PEN American Center: José Luis García, Léster González, and Normando Hernández Arrive Safely in Spainposted on Thursday, July 15, 2010
New York City, July 14, 2010—PEN American Center welcomed the news that Cuban journalists Normando Hernández González, Dr. José Luis García Paneque, and Léster Luis González Pentón, all high PEN priority cases who had been imprisoned since a March 2003 crackdown on dissent, have arrived safely in Madrid. García and González arrived with their families and four other released journalists on Tuesday, and Hernández arrived on a flight from Havana Wednesday with his family and another freed colleague.
“This really is a remarkable, hopeful moment for all who believe in the power of individual commitment and international solidarity to effect change,” said Larry Siems, Director of PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write and International Programs. “PEN has been inspired by the courage and endurance of these men and their families, and we have been inspired by the determination of PEN Members and journalists and human rights advocates around the world to see them free.”
The eight writers were released as part of a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Foreign Ministry, under which the Cuban government has agreed to release all remaining 52 dissidents imprisoned in the March 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown, when 75 journalists and activists were arrested. Those released and flown to Spain reportedly have the option of staying or traveling to the United States or Chile, where they have also been offered asylum.
José Luis García Paneque, a journalist with the Agencia Libertad press agency, librarian at the Carlos J. Finlay Library, and plastic surgeon, was arrested on March 18, 2003, and sentenced to 24 years in prison. He suffered numerous ailments while serving his sentence at Las Mangas Prison, Granma, and lost a considerable amount of weight. His wife was forced to flee Cuba and seek asylum in the United States, where she currently resides.
Léster Luis González Pentón, an independent journalist, was the youngest to be imprisoned during Black Spring, and was serving a 20-year sentence at the Prisión Penitencial “La Pendiente,” in Santa Clara in the state of Villa Clara when the orders for his release came through. His wife, mother, stepfather, and two sisters joined him in Madrid, according to reports.
Normando Hernández Gonzalez, who arrived in Madrid at approximately 1:30 p.m. local time with his wife and daughter, was serving a 25-year sentence for reporting on the conditions of state-run services in Cuba and for criticizing the government’s management of issues such as tourism, agriculture, fishing, and cultural affairs. Held in deplorable prison conditions, he was hospitalized repeatedly over the past seven years. As his health declined, PEN mounted an increasingly urgent campaign on his behalf, awarding Hernández the 2007 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and pressing the Cuban government to provide him adequate medical care and grant him a humanitarian release.
“In the more than seven years since the ‘Black Spring’ crackdown, PEN Members have not only consistently pressed for the release of the imprisoned dissidents, we have also taken a personal interest in the plights of these imprisoned men, developing relationships with their families and sending the men cards, books, and even towels and toothbrushes in prison,” said Anna Kushner, PEN American Center Member and Freedom to Write Case Advocate. “Through conversations with their mothers and wives, we have received updates about the deteriorating state of the men’s health and the psychological strain of physical separation on all members of their families. It is an enormous relief to see these brave men free and reunited with their families, and with access to the medical attention at last that they so greatly need.”
“We hope that the Cuban government will follow up on these releases by allowing space for public dissent on the island, so that all writers and peaceful activists in Cuba are able to express themselves freely going forward without fear of repercussions,” she concluded.
PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org.