Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The writer Amir Valle. (Photo EFE / File)
The writer Amir Valle. (Photo EFE / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 27 June 2016 – The Eva Tas Foundation, located in Amsterdam, publishes and promotes texts that have been and are censored, regardless of where or how. Indeed, as a part of this laudable and necessary work, this institution just published two books by one of the most important figures in Cuban letters, and one of the highest contemporary examples of commitment to the truth and the defense of freedom: Amir Valle.

Gagged Words is one of them. The book was completed this 20 February, and though the ink hasn’t dried yet it is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the history of the Castro regime’s censorship, harassment and persecution of creative work and thought in Cuba, mainly in literature and film, but above all it reveals the subtle mechanisms of intellectual repression that the regime has adopted in these times of what some call late-Castroism. Continue reading “Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea”

AMIR VALLE: The Early Writer / Angel Santiesteban

Photo courtesy of Amir Valle. From left to right: Amir Valle and Ángel Santiesteban Prats

Angel Santiesteban talks with Amir Valle about personal experiences that marked their lives.

By Ángel Santiesteban Prats, 9 July 2015

Angel Santiesteban: Amir, we are about to celebrate thirty years since the beginning of our friendship, when back in the mid-eighties, at the Alejo Carpentier Center in Havana, they held National Seminar for Young Storywriters, where almost the entire generation then named “Newest” came together.

I made my first attempts at writing stories, when most of the guests had already won first prizes in the literary workshops in their provinces and at a national level as well, I felt myself immersed in a distant and unknown universe, as you will recall I had just been released from prison for not betraying my family in their first attempt to leave the country clandestinely.

What I remember most clearly was my admiration: I looked at them as if they were Nobel prizewinners. We were just introduced, it was like an explosion of affinity, literary interests, feelings. I accepted your friendship with great pride because, at your young age, you were a legend already, the promise you became today. For years you struggled in the most prestigious competitions for our generation. Continue reading “AMIR VALLE: The Early Writer / Angel Santiesteban”

Without Freedom, Without Justice, Without Law / Amir Valle and Elisa Tabakman

New Violations of Ángel Santiesteban’s Rights

Amir Valle and Elisa Tabakman, 28 June, 2015 — Today, June 28, 2015, Angel Santiesteban Prats should have been released on parole after having served exactly half of his unjust sentence. In fact, if they had not already violated his rights, he should have been free as of April 28, because as provided by law, for each year served in prison one month is credited against the total sentence.

When they violated his right to the two-month reduction, we denounced it here, and correctly explained that they did it to avoid granting him freedom. And we assumed, incorrectly, that they would release him on June 28; if they did not, it would be a public and obvious violation of their own laws. Continue reading “Without Freedom, Without Justice, Without Law / Amir Valle and Elisa Tabakman”

A Shameful Stab in the Back for Angel Santiesteban from UNEAC / Amir Valle, Angel Santiesteban

The writer Angel Santiesteban Prats and his son Eduardo Ángel some years ago.

By Amir Valle

The strategy of UNEAC and certain “disinformed” writers against Ángel Santiesteban

One more shame falls on the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba. This time, the shame is a dirty attack, manipulative and disloyal, against Ángel Santiesteban.

I read it in the blog “The Unknown Island,” by the Cuban essayist and journalist Enrique Ubieta, and it appears to be signed in principle by eight women, among whom we find some of the writers most admired for their work. But more than these signatures, what catches my attention is their taking advantage of the accusation against Angel Santiesteban to call for a struggle against violence toward women and to initiate with this article (embarrassingly manipulative) a campaign to collect signatures.

It is, in short, another step in the campaign to criminalize Ángel Santiesteban.

The initial question that I pose to the signatories is this: The person or persons who have hatched this campaign, have they had the decency to give you access to the documents that both the prosecutor and the attorney used in the trial? I, from Germany, only had to ask that they send me everything by email, and it was enough for me to read both files: Prosecution and Defense, to add my name to the call that we, his colleagues and friends, have made internationally in support of someone like Ángel Santiesteban.

I write these words from the deep respect that I feel for women, whom as a Christian I consider the most perfect creation of God. I have demonstrated this in my life and my professional career. Just this March 8, when you signed this document, I marked 16 years of marriage with a woman I consider responsible for all the good things I’ve done since I’ve known her.

