Monday, July 02, 2007

Journalist languishes in Cuban prison

Normando Hernandez Gonzalez is a 37-year-old journalist serving a twenty-five year sentence in a Cuban prison for “crimes against the state.” The offenses for which he has been convicted include writing articles critical of the Cuban government. He was arrested in March of 2003 as part of a Cuban crackdown on journalists they considered dissidents. Gonzalez was honored by PEN, the worldwide association of writers, with the 2007 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. According to IFEX (the International Freedom of Expression Exchange), “Cuba is one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China.”

But aside from the issue of criminalizing the expression of opinions, Gonzalez is severely ill. His health has seriously deteriorated in recent months amid poor prison conditions and insufficient health care.

This from Bloomberg News:
``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 diet.

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

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 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….
You can read the entire article here.


Will said...

Great example of Cuban medical care. We should forward this to Michael Moore.

Jim said...

The impression that I get is that Michael Moore's material is legitimate. This blog suggests that he did not tell the entire story. The impression I get is that Canada's health care system is better than the US's, which in turn is better than Cuba's, and Cuba has a terrible human rights record.

Omar Cruz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.