Breaking the Censorship / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban Prats,Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison, Havana, 12 February 2015 — Today February 12, 2015, precisely the day of opening of the Havana International Book Fair, various officials have come to me noting one of the recent complaints concerning the slavery of the prisoners in Cuba, their cheap labor, and the inhumane conditions with which they work twelve to fourteen hours a day, including the weekends or public holidays or non-working days.

To make matters worse, they work with boots and torn and patched clothes, which they cannot even buy with their minimal, token salary — which sometimes doesn’t arrive on time — and they have to wait until the following month to cash it. Prisoners, like almost always, are fearful for reprisals when the inspection officers depart, since they hinted to them of the deprived circumstances in which they survive their sentence.

I am pleased that, somehow, the blog fulfills the role for which it was created, which is nothing more than make justice prevail for the destitute, the fearful, or those who are unaware of the way in which their voices influence society.

My generation, the vast majority, got tired of receiving the topics about which we should write, when the repressive government sends them through cultural officials.

The truth is that somehow they will give you new boots and adequate clothing. They will not send them to work sick or beaten. Nor, or at least I suppose, while I am nearby, will they allow them to work well beyond the established hours. And they noted down in their agendas the type of job they perform and the fair payment that should receive, since the officials confirmed that prisoners are being swindled by their employers.

We know that, unfortunately, a large part of Cubans do not have access to the Internet, but apparently the government is paying attention to a part of my complaints. I’m happy for them, but they do it only to conceal them, we hope they will be eradicating them.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

4 March 2015

Those Who Were Born Slaves / Angel Santiesteban

“…one is what one does, and not what one writes.” José Martí

Angel Santiesteban, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison, Havana, January 2015 — Ever since we were born, we heard our parents offer their political opinions in a low voice when they were of criticisms against the government. It was an act that we learned by imitation, something natural spawned in us as cultural training. Silence began to be part of our being. Look both ways before expressing a problematic point of view, this was a spontaneous act that was borderline naivety, but was actually a survival instinct.

When I started to lose the fear, friends got frightened. They didn’t want to understand that even the word “political” in the mouth of an intellectual, was something completely contradictory because if the dictatorship had taught us anything, it was that it was using the national and Latin American artists to wave flags in their favor. But when it came to expressing discontent, it was an aberrant, demented act that – in clear words – was nothing more than hitting the wall with one’s head, and that seemed logical to no-one.

For this the same “logic” with which they fertilized us across generations, we have endured more than half a century of dictatorship. It has been the most effective weapon of the regime against the Cuban population. First they enslaved our souls, then they have made us know the rigors in the body.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

2 March 2015

Musings of a Blind Man (5) / Angel Santiesteban

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana, December, 2014 — Lacking access as I do to the predictions of political scientists (which perhaps is to my advantage so that I may be forgiven), I infer from President Obama’s latest measures that he now has nothing to lose. Therefore, any action he takes can only be a plus, or at least help him to maintain his social status.

The President is in his second term. He has been besieged from the start of his presidency by the Republican Party. Therefore, besides affording him a means of revenge, the process he has set in motion will at least provide him with personal satisfaction. Barack Obama has left his campaign promises for the end. With little more than one year left before he departs from the White House, he has decided to make good on his words.

He has begun dismantling the Guantánamo Naval Base prison, preparing the checkmate for when the North American electorate’s dissatisfaction is manifested (and the reason the Democrats lost the majority in the Senate and both Houses of Congress), for his immigration reform. Add to that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), which the Republicans hope to repeal. And now there is the prisoner exchange with Cuba and the announcement of diplomatic relations being resumed.

All of this reminds me of the popular saying about how “the river whose waters are rough rewards the fisherman with a better catch.” Obama is the only one who can gain something from this turmoil since the possibility of Republicans revoking immigration reform would leave them in a precarious situation with the Latino community, and the 11 million immigrants in general. This would cost them votes before the presidential election by forcing them to play a negative role.