And just as you were signing, I gave a lecture on literature written by women in Cuba, in which, of course, I mentioned some of you, proud of having been a witness to one of the most solid literatures written by women in the Spanish language, and, moreover, proud, until today, of being the only Cuban writer who decided one day to discover, promote and include in four anthologies the work of these Cuban women writers. As you surely know, I’m proud to say that many of the most important women writers in Cuba today saw their first stories published in my anthologies.

The lie is lame

“The truth always catches up with the lie, now matter how much it runs.”

I believe in that maxim. I know the mechanism for soliciting this type of signature: They ask you to sign against something or someone without putting all the real cards on the table; they want you to come out against something or someone only explaining to you the official version, the part of the facts that suits them. For that reason I have decided to write to you (and to those who want to read this article), inviting them (inviting everyone), to respond with dignity and integrity to these questions.

A brief introduction

I am one of the few people who can witness directly from the beginning the relationship between Ángel Santiesteban and Kenia Rodríguez, the mother of Eduardito, this boy they both conceived.

At that time, I lived in Ángel’s house and was very close to the beginning of this love story, diverted today, sadly, into hatred. I remember that Ángel brought only virtue and a better life from the beginning of their relationship. Kenia worked in a Chinese restaurant, and thanks to Ángel’s tenacity, she managed to start a UNEAC course in theater production. Years later I saw Kenia traveling abroad, accompanying Ángel on cultural trips.

Now Kenia is the complainant in the case for which he has been sentenced. I don’t know what little bird whispered in Kenia’s ear that made her, two and a half years after their separation as a couple, decide to initiate a series of personal accusations “oddly and coincidentally” just after Angel opened his blog, “The Children Nobody Wanted,” and his former wife began a steady love affair with a well-known artist. It would be good to note that Kenia, even acknowledging publicly that Ángel was an excellent father, forbade any relationship between the boy Eduardo and his father. Now it is known that, in secret from his mother, Eduardo sought out his father when he was barely 15-years-old.

Knowing Kenia as I do, I would like to make an appeal to her conscience so that she will see the light, so she will tell and defend the truth, without lending herself to any guy’s manipulations, above all for the well-being of the son that was born from this love; I call on the courts to reopen a case that, as the defense attorney showed, should be legally annulled because of the great quantity of procedural and judicial irregularities committed; and I call on the decency of those who have launched from their offices or those who have naively joined the campaign of criminalization without assessing the pure truth of the facts.

From my point of view, I noticed in the whole trial against Ángel Santeisteban sufficient evidence to strongly affirm that it’s a matter of an absurd and crude strategy by State Security to silence his voice. They are afraid of the impact that his criticisms could have, coming from a writer of his courage and reknown.

If I could find one single factor of merit that demonstrates Angel’s guilt in the crimes attributed to him, I never would have raised my voice in the way I did. I have even written that if Angel is guilty of something, he should be condemnded for that. But what we have seen, in the police work as well as in the judicial process, is so full of fraud, irregularities, violations and attempts at corruption and lies against Angel, that surely we can raise our voices to denounce this outrage.

We have rallied prestigious institutions (the majority of them not political) to take up our defense. And we have done it with proof in hand. I therefore encourage anyone who reads this article to offer answers substantiated by the truth to the following questions:

Why weren’t the complaints consistent from the beginning, and why did it take more than a month between the first and the last act, when according to the complaint it was a matter of a sequence of facts that occurred the same day? One month later did Kenia remember details that were supposed to be certain, that remained in her memory?

Why did the complainant present the medical certificate with a date previous to that of the complaint?

Why did the doctor, who supposedly signed the warrant, according to the declaration that is on record in the investigative file, not remember having attended her nor even remember the case?

Why did the complainant lie on the day of the trial, asserting that she was taken to the hospital, accompanied by the police, after making the complaint, if the date of the warrant shows that it was prepared one day before?

Why did the Provincial Court accept these lies, in spite of the attorney’s claim in the closing statement of the oral hearing? Why did the Supreme Court, which is supposed to be the petitioner in charge of ensuring the facts, not see that these violations didn’t occur?

Why, as was verified later, did Mayor Pablo, Chief of the heads of the Plaza Municipality sectors, who was involved in a love affair with the complainant, pressure the prosecution witness to not recant, and for what motive did he advise Kenia Rodriguez, according to the same informer, to confess before Angel and his son?

