Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva: Blind lawyer who can see
By Judi McLeod
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
It’s the scene from a horror movie: Mobs of 100 to 400 people gathering daily at dawn before a single house, chanting and taunting to the rhythm of ear-splitting music. At 11 p.m., obscenity-shouting, organized rowdies are bolstered by officers of the law and state security agents.
Only this is no movie, gone with the push of a button. It’s now everyday life for blind Cuban lawyer Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, unwavering President of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights. The scene described has been playing out every day since January 12, and is likely to continue until March 4, 2006 when Gonzalez Leiva’s house arrest comes to an end.
Military officials of the state security of Ciego de Avila, where Gonzalez Leiva lives and from the Cuban government prevent, the defender of human rights–who once went down to 90 lbs. on a hunger strike-- from leaving his house where he remains without water, food or electricity. Inside the house the heat is suffocating. As if to taunt him, every so often telephone service is randomly restored ever so briefly, but the blind lawyer remains unable to contact the outside world.
Inside the home with Gonzalez Leiva are Tania Maseda Guerra, activist in the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights and Luis Esteban Espinosa, an independent journalist. In testimony from Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva smuggled out of Cuba, taped, transcribed and translated to English by the Coalition of Cuban-American Women in the United States, Gonzalez Leiva says he is not afraid.
"I’m not afraid at all. These people threaten that they are going to enter my home, but they will have to take me by force," he states. "If I withstood 26 months in prison under daily torture by Cuban military officials, harassed, beaten up, and poisoned by chemical substances from which I still suffer, then I will withstand inside my house for 26 months more."
For the prisoners held inside the Ciego de Avila house, doors and windows are pounded on. Ear-splitting music is blared from loudspeakers by mobs, which range in membership from criminals to university students, all shouting government slogans and obscenities through microphones. The mobs ominously threaten that they ultimately are going to crash into the house with military tanks; that they are going to burn the occupants up because they are antisocial persons in the service of imperialism, among other things.
Gonzalez Leiva’s antagonizers go beyond bravado: "They have pushed and savagely beaten many activists, friends, and my family members that have entered, tried to enter, or left my house in our defense. Among the names that I can identify are: Yodalis Calderin Nunez, my wife’s niece, independent journalist, Luis Esteban Espinosa and psychologist Antonio Legon Mendoza."
The Castro Cuban government has Gonzalez Leiva’s father, Agustin Gonzalez held hostage, and in spite of the fact that he has a visa to travel to the United States, does not allow him to leave the country, in what Gonzalez Leiva says is a tactic "used to pressure me so that I leave the country as well" (at the end of imposed house arrest).
The bravery of the Cuban people, (some of whom are Gonzalez Leiva’s neighbours) who have tried to intervene and defend him, is remarkable. To them, Gonzalez Leiva expressed gratitude on the smuggled out tape: "To all of them, I say that we have hope that there will be a change in Cuba. This struggle demonstrates that the government is falling apart. I thank human rights organizations and the international press for all they have done for me and for their support of the struggle of the Cuban people."
Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva is a blind lawyer, who clearly sees the pressing need for human rights in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
It was largely the refusal of human rights activists to give up that saw the final release of Cuban hero Armando Valladares after 22 years in Cuban prison.
In the case of Gonzalez Leiva, there is someone else not seen by the human eye, but always present in the surrounded-by-mob house in Ciego de Avila province.
"Jesus Christ is with us; he is accompanying us, and he gives us victory and peace": Gonzalez Leiva. "We are not going to lift a finger against anyone nor are we going to commit any crime. Whatever happens here is the responsibility of State Security, Cuban military officials and the Cuban government."