Leonardo Varona González

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

On the evening of October 1, state security agents arrested González Castellanos, a correspondent for the independent news service CubaPress, in San Germán, in Holguín Province. The following day, the same agents arrested his nephew, Varona González, who works with the independent news agency Santiago Press. Seven months later, both journalists were convicted of showing “disrespect” for President Fidel Castro.

According to his colleagues and relatives, González Castellanos was arrested after he made critical statements about President Castro to state security agents who had stopped him and insulted him as he was returning from a friend’s home.

When family members tried to contact González Castellanos at the local police station the following morning, they were met by a group of protesters. González Castellanos’ relatives, among them Varona González, were so indignant that they painted “Down with Fidel” (“Abajo Fidel”) on the walls of their house. Later that day, an estimated 2,000 people gathered outside González Castellanos’ home and screamed insults.

State security agents then broke into the house. They beat and arrested Varona González and his sister, along with political dissident Roberto Rodríguez Rodríguez, who was visiting the family. Varona González’s sister was released after five days but was told she could face prosecution.

According to local sources, many of the protesters who gathered in front of González Castellanos’ house were farmworkers who had been told they would be docked a day’s pay if they did not participate in the demonstration. After the protest rally, the González Castellanos family’s phone was cut off for nearly a week.

On May 6, 1999, the San Germán municipal court convicted González Castellanos, Varona González, and Rodríguez Rodríguez of “disrespect.” Gonzalez Castellanos was sentenced to two years and seven months of imprisonment, Varona González to one year and four months, and Rodríguez Rodríguez to one year and five months. Their case file identified them as journalists and noted that they had transmitted false information that was broadcast by radio stations abroad.

Several Cuban dissidents were temporarily detained until the trial was over, to prevent them from attending.

While the sedition charges against González Castellanos were ostensibly unrelated to his journalistic work, local journalists suspect that he was deliberately provoked by state security agents in retaliation for news reports that he filed about the activities of political dissidents in Holguín. And while Varona González’s initial arrest was not related to his journalistic work, he was convicted and jailed in reprisal for his reporting (his sister, who was arrested at the same time, was not convicted).

On June 30, 1999, González Castellanos and Varona González were transferred to Holguín’s maximum-security prison, Cuba Sí. When González Castellanos complained about the poor hygiene conditions, the guards threatened to suspend his visiting rights.

Toward the end of 1999, local journalists reported that state security officers were encouraging other inmates to harass González Castellanos and pass on information about him; inmates who refused were threatened and beaten. At year’s end, both journalists were reported to have lost a great deal of weight.