Regarding the Cuban question, Obama has changed for generations to come that anti-Communist thinking which the first wave of exiles brought in the ’60s, and then later in the ’70s, and even during the Mariel Boatlift; generations who in large part emigrated in search of the American Dream and therefore their motivation was largely economic.

Those who arrived later, indeed were genuinely fleeing the precariousness of the socialist system, but they said that if it were not so, they would not have left. In short, the majority of Cubans who are in the United States are concerned only with their economic progress, the subject of Cuba is foreign to them, they are only interested in working, earning, living as well as possible, helping their relatives on the Island and, at least once a year, going back to show off their material wellbeing, and to be received like the “prodigal son.” For them, the embargo is an impediment to realizing their dreams. For some, the Castros are good, and if there is poverty in Cuba, it is the fault of the United States.

I reiterate that Obama now has nothing to lose personally. If he has anything to gain, it will be for his party and its presidential nominee. Nothing more than this: Life will surprise us with the catch from the turbulent river.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Same Script for Every Dissident / Angel Santiesteban

Hector Maseda after his release, with his wife Laura Pollán, founder of the Ladies in White, who later died under circumstances still being questioned.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Border Guard Prison Unit, Havana, February 2015 — February 12th will be four years since the release of the last prisoners belonging to the group of 75 arrested in that fateful “Black Spring” of 2003.

History and Memory are two spaces that in time unite. I remembered Hector Maseda telling me about the pressures he received those final days to abandon the county. The way in which the political police have pressured me is similar to what Maseda told me about At times I feel I am in the same mold, they’ve only changed the people, to my honor.

On more than one occasion Maseda came to see me in the Lawton jail. There, I had finally heard his voice and a powerful force entered me. He said words to me that out of humility I would be incapable of repeating, and coming from someone whom I admire and respect, I will keep them in my memory for the rest of my days; but right now I could restart my imprisonment.

I feel such strength as at the beginning thanks the spirit of those who have sacrificed their lives, and those who are still willing and accompany me with their breath.

As José Martí said, “honor is happiness and strength,” which like a blanket, my brothers in the struggle cover me with.

3 March 2015

Musings of a Blind Man (4) / Angel Santiesteban

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana, December 2014 — Raúl Castro has just finished his address to the so-called Cuban “parliament” this morning, Dec. 20, 2014. For those who are familiar with the logic of the Castro brothers throughout this more than half-century since they installed themselves in power, his words do not produce the least surprise. They have been like the Second Declaration of Havana and a reaffirmation of his “socialist character.”

President Barack Obama’s enthusiasm, his excess of emotion and assuredness, convinced as he is of acting in the Cuban people’s best interests and, of course, most significantly and above all else, in the most beneficial way for the United States (for many reasons that we are not going to explain in this post) — for the Cuban regime, it is nothing more than a power play, a show of arrogance and contempt. Obama’s words insulted and frightened Continue reading

Angel Santiesteban Included in the Defending Freedoms Project

1425271734_tom-lantos-human-rights-commission24 February 2015 — In December 2012, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, together with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Amnesty International, U.S., created the Defending Freedoms Project, with the objective of supporting human rights and religious freedom worldwide, with a particular focus on prisoners of conscience.

Specifically, the members of Congress who “adopt” prisoners of conscience, in solidarity with those brave men and women throughout the world, pledge to plead publicly for their freedom.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats and the journalist José Antonio Torres, both Cuban political prisoners, have recently been included on the list.

1425271734_ai-usaThis new recognition of Ángel Santiesteban-Prats is added to what he recently received on behalf of the German Eurodeputy, Dr. Christian Ehlerquien, who assumed the political sponsorship of the imprisoned Cuban writer.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Musings of a Blind Man (3) / Angel Santiesteban

At this point in the historic events that have taken place in recent days between Cuba and the United States, it is not worthwhile to have regrets, but rather to understand the reasons for these events, and try to find a positive view of them.