Why was the case file reopened after having been archived upon determining that there was no cause to send it to the Prosecutor and open a lawsuit?

Why reopen a file when never before did they take Kenia’s accusations seriously (performing only the bureaucratic process of listening to her), upon the evidence, according to the investigator’s own words, of Kenia’s nervous disorder and the constant sham and inconsistencies in her declarations? Why did the complainant commit blunders when referring to them?

If there aren’t political reasons, why try to convert a man considered an exemplary citizen and a distinguished writer into a public monster at the moment he decides to publish criticisms about the Cuban political reality through his blog? Why does this campaign of criminalization coincide so well with his being marginalized in the national culture?

Why was the file forgotten (archived) just until the invitation from the First Festival of the Word in Puerto Rico arrived, where Ángel Santiesteban would participate together with a group of intellectuals (from the Left, but with positions critical toward the political reality in Cuba)? Why did they “casually” cite him with urgency and decide to impose on him a bail of $1,000 pesos, thereby preventing his participation in the said event, which has international prestige in literary circles? Why, just at the moment when the international impact of his blog would grow and just when he would enjoy the promotion of his work and critical labor as a blogger in an international festival did they decide to impose on him the precautionary measure?

Why did they send the case investigator (yes, the same person who had archived the file) on a different tack, and mysteriously extract the file to take it to another police unit with another investigator? Why did this investigator reopen everything trying to implicate Santiesteban during three years, without being able to find the least glimmer of evidence that would tie him to the facts? What obliged this investigator to pressure, blackmail and harass the witnesses, investigating them in their neighborhoods and spreading the rumor that the neighbors might be implicated in the murder of a foreigner? Why, as these witnesses confessed, were they pressured to give up their decision to testify in favor of Angel?

Why did they wait three and one-half years to have the oral hearing? Why after setting it for the day of April 3, 2009, did they suspend the hearing? Why did they violate in such a flagrant manner the Penal Code that establishes that once a date is ratified and the parties notified, the matter can’t be suspended and they can’t return to an investigation, except if new evidence comes up in the same oral hearing that the Court needs to investigate? Did they not understand that no elements existed to judge the accused and sanction him, as they finally did? Did they understand that it was too obvious that they were committing an unwise injustice and, later, if they didn’t prepare well, they wouldn’t be able to justify the punishment for lack of evidence?

Why did the file travel several times to the Provincial Court after being dismissed each and every one of these times?

Why did they have to threaten the first attorney, as she herself admitted, obliging Angel to look for another legal representative who would not let himself be pressured?

Why did the Prosecutor, police and the complainant (in my opinion encouraged by the impunity they felt at being supported by State Security) set up a false “witness” who, thanks to the astuteness of Santiesteban’s friends, they were able to unmask? Why did the judges not throw out a case obviously invented, before the overwhelming evidence of this video where the false witness relates the pressure he received from the police to declare himself against Santiesteban? Why did Kenia, if she knew the truth, need to bribe the witness, as he could compromise himself in the video where the same witness exhibits the gifts he received as a bribe?

Why, from the time that Santiesteban said he knew about the video (authenticated as real and valid by an experienced official), did the Prosecutor find himself obligated to withdraw these crude accusations that, among other things, were accumulating the exorbitant sum of 54 years in prison for the extensive and fastidious list of false accusations? Why, upon seeing them discovered so clearly, did they have to dismiss the 15 years the Prosecutor was requesting as punishment for all the supposed crimes?

Why starting from this moment, instead of annulling the case because of the amount of irregularities (perjury of the claimant and demonstration of her intention to harm Angel at all cost) did they decide to return the file to the investigative phase, to readjust it and continue with their malevolent plan? Why and for whom did they study it for several months in the police unit, and later in the Provincial Prosecutor’s office?

Important and suspect: Why was the file requested from the General Prosecutor of the Republic?

Something else important and suspect: Why did the file record, in a note signed and sealed by the police investigator, “Urgent Interest of the Minister”? Why was a supposed case of “domestic violence” handled at the highest level of the Ministry of the Interior?

Still more important and more suspect: If there were no political plot behind all this, why was the file sent from the General Prosecutor to the General Headquarters of State Security in Villa Marista, according to what Santiesteban’s attorney was told in the same General Prosecutor’s office? Why, if the General Prosecutor of the Republic said that the file was in Villa Marista, when the defense attorney presented himself at Villa Marista, did they deny that the file was there? What did they have to hide?

Why did the Investigator continue with this false report, if, in spite of his bold attempt to implicate Santiesteban, he could not manage to set a trap?

Why did the Prosecutor, beginning with the aforementioned video of the false testimony, feel obligated to withdraw the complaints, leaving only the minor offenses: “home invasion and injuries”? Why did they keep these accusations, if the same video had already proven that Kenia Rodriguez was lying, for which she could be prosecuted for the crime of perjury, which was not done?

If it was a matter of a supposed ordinary crime, why did they hold the trial in the Main Hall of State Security, in the special headquarters in Carmen and Juan Delgado? Why were members of State Security posted outside? Why, as many witnesses could substantiate, were buses distributed “with veterans and enthusiastic people who spontaneously agree to defend their revolution”?

Why did the Court put Santiesteban in the totally indefensible position of not being able to call his own witnesses? Why, in return, did it keep the flimsy prosecution “witnesses”, all of them State functionaries and soldiers, obviously conspiring to try to give some credibility to the sanction, which, surely, had already been handed down?

How is it possible that a court can accept as convincing truth the testimony of the handwriting expert who stated that Angel was guilty because of the “size and inclination of his writing”, when the defense lawyer demonstrated scientifically and legally that handwriting, according to international norms, cannot ever be considered a conclusive truth?

Why did the Court reject the defense attorney’s testimony that, thanks to his friendship with the complainant, he could affirm that Kenia Rodriguez had told him on several occasions of her intentions to cause harm to the father of her son, meaning to Angel? Why also did they not take into account the declarations of the boy’s teacher (the Director of his school, considered a dependable person), who stated that the child confessed to him that his mother obliged him to lie about his father to damage his public image? Why also, “curiously” did they throw out the statements of three other witnesses, who showed that Angel Santiesteban was somewhere else just at the time that Kenia, supposedly, was being abused by him?

Why did the professionals, who attended the oral hearing–the lawyers, ex-prosecutors, intellectuals–after hearing the parties, agree that Angel was innocent and should be absolved, that absolutely nothing was presented that would incriminate him, except the declaration of the Lieutenant Colonel (the handwriting expert), who stated that he was guilty because of his inclined handwriting?

It’s enough to appeal to a little decency, a small quota of ethics, in order to conclude, before these terrible irregularities, that all this, even though it appears to be a joke, is a stifling and hallucinatory sin.

But if they weren’t enough, I want answers to some more questions:

Important proof of infamy: Why did the State Security official known as Camilo, after beating up Angel Santiesteban, November 8, 2012, tell him, ”Aren’t the five years years we’re going to toss at you enough?”? In front of a witness, Eugenio Leal, Angel said, “Some day you will pay for your abuse,” and Camilo responded, “When I pay, you already will have.” How could Angel Santiesteban, thanks to agent Camilo, alert the international community about his sentence one month before the Court sentenced him?

Why was the sentence excessive, as the defense showed in the appeal, if the court recognizes Santiesteban as a citizen who is distinguished by his intellectual work, nationally and internationally, and there are no prior offenses, circumstances that, according to Cuban legislation, are attenuating, which could drastically reduce any sentence?

Why do multiple cases exist in this same Court, processed for the same supposed crime, sometimes with weapons involved and with people with a full criminal history, and in none of the cases did the sentences come close to five years’ deprivation of liberty?

Why, again “curiously”, did the Court make a mistake in the second clause, which added one more year to the sentence? Why wasn’t this annulled, as established by law for this type of procedural “error”?

Why did the Superior Court, which had a decent opportunity to amend the scope of this injustice, catalogue as “without place” (meaning, they didn’t accept it) the diligently-researched file presented by the lawer as a Cause for Appeal, in the face of the enormous list of irregularities committed in this case?

I have many other questions. I only ask whoever reads this article that they don’t judge without having the evidence. To the present and future signatories of this call for signatures, “Zero Tolerance for Violence against Women”, that UNEAC now brandishes, deceitfully, taking advantage of Angel Santiesteban’s case, I now remember that in the history of our country, we intellectuals have been participants in many injustices simply by not searching for the truth and by conforming ourselves to what our government officials tell us.

I, convinced by the evidence of Angel’s innocence, continue asking these questions. I don’t expect them to be answered, although perhaps they should be.

