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White House: Cuba's Villar a "young and courageous defender of human rights"

The White House released a statement on the death of 31-year-old Cuban dissident Wilman Villar, who died Thursday after a 50-day hunger strike.

President Barack Obama's "thoughts and prayers are with the wife, family, and friends of Wilmar Villar, a young and courageous defender of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba who launched a hunger strike to protest his incarceration and succumbed to pneumonia," the White House said. 

"Villar’s senseless death highlights the ongoing repression of the Cuban people and the plight faced by brave individuals standing up for the universal rights of all Cubans. The United States will not waiver in our support for the liberty of the Cuban people. We will remain steadfast in our outreach to the Cuban people through unlimited Cuban American family visits and remittances, purposeful travel, and humanitarian assistance to dissidents and their families in support of their legitimate desire to freely determine Cuba’s future."

Villar 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.

The State Department said Friday that Villar’s death "underscores the urgent need for greater international scrutiny of Cuba’s human rights record and international monitoring of Cuba’s prisons and prisoner population." Cuba does not allow the International Red Cross to inspect its prisons.

"We will continue to support, in the words of the president, ‘pockets of freedom’ in Cuba through Cuban American family visits and remittances, purposeful travel, and humanitarian assistance to dissidents and their families," State Department spokeswoman Neda Brown said.

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