Cuba: Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Demands Medical Attention

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, a blind human rights activist who was arrested and imprisoned on March 4th, is demanding proper medical attention.

According to a letter smuggled out of the State Security Prison in Holguin Province where Gonzalez is being held, the 27 year old man fears for his life.

Gonzalez describes how he has been heavily pressured to renounce and dissolve the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, the organisation that he heads. He and his wife fear that the authorities are withholding vital medical treatment that may cost him his life.

In the letter Gonzalez says that he will never renounce the fight for human rights nor will he cave in under the pressure and take his own life. "If something happens to me, never believe that I took any action against my own life. I love it too much for that. If anything happens to me, they [the Cuban Security Forces] will be the only ones responsible."

On March 4th Gonzalez was severely beaten by government security agents and suffered a blow to the head, which required four stitches.

Gonzalez and a number of other human rights activists had gathered at a local hospital in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of a journalist who had been admitted there after being attacked by Cuban police.

The group entered the hospital where they proceeded to pray for the hospitalised reporter and shouted slogans like "Up with human rights". When the hospital staff asked them to refrain from shouting they complied - sitting silently in the hospital hall.

An hour later the group was surrounded by the rapid response unit of the local security forces, who beat them before taking them into custody.

Juan Carlos carried out a 31-day hunger strike to protest his arrest. The government has charged him with public disorder and contempt, crimes that carry a possible prison sentence of one to three years.

According to Gonzalez's wife, Maritza, he has lost a great deal of weight due to his hunger strike. In addition she is worried that he is being psychologically tortured, as after her last visit she found him mentally disoriented.

The Cuban government confiscated his cane and Braille Bible and is refusing to give him medical treatment. Maritza said she could see that his knees were red and raw from praying.

CSW met with Gonzalez, who is also a lawyer and has been active in the Cuban democracy movement and the Varela Project, three weeks before his arrest. At the time Gonzalez spoke of his hope for the future of human rights and democracy in Cuba.

CSW is calling for the immediate release of Gonzalez and his fellow human rights activists as well. The other imprisoned men include five human rights defenders, Delio Laureano Requejo, Lázaro Iglesias Estrada, Virgilio Mantilla Arango, Enrique García Morejón and Antonio García Morejón, and two independent journalists, Léxter Téllez Castro and Carlos Brizuela Yera.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said, "The Cuban government's treatment of Juan Carlos is appalling. How can a country which prides itself on its health system deny basic care to its most vulnerable citizens. We call upon the European Union to confront Cuba at the upcoming EU-Latin American summit in Madrid and to demand that Juan Carlos receive proper medical care and that he and his compatriots be released immediately."

For more information or photographs contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8942 8810 or email

The translated letter from Juan Carlos can be read below:

Statement by Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva - 30 April 2002

State Security Detention Centre in Holguin, Cuba

Testimony of Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva as given to me, his wife, Maritza Calderin Columbie, in the second marital visit we have been allowed since his imprisonment,(4 March 2002), directed at all defenders of human rights.

Thank you to all the human rights defenders, particularly Laida Carro. From this small message, I would like to inform you all about the situation in which I find myself.

My nervous system has deteriorated considerably. Two months ago, I was a healthy man aside from my blindness. At this moment, I am a sick man. They, the State Security, have destroyed my nervous system and it is because of them that I have problems with my blood pressure, I have never suffered from hypertension. But now, I am in danger of dying. Although I have requested it, they do not give me the required medical attention. Here, we never see doctors, only a nurse lacking in both experience and in knowledge.

After one month of asking for specialised treatment, preferably that of a psychologist, they brought me a psychiatrist who told me that what I had was due to the harsh system to which I have been subjected but that if I cooperated with them, I would get better. I told him that principles are non-negotiable. As a result, he gave me a prescription for "lebopromacina". I began on Thursday, April 25 at 8:30 PM. A little while after taking the pill I fell asleep. Three hours later I woke up to the sensation of drowning and got up to go to the bathroom. I felt as if my chest was being crushed and I told my cellmate not to be frightened and then I lost all awareness of what was happening. Later he told me that he carried me out of the cell, shortly afterwards I let out two loud screams, and then I came to. I didn't know where I was. The nurse told me that I had low blood pressure and wanted me to drink some coffee but I refused to take it. God guided me in this decision, as always, as at that moment I actually had extremely high blood pressure. I wanted them to take me to the doctor because the pain in my chest was unbearable, but they told me that there was no vehicle. Two hours later they took me to a consultant but the doctor said nothing was wrong with me. I told him that I felt very bad, and asked if he would make me an electrocardiogram but he didn't want to and I was taken back to the State Prison again, to my cell. I protested but no one paid any attention to me. I cried out to God and He helped me. Only He could have done this, in this closed place in the state that I was in. The pain in my breastbone lasted for three days. They would not give me an electrocardiogram or any other tests.

With all of these medical errors I felt that I was in danger of death, brain damage, or irreversible insanity. This is what I, by way of a letter, told the head of the unit in the State Security Detention Centre in Holguin where they have kept me imprisoned for almost two months. He proposed three things to me: go to the jail, go back to where I was, or that they would take me to the convicts' section of the hospital. I opted for the last - as at least there, I would see doctors and nurses. I told him that if he took me to the jail they would be backing me into a corner and he would be responsible for whatever happened to me there. But, his final decision, his personal decision, was to lock me back up in the cell. As they did this, I was protesting and shouting "Up with human rights" and I clung to God.

They are trying to force me, under torment, to collaborate with them - this includes an instance when the official Urgelles, the instructor, wanted me to write a letter. He brought me a pencil, paper and pick for this - so that I would write a letter renouncing and dissolving the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, an organisation that we have established with considerable love and sacrifice. Nine more of our members, five of them directly elected in the Congress that we held last February are also imprisoned, like me. I will never do this. I will never abandon the defence of human rights. If I have to die in this undertaking: SO BE IT.

I would also like to denounce the fact that in my cell there are cords, the pick that I mentioned earlier made from a huge nail, metal spoons, and medicine. I say this because no prisoners are allowed to have these things. If something happens to me, never believe that I took any action against my own life. I love it too much for that. If anything happens to me, they will be the only ones responsible.

I thank God, who is my Helper and my Captain because He maintains my faith, my principles and my clarity of mind. I would rather be insane or dead before abandoning my fight as a defender of human rights.

Thank you again to all and may God bless you.

[Note: Juan Carlos finished writing this with his own hand the following words from the Bible, concluding with his signature.]

Now loved ones, Like the Apostle Paul

Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva