Cuban journalist freed, Burmese poet speaks, Colombian journalist excluded

Journalist Normando Hernández González (pictured right) was freed from prison in Cuba Saturday morning. He was arrested in 2003—one of 75 writers and activists jailed in a major crackdown on dissent—and sentenced to 25 years in prison for criticizing the government’s management of tourism, agriculture, fishing, and cultural affairs. His prison conditions were reportedly deplorable and he was hospitalized repeatedly over the past seven years.

As his health declined, PEN mounted an increasingly urgent campaign on his behalf, awarding him the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2007 and pressing the Cuban government to provide adequate medical care and grant him a humanitarian release. He was finally released as part of an agreement between Cuban authorities and the Catholic Church to free 52 political prisoners, all jailed since the March 2003 crackdown. He will reportedly fly to Spain with his wife and daughter today.

Meanwhile, Saw Wei, whose subversively acrostic poem “February the Fourteenth” we published in PEN America 10: Fear Itself, has given an interview to the The Irrawaddy, a magazine that covers Burma and other parts of southeast Asia (it's named for a river in Burma; credit to The Literary Saloon for spotting the interview). As previously noted, Saw Wei was jailed for disturbing public tranquility with a poem; happily, he did more writing while in prison:
I wrote some poems and essays while I was in prison. I have to make some final revisions to an essay called “Modern Art and Modern Images.” Before I was put in jail, I had already written about 50 short stories and planned to publish the stories in one go. But I couldn’t finish that, because I was imprisoned.

For the community work, we have a group called “White Rainbow.” We need more members. I want to go everywhere to help our people. If there are no restrictions, I will continue this work.

Meanwhile, a Colombian journalist, Hollman Morris, who was recently selected to participate in the Nieman fellowship program at Harvard, has been denied a visa by the United States. “We were very surprised. This has never happened before,” the Nieman curator, Bob Giles, is quoted as saying in an AP story about the case. PEN, the ACLU, and the American Association of University Professors have sent a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton protesting Morris’s exclusion.

On a lighter note, if you’re having a hard time letting go of the World Cup, here’s a possible antidote: 32 books to add to your reading list, one from each finalist nation—courtesy of Anderson Tepper. For Brazil, he selects Clarice Lispector, and suggests you join in the discussion of her final work, The Hour of the Star (New Directions), at PEN.org/penreads. That discussion has been quite interesting so far; “Clarice is not mysterious or (worse) obscure,” writes one participant in the conversation, who seems familiar with her work in Portguese, “she is intense.”

Update: The AP has the first photographs (taken by Arturo Rodriguez) of Hernández landing in Madrid.

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