Imprisoned Cuban journalist Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, hospitalized last month, faces medical procedures today that family members said could further imperil his already fragile health. They also provided a first-person account by Hernandez Gonzalez of his brutal treatment in jail and his determination to survive the ordeal.

As medical personnel prepared him for a colonoscopy, Hernandez Gonzalez’s mother, Blanca Gonzalez, said she and her son’s wife were trying to obtain outside medical advice regarding his illness. Since he was moved on Sept. 14 from prison to Havana’s Carlos J. Finlay military hospital, she said, Hernandez Gonzalez’s health has continued to deteriorate.

“Normando has received various treatments for parasites,” Blanca Gonzalez said through a U.S. interpreter, Anna Kushner, a staff member at the PEN American Center in New York. PEN is an advocacy group that reports on writers in jeopardy around the world. “He has been given other medication, but his wife does not know what these are. She has not been able to see any doctors at the hospital when she visits.”

Hernandez Gonzalez is one of 59 writers arrested during a 2003 crackdown on dissident Cuban journalists. They were convicted of “endangering the state’s independence or territorial integrity” and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The youngest of those originally arrested, Hernandez Gonzalez, now 38, suffers from tuberculosis and several other potentially life-threatening diseases, all of them contracted in jail. In September, he was transferred from Kilo 7 Prison, in Camaguey, in the southern part of the island nation, north to the hospital in Havana, a 9-hour bus ride away.

Global Protests

The move followed months of international protests about his treatment, including an attempt by Costa Rican legislators to provide him with a visa, which Cuban authorities rejected. The Costa Ricans have also asked the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights to intervene.

In April, he was presented with PEN’s Barbara Goldsmith Award specifically to focus attention on his condition. Chronic severe diarrhea caused his weight to drop below 100 pounds, his mother said, based on reports from his wife, Yarai Reyes, who is allowed sporadic visits with her husband. In the hospital, the condition seemed briefly to be improving.

“Normando had gained a little bit of weight but then lost it all again after a severe bout of diarrhea,” his mother said. In addition to tuberculosis, he has been diagnosed with several diseases of the digestive system, including lesions in his stomach and tumors in his gallbladder.

The latter condition prompted doctors at the hospital to order a colonoscopy requiring general anesthesia because of his weakness, Blanca Gonzalez said, adding that the family remains concerned about any treatment that would put further stress on his system. Yesterday she was also seeking a second medical opinion from Miami doctors.

TB Rampant in Prisons

A report published yesterday by the independent news agency Cubanet found that more than 1,200 Cuban prisoners are suffering from tuberculosis contracted in prison. Cuban human-rights observers, the report said, were gravely concerned about the number of cases, which it attributed to “poor hygiene, bad food and insufficient medical treatment” in the prison system.

Despite his illness, Hernandez Gonzalez continued writing until the time of his hospitalization, reporting the conditions at Kilo 7. One article, written on Aug. 18, was smuggled out by his wife and provided to Bloomberg News. It is headlined, “Today I Am Stronger.”

‘I Am Stronger’

“Friends who are familiar with what I have endured and continue to endure and with my precarious state of health might think I’m crazy or going mad upon hearing this declaration, but I assure you that’s not the case,” Gonzalez wrote. “In all truth, I am stronger than ever. The killers of free expression who imprisoned me 55 months ago haven’t desisted for a single second from trying to destroy me physically and emotionally. They haven’t achieved their goal, nor will they. Though they may destroy my physical body, the only thing they will accomplish is rendering immortal a spirit that prefers death over a life without decorum.

“I have endured months of isolation hundred of kilometers from my home, held in inhuman conditions, forced to sleep on top of reinforced concrete, without a mattress, cruelly exposed to mosquitoes, cold, and rats, and deprived of contact with any other human being, except for my jailer,” he continued. “The direct and indirect provocations have never gone away, they come from all sides, from State Security agents, jailers, thugs, other prisoners, and lackeys, and the only thing these poor devils have accomplished is to reaffirm my idealism, my patriotism, and make me a slave of my own dignity.”

To contact the writer on this story: Jeremy Gerard in New York at