Why did Kenia Rodriguez, the supposed victim, if she were convinced of the solidity of her accusations, tell her son that she conceived him with Angel’s love, and “that I never thought to bring a lawsuit”?

Why and who, again “casually”, decided and authorized that they wait until the International Book Fair in Havana conclude to emprison the writer Angel Santiesteban if the sentence was already handed down?

Why does Angel Santiesteban now not falter, if he is an intelligent and humble man, who other times has seen fit to publicly recognize the mistakes in his personal and professional life?

Why does he feel so proud to find himself in prison?

Why has he decided to give State Security a lesson in principles and loyalty to his ideas, reminding them with his performance and his writings that this move against him is simply a punishment, an underhanded message about power against Cuban intellectuals and the martyrdom that those who decide to rebel against the establishment can suffer?

They do what they can do against Angel, and I am certain that History will reclaim him some time as one of the cleanest, most transparent intellectuals and brave fighters of his time inside Cuba in these so-convulsed times that we Cubans live in. I know him with his virtues and his defects. I feel proud to be a member of his generation of writers; I am filled with pride at his brotherhood, and I feel proud to be the friend of one of these Cubans who, from the island, fights so that all of us can have the right to think with our own heads, have our differences respected, express our criticisms and nonconforming politics, without being catalogued by the government with the classic, trite, derogatory labels that up to today they have used, those who defend totalitarian thought, which, happily, each day that passes, has more cracks in Cuba.

Published under “Personal Thoughts”, Amir Valle’s blog.

 Translated by Regina Anavy 

Spanish post
9 March 2013

Angel Santiesteban: General Chronology of an Outrage II / Amir Valle

Angel and his son Eduardo Angel Santiesteban, whom they tried to pressure to implicate his father.

By Amir Valle

Part Two

II. The Judicial Web of Outrage

False Evidence

On July 29, 2009, Angel Santiesteban was detained, accused of having raped his ex-wife, Kenie Rodriguez, from whom he’d been separated for 4 years and who lives with an employee of the Ministry of the Interior. It’s been shown that Angel was not there and she refused the medical tests necessary to validate her claim.

A new claim by the ex-wife, Kenia Rodriguez: she accused his this time of stealing the family jewels. But she refused to point out the jewels in photos and the claim had no effect.

Another new claim by the ex-wife, Kenia Rodriguez: this time for stealing money of various denominations. Angel Santiesteban showed that he still had not been in the place of these events. She offered no proof and the claim was dismissed.

A month later Angel Santeiesteban is in a nearby place (60 yards) where he runs into his ex-wife Kenia Rodriguez; he is accused of harassment, but this time the claim is not accepted.

Fifteen days later, there is a short-circuit in an electrical system in disrepair about which her neighbors had warned Kenya Rodriguez’s, causing a fire in the house at a time when she was not inside. However, she filed a complaint against Angel Santiesteban for attempted murder. Angel freely proved that he was not there, but the next day they summoned him and imposed a fine of 1500 pesos. They told him that he could not travel in the coming days to the Festival of the Word, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to which had been invited.

Days late they assigned a new police investigator, who reactivated and placed in a new file all of the false charges, previously discarded. The established sentences for the alleged crimes totaled 54 years.

 Judicial Irregularities

They present a single witness, who during the confrontation starts screaming at them not to force him to testify against Ángel Santiesteban. Leaving the police confrontation, the witness visits Angel’s house and explains in front of neighbors that he was forced to testify against him. His words are recorded on a video. On learning that Ángel Santiesteban`s defense had the recording of the false “witness”, they removed him from the case.

The case file does not appear in any of the places where it should be, according to the law. Finally, they acknowledged that it had been sent to an official named Ribiero, in Villa Marista, the central prison of State Security (Cuba`s political police).

Between September and October 2011, the defense attorney claims that he was pressured and harassed for defending Angel. Angel is forced to hire a new lawyer: Miguel Medina Iturria, who can prove the falsity of the most serious charges, so the charges are removed from the indictment. The Prosecutor now requests 15 years instead of the previous 54.

After three years of waiting, in October 2012, the trail is held. The defense attorney shows the inconsistency of the few pieces of evidence presented, including the report of a Calligraphic Expert Perito that Angel’s guilt is based on the fact that he writes with “some” slant, and makes the letters “very suspicious in size.” Nevertheless, Angel Santiesteban is condemned to five years in prison when, as also demonstrated by the defense, if the crime had been proved a fine as punishment enough, according to current legislation, giving weight “to the social and citizen merits of the defendant`s behavior.”