I dare say that President Obama has passed the ball to the Cuban rulers. Now they have in their court what they have been long been clamoring for. We shall see what they are capable of doing with it. Most likely, the Castro brothers will not know what to do with the new possibility that can only lead to the path of liberty and democracy. This is something that they are unwilling to concede, albeit knowing of the great chance that the Republicans will assume power in the next U.S. elections and will revoke Continue reading

Musings of a Blind Man (2) / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 7 January 2015 — To know that there is a Cuban who knew how to work against the dictatorship makes it easier to bear that the regime’s five spies are now back on Cuban soil. I rejoiced when it was revealed that this Cuban — responding not to the North American government but against the dictatorship of the Castros — was the cause, having passed information to United States intelligence agencies about the enemy network that was operating in its territory. He is a free man today, having been exchanged for the last three of those spies who were still in prison in the US].

In turn, the fact that Alan Gross is now back with his family also means relief for those of us who harbor good feelings — especially those of us who know firsthand the suffering Continue reading

Musings of a Blind Man (1) / Angel Santiesteban

1420210999_castro-obamaAngel Santiesteban, 2 January 2015 — It finally happened, what a part of Cuban society desired and another share feared: Cuba and the United States resumed diplomatic relations. To criticize President Obama would be an innocuous, ungrateful, and useless, if we learned from José Martí that in politics what isn’t seen is bigger.

Obama has charted a course and we have no option but to watch from the stands. that some remember that they gave him their vote isn’t elegant, especially because we must be grateful for the sheltering of several generations of Cubans. It’s a glaring mistake to think that Obama should defend the rights of Cubans when his only obligation is to guarantee the prosperity of the United States.

After having done that, he can — as he has done up to now — support the reality of Cubans: but the political, economic and strategic interests, at the presidential level, outweigh what a good part of we Cubans consider best for our nation. Continue reading

Reasons to Live / Angel Santiesteban

My daughter, Daniela, is turning 17 and has written me a letter yearning for my return, saying that this would be the best present for her — but at the same time, she reaffirms her support and respect for my way of thinking and the necessity to make it public, and to go to battle for those rights. Her words are a caress on my face, a welcome breeze that soothes my wrinkles and tribulations, a force that rises up my chest and embraces me. “Papá, you are always with me, you are my pride Continue reading

Any honest and decent agreement should include the demand for the release of ALL the political prisoners / Angel Santiesteban

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats was and is the victim of Cuban State Security, which wants to silence his voice of opposition.

They fabricated a judicial action based on false denunciations from the mother of his son, who properly denied them when he announced internationally that he had been forced by his mother and the political police to declare against his own father.

Angel’s innocence has been shown with more than enough proof, and all good Cubans (and others) know it. Before the impotence of puppet justice to “prove” these denunciations, in spite of the fact that international law doesn’t consider one element of the accusation valid, they justified a sentence of five years on the report of a calligraphy expert: “guilty by the height and inclination of his handwriting.” Continue reading

A Writer With More Talent Than Fear / Angel Santiesteban

Literature has its decorum, as do those who live by it. José Martí

Nelton Pérez is a Cuban writer who recently won the Alejo Carpentier prize, which is the highest literary award for writers on a national scale, and also the best financially-endowed prize, comparable only to the Casa de las Américas International Prize.

His winning novel “Infidente”, deals with José Martí’s stay at the El Abra estate, on the Isle of Pines, following his release from political prison, when Sr. Sardá, a friend of his father’s, invited him to recover his good health there, while he awaited his deportation to Spain.

Taking as his starting point the limited historical information about Martí’s stay on the island, Nelton recreates, imagines, supposes — and he does it so well that the reader ends up believing that the letters written by the young Martí are real. Once when he visited me in prison, I had the privilege of him bringing me the manuscript. Continue reading