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Cuban gov't lashes out at criticism of alleged dissident death

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HAVANA -- A government note sent to foreign journalists Friday night says everything possible was done to save the life of an alleged hunger striking prisoner who died Thursday in a hospital in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

The statement says Wilman Villar Mendoza was not imprisoned as claimed by some for political reasons but for creating a public disturbance during which he physically attacked his wife inflicting a facial injury.

It also says that when police intervened at the request of Villar's mother-in-law, he resisted and assaulted the officers.

Cuba's dissident community is blaming the government for Villar's death after a 50-day hunger strike and claim that he had been arrested for opposition activities.

Friday's statement, however, says there is "abundant proof" that Villar had not been on a hunger strike and only began to associate with dissident elements while awaiting trial because they "made him believe that his apparent belonging to the mercenary groups would allow him to evade judicial action."

Villar went to jail on November 25, 2011.

The government alleges that Villar died from "multiple organ failure" secondary to a severe respiratory crisis that led to "septic shock". He had, says the note, been hospitalized January 13 with "symptoms of severe pneumonia" in his left lung.

The government insists he received the best treatment required at one of the top medical facilities in the area and that his closest relatives were kept informed at every step of the way and have acknowledged the efforts of the attending physicians.

The statement slams "several foreign news agencies, in particular from Miami" for promoting what it describes as "an intense defamatory international campaign in collusion with domestic counter-revolutionaries:.

Reuters quotes Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of the unofficial Cuban Human Rights Commission as saying: ""We are blaming the Cuban government in a very clear way for this avoidable death because when a political prisoner goes on hunger strike, the first thing the Cuban government does is punish the prisoner, isolate him in a solitary confinement and high punishment cell and this, obviously, puts the protester's life at risk. It's what happened with Wilman and the same thing happened to Orlando Zapata Tamayo."

He further charged that State Security forces have been arresting dissidents in eastern Cuba to prevent them from attending the funeral for Villar.

Zapata Tamayo died after an 85-day hunger strike in February 2010 and his death was internationally condemned. President Raul Castro declared that Zapata was nothing more than a common criminal, although Amnesty International listed him as a "prisoner of conscience".

Unlike Zapata, Villar has drawn little international attention until now.

The government statement concludes by expressing regret for the death of any and all human beings, but "energetically condemns the crude manipulation" of its enemies and says it will know how to "unveil this new aggression" with "truth and firmness".

Dissidents in Cuba are routinely accused of being mercenaries in the pay of Washington. They have no access to the public media and are systematically prevented from staging public protests.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to independently confirm the truth of their claims that Villar was imprisoned for political reasons and had been on a hunger strike. And the Cuban government has yet to release any of the "abundant proof" it refers to in Friday's note to demonstrate that Villar had not staged a hunger strike.

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