Monday, February 28, 2011

Cuban dissident's wife lies in coma at Tampa hospital

Cuban dissident's wife lies in coma at Tampa hospital
By KEITH MORELLI | The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 28, 2011
Updated: 04:20 pm

Noted Cuban dissident Jorge Luis Gonzalez Tanquero was released in July
after serving a seven-year term in a Cuban prison and part of what kept
him going was one day being reunited with his wife, Marlenes. At his
urging, she and the couple's daughter, Melissa, left the country and
moved to Tampa.

But a month before the release, Marlenes Gonzalez Conesa suffered a
massive stroke and remains in a coma. The situation resulted in an
expedited process to get him admitted to the United States and he
arrived two weeks ago.

Over that time, he has visited his stricken wife every day. She is
unable to speak or communicate; the dream of a reunion dashed.

The last time he saw her was before his 2003 arrest. His crime:
presiding over the Carlos Manuel Cespedes Movement that challenged the
Cuban regime's policies.

As Gonzalez Tanquero languished in Las Mangas prison in western Cuba,
his wife continued her fight against communism in her homeland from her
new home in the United States. Three years ago, Gonzalez Conesa and
Melissa met with then President George W. Bush in the White House. Bush
recognized her husband as a political prisoner.

But, in June, Gonzalez Conesa's struggle changed from opposing Castro
and freeing her husband to drawing breaths.

Though Gonzalez Tanquero was released from prison a month after his
wife's stroke, he was exiled to Spain. There, he began the process of
entering the United States to be with his family. He was allowed entry
to the United States on Feb. 11 and has been visiting his stricken wife
in the Town & Country Hospital every day.

A spokeswoman for the hospital did not return a telephone call for comment.

The outlook is grim, said Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, who is helping
the family at no charge. His first task is to arrange for insurance to
cover the woman, whose long-term care hinges on that, he said.

She had worked for a Tampa business and had been covered on a health
insurance policy though her work. Fernandez's firm and the hospital had
shared her health insurance premium costs, but for some reason, the
insurance had begun denying coverage two weeks ago. Attorneys for
Fernandez's firm were looking into that this week.

Gonzalez Conesa is a member of the Ladies in White, a group of women in
Cuba opposed to the communist regime, Fernandez said. Prior to the
prison sentence, the two Cubans worked together in opposition to the
communist regime.

When he was imprisoned eight years ago, it was the last time he saw his
wife healthy. Seeing her again was part of what kept him going.

"It was a dream of coming together that was shattered," he said through
an interpreter in a recent interview. "God didn't see it that way and we
have to accept it."

He is cautiously optimistic, but knows the seriousness of the situation,
he said. Still, there is some hope.

Fernandez is helping the family because Gonzalez Tanquero is a modern
day hero to many Cubans opposed to the Castro regime.

"It's an obligation," he said. "It's a privilege as well for me to be
afforded this opportunity."

He said he plans to mount a fundraising campaign so that Gonzalez Conesa
can get the proper care and he hopes to invite former President George
W. Bush attend one such event in the future.

"This is a really moving story with a really unhappy ending," Fernandez
said. "We are going to see if American generosity can change the course
of this family's story."

He's worried about Melissa, the teenage daughter.

"This little girl had a mother and no father," Fernandez said, "and now
she has a father and no mother."

He said he will stir support among Cuban-Americans, particularly those
opposed to Castro's rule. Already, he said among Cuban-Americans in
Tampa, he has mustered some support.

"I'm going to make sure every Cuban-American in the country is aware
that a Lady in White needs them" he said, "and likewise they need her."

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