Blanca Gonzalez, whose son, Normando Hernández González, has become an international symbol of Cuban human-rights abuses, is scheduled to join Laura Bush in the first lady’s gallery tonight when President George W. Bush delivers his final State of the Union address.

In a press release, the White House described Gonzalez as “the mother of Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, a political prisoner suffering under the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro.”

Bush has insisted throughout his presidency on keeping U.S. sanctions against Cuba. His administration has also called for Cuban President Fidel Castro to release all political prisoners.

Blanca Gonzalez, herself a political activist, has lived in Miami since being granted political asylum by the U.S. in 2002.

Normando, 38, is the leader of a group of 10 journalists who published articles critical of the Castro government and its agencies. In March 2003, they were arrested in a crackdown on dissidents. Convicted of “endangering the state’s independence or territorial integrity” each was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The youngest of the group, Gonzalez contracted a series of debilitating illnesses in Cuba’s Kilo 7 Prison in Camaguey. The most serious were tuberculosis and intestinal disorders that block his absorption of food. He suffers from severe abdominal pain, constant diarrhea and headaches.

In September, Gonzalez was secretly transferred to a military hospital in Havana. While his treatment has improved somewhat, according to a diary recently smuggled out of the hospital, his health remains fragile and his outlook bleak.

“My health is horrible,” he wrote in an entry dated Oct. 23, 2007. “The intestinal pain and cramps are unbearable. In the last four days I have lost 3 kilograms (6.8 pounds)…My God, don’t abandon me. Help me, please!”

The diary was provided to Bloomberg News by PEN, an international organization that monitors cases of endangered writers around the world. In April 2007, Gonzalez received the PEN/Goldsmith Award, given annually to writers whose work has put them at risk.

Anna Kushner, a New York-based staff member of PEN who has followed the Gonzalez case, said she spoke with Blanca Gonzalez and Normando’s wife, Yarai, on Thursday.

“Last week Normando was taken to the Gastroenterological Institute of Havana for further tests,” Kushner said in an e- mail. “They found that his sphincter is `severely incompetent.”’ Kushner said his mother and wife weren’t given any more information about his treatment.

In another diary entry, Gonzalez wrote of a visit with his 5-year-old daughter, Daniela, in October.

“This was an extremely emotional day, especially because of the one hour with my dear princess,” he wrote. “How beautiful she is! As always, she was nervous, but she hugged me and kissed me and, as in all her visits, her questions came fast. ‘Papa, where are you? Do you love me? When can you come home?’ A poisoned arrow pierced my soul with each question.”

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

Related articles


Normando Hernández González

November 8, 2007: Day of the Imprisoned Writer

Writers and Journalists Killed Since Day of Imprisoned Writer: 15 November 2006

September 18, 2007: Jailed Cuban Writer, Extremely Ill, Hospitalized; May Be Freed

April 10, 2007: Jailed Cuban Journalist to Receive PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award