Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, a gravely ill dissident Cuban writer, was secretly returned three weeks ago from a Havana military hospital to solitary confinement in Kilo 7, a backwater prison, his mother confirmed today.

The transfer took place May 7, Blanca Gonzalez said in a telephone interview from her home in Miami. The move came less than three months after the government of Raul Castro assured the Vatican that there would be “more openness” in the treatment of dissidents and critics.

News of the transfer was revealed in an e-mail that Bloomberg News received today from Martha Beatriz Roque, another prominent Cuban dissident.

“This is a horrible crime against humanity,” Roque wrote from Havana, quoting a source from Kilo 7. “The Cuban government is assassinating journalists. The world must be alerted to these facts.”

Hernandez Gonzalez, 38, is one of 20 Cuban journalists jailed since the “black spring” mass arrests in March 2003 that sent 75 dissidents to prison for terms of 25 years.

A poet and journalist, Hernandez Gonzalez was eventually sent to Kilo 7, a notorious prison on the south shore of the island nation.

Failing Health

Brutalized and in failing health for most of that time, Hernandez Gonzalez was moved to Carlos J. Finlay Hospital in Havana last September. He suffers from malnutrition, parasitic diseases of the intestines and chronic diarrhea.

His condition was considered so serious that several international human rights organizations, including PEN and Amnesty International, had called for his release, along with others arrested in the 2003 crackdown.

“Since his arrival at Kilo 7, it has been impossible to contact him, because nobody has access,” Beatriz reported in the e-mail, which was translated from Spanish. “His cell is known as the ‘cell of the condemned.’ . . . I can assure to you that the conditions are subhuman. It is an enclosure that measures 3.75 meters in length by 1.40 in width. There is hardly space to move.

“In order to arrive at this cell,” the e-mail continued, “it is necessary to cross three doors, of bars and padlocks . . . It is without potable water, without illumination, and the heat is unbearable. I know by a reliable source that they are giving Norman two spoonfuls of rice with worms, watery meat, lentils and a rotten mass, commonly known as ‘dog vomit.'”

One Visit

Larry Siems, the director of PEN’s international programs, confirmed the conditions after a telephone conversation this morning with Blanca Gonzalez. She added that her son’s wife had been allowed a single, brief visit.

Attempts to reach Cuban authorities for comment have so far been fruitless.

On Feb. 24, Raul Castro officially took over the government from his brother, Fidel. Since then, there have been indications that Cuba would become more tolerant of dissident voices. During a visit that month, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, celebrated mass and held meetings with Castro and other top government officials. Bertone remarked at the time that the talks had given him “hope for more openness.”

Siems said that PEN has not yet been able to determine why Hernandez Gonzalez was returned to Kilo 7, especially under such harsh conditions.

“We expected that after the Vatican visit, there would be hope for prisoners of conscience and that things would improve,” Siems said. “We’re shocked by this, we’re extremely concerned, and frankly, we’re confused.”