Sick Cuban Writer Gonzales Is Back in Raul CastroŸ??s Fetid Jail
One year after Cuban President Raul Castro promised “more openness” in dealing with dissidents, journalist and poet Normando Hernandez Gonzalez has been taken from a hospital ward back to the prison where he has been held since 2003.
Hernandez Gonzalez, 39, was the youngest of 75 dissidents arrested during the “Black Spring” of 2003. The crackdown resulted in brief trials and prison sentences of 25 years for journalists and artists whose “crimes against the state” included his articles critical of Cuba’s health, education and judicial agencies.
He suffers from high blood pressure, weight loss, malnutrition, intestinal parasites and chronic diarrhea. Most recently, he developed an unexplained growth on his Adam’s apple.
On Feb 25, Hernandez Gonzalez was returned to Kilo 7, a bleak, vermin-infested prison in the south-shore city of Camaguey. He had spent a “useless” month and a half in a Havana prison hospital, according to his wife, Yarai Reyes Marin.
Repeated attempts to reach Cuban authorities in Washington for comment on Gonzalez Hernandez’s situation have been unsuccessful.
In a telephone interview on Friday from Cuba, Reyes said her husband’s hospital stay had left him even sicker than when he arrived. He was moved there on Jan. 8 because of the growth on his throat. During the next six weeks, she said, he received only cursory examinations and little new information about his condition.
“Normando weighed 54 kilos (119 lbs.) when he went in and 52 kilos (114 lbs.) when he came out,” Reyes said through an interpreter, Anna Kushner, a staff member of the PEN American Center, a human-rights organization that focuses on writers in danger around the world.
“The doctor said he had no idea what was wrong with him,” Reyes, 34, said. “Now Normando is really angry. It was as if he’d been made to take this stroll, all for nothing.”
At Kilo 7, “his cell is known as the ‘cell of the condemned,’” another Cuban dissident, Martha Beatriz Roque, wrote in an e-mail last May. “I can assure you the conditions are subhuman. It is without potable water, without illumination and the heat is unbearable.”
At that point, she said, he was being fed “two spoonfuls of rice with worms, watery meat, lentils and a rotten mass, commonly known as ‘dog vomit.’”
On Monday, President Castro purged his cabinet of two ministers from the regime of his brother, Fidel, and changed the jobs of 10 others. Some observers described the shuffle as an indication of the new president’s unhappiness with the pace of change since he took office.
Last February, Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone celebrated Mass in several Cuban cities and met with Castro, who had just taken over from the ailing Fidel.
“Authorities have promised me more openness in the print press and the radio and, in some exceptional cases, in television as well,” Bertone told the news agency of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, SIR, at the time. “We do hope for some openness, because nothing is impossible.”
The services and meeting were regarded as signs of hope, especially for Hernandez Gonzalez. A year earlier, PEN had awarded him the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award to draw attention to his precarious health and the harshness of his sentence.
Other Cuban dissidents have been freed since then, while Hernandez Gonzalez remains imprisoned.
“I believe it is because he insists upon his status as a political prisoner,” Reyes said. “He refuses to subjugate himself. The prisoners look up to him. So the prison authorities hate him even more.”
Reyes planned to visit her husband this week with their daughter, Daniela, who turns 7 on March 22 and who hasn’t seen her father since December. They are allowed a 2-hour visit every 45 days.
Asked if she wished her husband would bend a little in order to come home to his family, Reyes’s response was no.
“He’s been through so much — only to cave in now? He would rather be dead than dishonored.”