Jailed Cuban Writer, Extremely Ill, Hospitalized; May Be Freed
In the early morning hours of Sept. 14, jailed Cuban journalist Normando Hernandez Gonzalez was transferred across the island nation from Kilo 7, a prison in Camaguey, to Carlos J. Finlay military hospital in Havana.
The move of the critically ill writer came after several months of growing international protests on his behalf. It was confirmed yesterday by Hernandez Gonzalez’s mother, Blanca Gonzalez, and wife, Yarai Reyes, speaking with representatives of the PEN American Center, which has been monitoring the case.
“Yarai says they are treating him very well and that he is finally receiving medications, though we don’t know what medications,” Larry Siems, director of PEN’s international programs, said yesterday in an interview.
Reyes is expected to visit her husband at the hospital tomorrow afternoon.
News of the transfer quickly made the rounds of Cuban exile and expatriate Web sites over the weekend, including Payolibre, a news site based in Miami. Human-rights groups yesterday cautiously expressed hope that the transfer is an early sign of his release. In July, Cuban officials released another journalist, Armando Betancourt, after 15 months in prison. Calls yesterday to the Cuban Interests Section, which represents the Cuban government in the U.S., weren’t returned.
Hernandez Gonzalez is one of 59 writers still imprisoned following a 2003 crackdown on dissidents. At the time, 75 writers were arrested, tried and convicted of “endangering the state’s independence or territorial integrity.”
The youngest of those originally arrested, Hernandez Gonzalez, now 39, suffers from tuberculosis and several other life-threatening diseases. All of them were contracted in jail.
“We’ve been deeply concerned about Normando’s health for more than a year,” Siems said, adding that other groups had also taken up his cause. “We’re extremely relieved and urge the Cubans to continue treating him. We reiterate our calls for his release.”
Hernandez Gonzalez’s sudden transfer came a day after Costa Rican legislator Jose Manuel Echandi Meza filed a petition with the UN High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. The petition is the latest attempt by Costa Rican legislators to have Hernandez Gonzalez treated, released and turned over to them. Previous attempts, which included offering him an exit visa, were rebuffed.
The Costa Rican complaint argues that Cuban authorities’ denying Hernandez Gonzalez proper medical treatment constitutes torture, said Adriana Nunez Artile, press director for Echandi, in a telephone interview. The protocol against torture, Nunez said, is the only one of the Geneva sections to which Cuba subscribes.
“We decided that the time had come to deliver the petition for Normando, who is at the top of our list,” she said.
Jeremy Gerard is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.