III. – Embarrassing evidence of the Infamy

Since the beginning of the dirty campaign to make the Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban Prats into a criminal, numerous sites on the internet have said that the trial for alleged common crimes against this recognized figure from Cuban letters was an unfair trial, rigged and full of irregularities, and is an attempt to throw a cloak of silence about the true reason for the retaliation of the Cuban political police: the strong criticism against Raul Castro`s regime and totalitarianism published by Angel in the blog “The Children Nobody Wanted.“

We have enumerated here the most scandalous violations, among many others, demonstrated by the defense attorney, Miguel Iturria Medina, during the trail and in the appeal against the verdict of the Havana Provincial People`s Criminal Court.

1 – After the police dismissed for months, as unfounded, the accusations presented against Angel Santiesteban by his ex-wife Kenia Rodriguez, a new investigator was assigned who revived all these false accusations and opened a new file with them.

2 – The accusation presented a false witness: Alex Quintana Quindelan, who later, in a confession recorded by the defense (you can see it on Youtube), demonstrated the falsity of the crimes Angel Santiesteban was accused of and that Angel Santiesteban`s accuser lied under the direction of Kenia Rodriguez, who promised to repay him with personal goods.

3 – The file, which according the Law should remain exclusively in offices of the police and judicial authorities, was lost for months and was rescued by the defense from the hands of the political police at Villa Marista, an institution of State Security.

4. – The incriminating evidence of the alleged rape and aggressions that Ángel Santiesteban perpetrated against his former wife were shown to be lies during the trial with numerous medical and legal evidence, demonstrating Kenia Rodríguez’s strong interest in damaging at any cost the moral and social integrity of Angel.

5. – The evidence of the accusation of the supposed aggressive attitude of Ángel Santiesteban against his former wife psychologically affected their son: Ángel Santiesteban Eduardo Rodríguez, whose testimony was disproved by the child’s teacher, Yahima Lahera Chamizo, who told the defense attorney that the boy had confessed to being pressured by mother to testify against his father, and even the child’s own later statements. Neither of these statements was taken into account by the Court.

5. – During the arrest of Ángel Santiesteban, in November 2012, for accompanying other opponents to a police station in Havana, demanding the release of an opposition a lawyer detained without charges, “Camilo,” an agent of the political police, after making death threats with a gun, said, “is the five years in prison, we are going to give you not enough?” What is “odd” about this statement is that it was made the day before the Court of Justice delivered its judgment.

6. – The five-year sentence applied in this case is excessive and does not correspond to the provisions of law for the offense for which he is convicted: “of three months to one year in prison or a fine of one hundred to three hundred shares*.” In this sense, the defense argues that it has also violated the provisions of the Governing Council of the People’s Supreme Court in its Instruction No. 175 dated July 21, 2004, which guides the courts when possible penalties do not exceed five years’ imprisonment, assessing the substitution of such penalty by other measures established by law, preferably those that do not involve incarceration.

Finally, as has been said on many websites where this injustice is denounced, it involved violations sufficient to invalidate the entire process against Ángel Santiesteban Prats.

*Translator’s note: With regards to fines, “shares” are established in Cuban law, the value of which may change with time. Thus, the law itself does not need to be changed in response to changing values of money, so a “share” could be any amount.

6 March 2013

Angel Santiesteban Prats: General Chronology of an Outrage / Amir Valle

By Amir Valle

Part 1

The renowned Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats has been sentenced to five years imprisonment for writing against the Cuban dictatorship from his blog “The Children Nobody wanted”. The news now travels the world.

As part of the strategy of overwhelming repression practiced by the Cuban political police since the arrival of Raul Castro to power, they are trying to criminalize the opponent accusing him of crimes that the defense has proven he did not commit.

The most notorious and shameful of this injustice is the interference of the political police at the procedural and judicial level, proving once again that the Cuban leaders operate as dictators imposing their political designs on all branches of society. The numerous violations in the case against Angel Santiesteban Prats clearly demonstrate that in Cuba for 54 years there has been no separation of powers, necessary in any truly democratic society.

Unjustly condemned, Angel Santiesteban demands a new trial, with respect for all legal guarantees and without the interference of the Cuban political police, as occurred in the trail that resulted in his current sentence.

