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Cuba rejects international criticism of dissident's death

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(HAVANA) - Cuba rejected international criticism of the death of an imprisoned dissident after a hunger strike, saying its critics in Spain, the European Union and the United States did not have "the least authority to judge Cuba."

Wilmar Villar, 31, died on Thursday in Santiago, Cuba after a 50-day hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. He was the second dissident to die in Cuba after going on a hunger strike in less than two years.

The United States on Friday said Villar's death highlighted "the ongoing repression of the Cuban people" and the need for closer international scrutiny of Cuba's human rights and its prisons.

Spain called on Cuba to "free all political prisoners, guarantee human rights and basic rights, and allow free expression of political ideas without exception."

The new conservative government led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed "its concern over the situation that affects citizens who express their disagreement with authorities on the island."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the Villar case raised doubts about the Cuban legal and penitentiary systems.

"Neither the Spanish government nor the European Union have the least authority to judge Cuba," an unidentified Cuban foreign ministry official said in statements posted on the ministry's website.

The official said he "emphatically rejects these unacceptable statements, made without looking into the matter or waiting to find out what really happened."

Instead of criticizing Cuba, they should investigate "the numerous deaths in detention that occur in their institutions, the frequent acts of police brutality against protesters, which occur systematically in Spain and other European Union countries," the official said.

A senior Cuban diplomat condemned the US statement as a display of "colossal cynicism" of the United States, saying they were striking for their "hypocrisy and double standard."

In an official statement, the Cuban government insisted Villar was not a dissident but rather had been sentenced to four years in prison for beating his wife, also a dissident, and resisting arrest. It also denied it was conducting a smear campaign against the deceased.

The statement said Villar had died of "multiple organ failure" which led to "septic shock."

The government of President Raul Castro denies it is holding any political prisoners, and considers jailed opposition activists to be US-backed "mercenaries."

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