* Dr. González Leiva, The Wall Street Journal
* They've taken his cane and dark glasses but not his resolve, The Dallas Morning News
* Health of Juan Carlos González Leiva, Amnesty International
August 7, 2002: The Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook, Opinion
Dr. González Leyva
Just before I went on vacation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to lift the ban on American travel do Cuba; this may soon be followed by the Senate. Lawmakers still have to assemble large majorities in each chamber in order to overcome a promised Presidential veto, but that possibility is growing. If it does happen, we hope Americans who visit Cuba will pause to think about Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, a 37-year-old blind lawyer now in Fidel Castro's slammer for his peaceful human rights work.
Mr. Gonzalez is a devout Christian who heads up Cuba's Independent Fraternity for the Blind and the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights. He has long been the target of government, and by extension paramilitary, animosity - as are most dissenters in Fidel's police state. The Coalition of Cuban-American Women says that he hás been kidnapped and abandoned in remote áreas more than once.
In March Mr. Gonzalez took up a peaceful protest with nine other human rights activists to call attention to the beating of an independent journalist. For this he was beaten with a gun butt and arrested. His wife says that he and seven of the other protesters are being held in prisons far from their homes and are being physically and psychologically tortured.
Mr. Gonzalez has been stripped of his cane and his Braile Bible. His wife also says that he spent three days in one of the tiny cells that Cuban prisoners call "the drawer." This horrible form of torture is well-documented in Armando Valladares' "Against All Hope." She says he has been told that if he cooperates, his conditions will improve.
We support lifting the U.S. travel ban, as a way to expose Cubans to the rest of the world. But lifting the ban shouldn't mean lifting the pressure on the Castro regime to let Mr. Gonzalez and his hundredes of cellmates go free.
July 19, 2002: The Dallas Morning News
Blind Cuban presses fight for human rights
They've taken his cane and dark glasses but not his resolve
By Tracey Eaton/ The Dallas Morning News
HAVANA – His dark glasses and cane are gone. So is his Braille Bible.
Juan Carlos González, a blind political activist jailed in March, doesn't have much left. Not even his health, he tells his wife in letters from his jail cell.
But, he writes her, he'd "rather be insane or dead" than give up his fight for human rights in Cuba.
Mr. González, a 37-year-old lawyer, is among the scores of dissidents working to bring change to this country even after Cuban lawmakers in June voted to make socialism "irreversible."
His imprisonment, virtually unknown inside Cuba, has sparked indignation among human-rights activists and the blind as far away as Washington, Brussels, Belgium; and Capetown, South Africa.
Police arrested Mr. González and seven others on March 4 while they were protesting the reported choking of a journalist in Ciego de Ávila in central Cuba.
One officer allegedly hit the blind man with a pistol butt, causing a head wound that needed five stitches to close.
Authorities accuse Mr. González of public disorder and "disrespect," offenses punishable by up to three years in jail. He has not yet been tried. Bail has been denied because of what authorities describe as his "dangerousness," his wife said.
He is now in a prison in Holguín, 200 miles from home. He says his health is deteriorating, and he's convinced he'll never make it out of jail alive, said his wife, Maritza Calderin.
"He wants to run from prison screaming," she said by phone from the central city of Holguín.
Prison officials declined to comment.
Cuba has not let the Red Cross inspect prisons since 1989.
Cuban officials say many claims of prison abuse are politically motivated. Others are made by international organizations looking for approval from Washington, one Cuban official said.
"No one's going to come out in defense of Cuba, the only communist country in the hemisphere, a place of supposed human-rights violations. It's an easy target," he said.
Mr. González's ordeal began after he took part in a pro-democracy protest in Ciego de Ávila. Police arrived and one of them allegedly choked journalist Jesús Álvarez. Mr. Álvarez fainted and was hospitalized. Several activists and journalists later went to the hospital, joined Mr. Álvarez and chanted, "Long live free Cuba! Long live human rights!"
Police arrested Mr. González and at least seven others.
On March 10, authorities raided a library that Mr. González had founded. State security agents confiscated books, including several in Braille.
Robert Kent, co-chairman of Friends of Cuban Libraries, whose group supports the growing number of independent librarians in Cuba, called the case shocking.
The World Blind Union, which says it represents 180 million blind and visually impaired people in 162 countries, has sent two letters of protest to the Cuban government.
"Unfortunately, we have had no answer from the Cuban authorities yet," said Kicki Nordstrom, president of the union, which plans to hold its annual meeting in Havana in September.
The Coalition of Cuban-American Women, the human-rights group Pax Christi and Christian Solidarity Worldwide are among other organizations that have protested Mr. González's arrest.
Ms. Calderin said her husband began suffering from claustrophobia soon after landing in jail. For at least three days, she said, he was confined to a small cell that prisoners call "the drawer."
In an April 30 letter, Mr. González said he asked to see a doctor, preferably a psychologist.
