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.

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 worse.”

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.”

Copyright © 2007 Bloomberg. All rights reserved.

Related Articles