Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cuba Keeps Writer in Jail: No Medicine for Hernandez Gonzalez

Cuba Keeps Writer in Jail: No Medicine for Hernandez Gonzalez
By Jeremy Gerard

June 28 (Bloomberg) -- ``Mi hijo esta muy mal. Muy mal.'' Even on the
speakerphone from Miami, Blanca Gonzalez's voice is unmistakably choked
with emotion. ``My son is doing badly. Very badly,'' she says. ``He said
that from there he will leave dead.''

``There'' is Kilo 7, a maximum-security Cuban prison in Camaguey, one of
several in which journalist Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, now 37, has
been held since April 2003. He is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes
against the state that include writing articles critical of the Cuba's
health, education and judicial agencies. Suffering from tuberculosis and
a chronic parasitic infection, both contracted in prison, Hernandez
Gonzalez is perilously underweight at just over 100 pounds, according to
his mother, who adds that his illnesses are poorly treated.

In April, at her urging, Costa Rican legislators granted Hernandez
Gonzalez a visa that could have gotten him out of prison and the
country. But Cuban officials last week refused to honor the visa.

So he continues to deteriorate, limited to one visit every two months
from his wife, Yarai Reyes, and Daniela, the daughter from whom he has
been separated since her first birthday celebration, on the day before
his arrest.

His wife's visits are the only time he is allowed fresh food. There are
also occasional examinations by a gastroenterologist, who confirms his
condition but cannot or will not provide regular, proper medication and

``The eyes of a doctor won't cure me,'' the writer told his wife when
she visited last week, according to his mother.

Independent Journalists

Hernandez Gonzalez was arrested on March 18, 2003, during a crackdown
that netted 75 journalists and other alleged dissidents. After brief
trials, most of which reportedly lasted less than a day, they were
sentenced to prison terms of as long as 25 years. According to
human-rights organizations monitoring the situation, 59 of the 75 remain
in prison.

At the time of his arrest, Hernandez Gonzalez was the head of the
Camaguey College of Independent Journalists. ``It was a group
established by Normando,'' says his mother, who now lives in Miami.
``The headquarters was at my house, in Camaguey. They are all in jail now.''

The group's 10 writers, of whom Hernandez Gonzalez was the youngest,
were charged with violating Article 91 of the Cuban Criminal Code for
writing stories that tracked government abuses and mismanagement by
social-service agencies, according to a report by the PEN American
Center, a watchdog group that publicizes human-rights violations against
writers around the world.

`In the Most Jeopardy'

In April, PEN announced that Hernandez Gonzalez would receive its 21st
annual PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. The $10,000 award
honors ``international literary figures who have been persecuted or
imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of
expression,'' according to Larry Siems, director of the project and of
PEN's international programs.

``They're going to kill him,'' Goldsmith, a historian, author and
philanthropist, said in an interview on June 25. ``The award is
emblematic of everything we do, but in this particular case we tried to
take the person in the most jeopardy.''

When the award was announced, Blanca Gonzalez journeyed to Costa Rica to
make an appeal to legislators there. They agreed to grant a visa, but
the Cuban government refused to release him. His wife brought him the
news when she visited last Wednesday.

Getting Worse

Several requests by Bloomberg News for comment from the Cuban Interest
Section, which serves as Cuba's de facto embassy in Washington, were
unanswered. According to journalists who have covered similar alleged
human-rights abuses in Cuba, however, the usual Cuban response to such
inquiries is that those arrested were seeking the overthrow or
destabilization of the government and that the government thus has the
right to jail them.

``The Costa Rican effort was a very important initiative,'' says PEN's
Siems. ``But he's still not out yet.''

``His health gets worse every day,'' his mother says. ``He has lost more
weight. He is run-down, very shaky. His blood pressure is really high.
My daughter-in-law said that it's one thing to talk to him on the phone
and another to see him every two months. Every time she sees him he is

Even with his health failing, Hernandez Gonzalez has continued to write.
His work is published in the Cuban exile community of Miami and on the
Internet. He writes about prison conditions and about others he feels
are even worse off than he is.

``The Cuban government never offered to free him if he stopped
writing,'' his mother said. ``He is a young man whose only crime was to
write and denounce the human-rights violations that Castro's regime
commits in Cuba every day.''

Goldsmith added: ``There are so many causes that can wait. This is not
one of them.''

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed
are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Jeremy Gerard in New York at .
Last Updated: June 28, 2007 00:04 EDT

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