Instead, he said, prison officials sent a psychiatrist who told him his condition would improve "if I cooperated with them."
Mr. González said he replied, "Principles are non-negotiable."
He was given a pill and three hours later said he felt severe chest pains. "I felt I was in danger of death, brain damage or irreversible insanity."
Doctors told him there was nothing wrong with him, he said.
As the weeks passed, his health worsened and he has become increasingly desperate, his wife said. "I know that I will not come out of this place alive," he wrote in a June 25 letter.
"I beg for medical assistance and although different specialists have visited me, they don't take any tests to find out what the problem is."
Amnesty International said in its 2002 report that medical care in Cuban prisons was inadequate last year.
Medicine and supplies were scarce and although the longtime U.S. ban on trade with Cuba was a factor, "there were concerns that in some cases care was deliberately withheld from prisoners of conscience or other political prisoners," the report said.
Prisoner Marcelo Amelo Rodriguez, 52, died while in custody in May 2001 after suffering from chest pains. His family later accused prison officials of denying him proper care, according to Amnesty International.
Another dissident prisoner, Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez, stopped eating in April 2001 to protest the lack of medical care. He ended his monthlong strike after authorities let him see a lung specialist, the report said.
Cuban officials say the days of political disappearances and executions have been gone for more than four decades. But there are laws, they say, and even dissidents must obey them – or risk jail.
Mr. González says he'll continue seeking reforms, even if it kills him.
"If I die, I will die content knowing that I was defending the cause of God," he wrote. "I do not fear death."
Medical Action / Health of Juan Carlos González Leiva - Cuba
Amnesty International's concerns
Amnesty International is concerned for the health of Juan Carlos González Leiva, a 37-year- old blind lawyer, held in Holguín prison in Holguín Province, Cuba. He reportedly suffers from chest pain, high blood pressure and a 'nervous condition' (of which Amnesty International has no further details). The prison doctor reportedly told him that there is nothing wrong with him. In addition, he claims to have received threats from his cell mate, who has said that he will beat him.
Juan Carlos González Leiva reportedly had to have four stitches in his head as a result of the police aggression on his arrest on 4 March 2002. Amnesty International received reports that initially medical attention was denied to him although he was in severe pain.
Juan Carlos González Leiva was part of a group of human rights activists who were arrested in Antonio Luaces Iraola Provincial Hospital in Ciego de Ávila on 4 March 2002. Juan Carlos González Leiva, Delio Laureano Resquejo, Lázaro Iglesias Estrada, Virgilio Mantilla Aragondo, Carlos Brizuela Yera, Léxter Téllez Castro, Enrique García Morejón and his brother Antonio García Morejón had visited the hospital in support of Jesús Alvarez Castillo, a hospitalised journalist. Earlier that day the journalist Jesús Alvarez Castillo had been on his way to cover a meeting of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, but when he was reportedly stopped and attacked by the police. At the hospital the group of men protested against this attack and shouted statements such as "Long live human rights". They were later beaten and arrested by state security officials.
It is not clear what charges the detainees may be facing and they are currently awaiting trial. Amnesty International is trying to clarify the circumstances of their arrest to determine their status. The organization raised concerns for them in an open letter to the Cuban government on 3 May (TG AMR 25/02.04) and inquired for details of any investigation into the ill-treatment reportedly inflicted by state security officials on them, but so far, no information has been received.
Juan Carlos González Leiva is the president of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights [Fundación Cubana de Derechos Humanos], an unofficial human rights group.
Please write letters to the Cuban authorities in Spanish or English:
· introducing yourself as a member of Amnesty International's health professional network;
· expressing disappointment that as yet the Cuban authorities have not responded to the concerns raised by Amnesty International in appeals on behalf of Juan Carlos González Leiva and the rest of detainees on 4 March 2002 (letter reference TG AMR 25/02.04);
· seeking information on his current state of health and asking for details of what medical treatment he is receiving;
· urging that Juan Carlos González Leiva receive all necessary medical care in accordance with provisions set out in international human rights standards, including being transferred to hospital if his condition requires medical treatment that he cannot get inside the prison;
· urging that he is released unless charged with a recognisable criminal offence;
· asking for an investigation into the allegations of threats by his cell mate and asking for guarantees for his security.
Head of State and Government
Dr Fidel Castro Ruz
Presidente de los Consejos de Estados y de Ministros
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: via Ministry of Foreign Affairs: + 53 7 333 460
Dr Juan Escalona Reguera
Fiscal General de la República,
Fiscalía General de la República
San Rafael 3
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: + 53 7 669 485
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sr Felipe Pérez Roque
Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
Calzada No. 360
Vedado, La Habana, Cuba
Fax: + 53 7 333 460
General Abelard Coloma Ibarra
Ministerial del Interior y Prisons
Ministerial del Interior
Plaza de la Revolución
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: + 53 7 8301 566