1. The preparation of the outrage

Ángel Santiesteban is a writer who, as of 2006, was cited by the official Cuban culture as “one of the great storytellers emerged in the revolutionary period.” Two of his books: South: Latitude 13 (on the war in Angola) and Blessed Are Those Who Mourn are considered classics of the short story in Cuba. But because of the critical content of his books of stories, each publication of his books was made possible after many struggles against censorship and the books were never promoted outside the island.

Disillusioned by the plight of his people, after a trip to the Dominican Republic where his friend the writer Camilo Venegas explained to him what a blog is, he decided to write his own blog and in 2008 created “The Children Nobody Wanted” which offers a very critical vision of the national disaster to which the Cuban government has condemned our island. He requested that his blog be hosted by  the Cuban Book Institute and was denied, so he posted it on the site, “Encuentro on the Red,” belonging to the Cultural Encounter Association of Cuban Culture.

Many intellectuals in the service of the dictatorship tried to convince him to abandon his criticism. He also received political pressure from the police to stop writing. The Ministry of Culture decreed a complete silent censorship against his writing and intellectual work. He began to denounce these pressures in his blog.

He was beaten in the streets of Havana by fake criminals. There is evidence that they were agents of the political police. One piece of evidence: as one of the alleged “criminals” beat him, he told him this was what he got for being a counterrevolutionary. Other evidence: in response to a critical post against the official propaganda manipulation of the “Reasons of Cuba” TV program, on March 21, 2011, that same program refered to his blog declaring him to be an “Enemy of the Revolution.”

As has been shown by the independent lawyers defending him, a sustained campaign of criminalization began against him, trying to crush his prestige, accusing him of crimes he did not commit. The initial request from the prosecution for a sentence against him asked for 54 years, as if he were accused of genocide. One by one the defense shot down all the fabricated evidence and the most serious charges are dismissed, and the sentence request was reduced to just 15 years. Authorities expanded the process, hiding his file, which, as later demonstrated, was in the hands of an officer of the State Security. After three years, he was finally brought to public trail and the process concluded with his being sentenced.

In November 2012, while accompanying other opponents at a police station in Havana, demanding the release of an opposition lawyer detained without charges, he was arrested, severely beaten and threatened with death: A political police officer named Camilo put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. He then told him that he wouldn’t do it there, when he was in public, they would make his death look like an accident. He also told him, “Isn’t the five years in prison we’re going to give you enough for you?” when the court had not yet ruled.

On November 26, 2012, he wrote an open letter to President-dictator Raul Castro, accusing him of all the repression to which they were subjecting him and other opponents. He also denounced, in a video, that the political police were threatening to kill him.

Days after this letter, the decision of the Court in the trial against him was communicated to him: he was sentenced to five years in prison when the “invented crime” only deserved a fine, the only evidence being the report of an expert calligrapher who assured he was guilty because of the “slant” and “suspicious size” of his handwriting. Although the lawyer proved the falsity of other evidence, several irregularities that in fact invalidated the trial, and presented evidence that invalidates the calligraphic “proof”, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

He appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest body of Justice in the country. Without taking into account that his lawyers showed numerous irregularities that invalidate the criminal process, this Court upheld the sentence of five years imprisonment for “housebreaking and aggression.”

On February 28 he is locked in the Cuban prison of Valle Grande, as has been denounced in numerous well-known reports internationally, where they violate the human rights of most prisoners. Days later he was transferred to the “La Lima” internment camp, outside of Guanabacoa, an installation for prisoners convicted of minor offenses.

4 March 2013

Cuba Doesn’t Matter or We Still Can’t Claim Victory… Yet / Luis Felipe Rojas

Yoanis Sánchez sale de Cuba .- Foto AFP
Photo: Yoani Sanchez leaves Cuba. AFP Photo.

[Note: This version was posted on Luis Felipe Roja’s blog. A longer version is available here.]

