera (R) and Mario Díaz Balart (R), among them). The governments of Spain, Chile, and Mexico also denounced his death, while Cuban exiles in Miami and Madrid protested in the streets. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch directly accused the Cuban regime of the assassination.
“With this last crime against Wilman, the Cuban dictatorship is very scared because it is witnessing that neither the beatings nor any other repressive tactics can paralyze the civic resistance”, affirmed Jose Daniel Ferrer.
In what seems to be a foreshadowing of his tragic yet heroic fate, in the picture at the beginning of the post, the recently murdered dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza is raising his fist as a symbol of the resistance and is standing next to a poster which reads ‘ideas cannot be killed…murderers’. The dictatorship killed this young activist by arresting him, denying him his rights and concealing him to a jail cell under inhumane conditions because he chose to go on a hunger strike- a peaceful form of protest. But, just like it reads on the poster, the ideas for which Wilman gave his life did not perish with his body. On the contrary, they have inspired the Resistance all over the island with hope. Brothers and sisters of the Resistance, amid beatings, threats and arrests continue to demonstrate on the streets in solidarity with Martiza Pelegrino and the memory of Cuba’s newest martyr.