By Amir Valle

I’m sorry… I can’t cry victory only because (finally!) Yoani Sánchez, Eliécer Ávila, Rosa María Payá and others who, of course, will do it in the next months, now can travel without the humiliating exit permit. I read that many people are happy and sing victory and sentences abound like, “We won this battle,” and “We kicked the Castros’ ass.” “Now with freedom to enter and leave the island, the opposition can launch a strong campaign from the Exterior.” …even when all these and other “changes” are pure face makeup, more than ever, for the convenience of the regime in Havana. Continue reading “Cuba Doesn’t Matter or We Still Can’t Claim Victory… Yet / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Cuba Doesn’t Matter, or We Still Can’t Claim Victory… Yet / Amir Valle

Passing through the control booth at the Havana airport. AP photo
Passing through the control booth at the Havana airport. AP photo

I’m sorry… I can’t cry victory just because (finally!) Yoani Sánchez, Eliécer Ávila, Rosa María Payá  and others who, of course, will do it in the next months, now can travel without the humiliating exit permit. I read that many people are happy and sing victory and sentences abound like, “We won this battle,” and “We kicked the Castros’ ass.” “Now with freedom to enter and leave the island, the opposition can launch a strong campaign from the Exterior.” …even when all these and other “changes” are pure face makeup, more than ever, for the convenience of the regime in Havana.

I repeat, although it sounds alarmist: I don’t think that now is the time to claim victory. A dictatorship, even less so the Cuban one, never offers its arm to be twisted. A regime that rearranges itself in order to guarantee its future (that’s the only thing that has happened today on the island) does not take false steps.

I’ve learned that well. And I know that taking these steps that the world catalogues as “changes,” although they have been forced by some circumstances, already the masterminds of power in Havana must have established their national strategies, elaborated their connections with other similar powers in the rest of the world, and positioned their soldiers in the new game that they have already planned as well as possible and future plays. Continue reading “Cuba Doesn’t Matter, or We Still Can’t Claim Victory… Yet / Amir Valle”

For Shame! / Angel Santiesteban #Cuba

By Amir Valle

Ángel Santiesteban is a writer.

It’s a truth so absolute that it can make whoever reads this think, “Amir Valle still doesn’t know what he’s going to write.” And he would be right. Because I could have begun by saying directly what I mean:

“Ángel Santiesteban is a writer, but they want to disguise him as a criminal.”

And now that’s very different. Still more if we see ourselves obliged to remember that Ángel Santiesteban lives in a country that spends its time “crowing” everywhere that Cubans “live in the best of worlds that exist today”; that is to say, almost in a paradise on earth, and that the accusations made by enemies — who in all cases are called “mercenaries of imperialism” — that human rights are not respected in Cuba are false.

Ángel Santiesteban is a writer, and he has told about a Cuba that the government doesn’t want to show; a Cuba that refuses to accept many honest beings of this world who once pinned their hopes on what the Cuban Revolution meant in those beautiful and, I repeat, encouraging, years of the Seventies. But the saddest thing is that Ángel Santiesteban has written, persists in writing and speaking about a Cuba that certain intellectuals of the Left strive to hide.

I have spoken with some of these colleagues, and it has called my attention to discovering that, determined in their personal war against “the evils of imperialism,” against “the genocide that capitalism is causing in the present world,” against the “dangerous and growing loss of liberties and human rights that the United States and the rich countries of the First World are carrying with them wherever they plant their boots,” they don’t want to understand (and even search for thousands of justifications, among others, Ahh! The North American blockade!) that on a more reduced but also criminal scale, the Cuban government has converted “Cuba, the beacon of the Americas and the world” into an absurd marabuzal (convoluted mess) of economic, social and moral evils.

They don’t want to recognize (and even try to find forced explanations) that because of the failed economic experiments and the “war mongering internationalism” of Fidel Castro and his minions, the Cuban people have suffered a true genocide that already numbers more dead than all the deaths that have occurred on the island since the beginning of the 20th century up to today (just trying to escape Cuba for the United States on makeshift rafts to reach “the capitalist hell,” around 30,000 Cubans have perished); and above all, those intellectual colleagues of the Left lose themselves in labyrinths of slogans from the epoch of the Cold War when they try to defend a government that shows its true dictatorial face eliminating freedoms and human rights for all its citizens, enraging itself especially with those who dare to think with their own minds, to say and write what they think.

It’s a shameful position, without doubt. But more shameful is the silence in response. And it’s in the face of evidence of the total disaster that today is the political and governmental “system” imposed on Cubans (and the quotation marks are because more than a system, it’s a desperate experiment to gain time in power to prepare the way for the “sons of the Castro Clan and their acolytes” to assume that power). Faced with the impossibility of defending such a debacle with solid arguments, they now count on changing the subject, and when they see themselves obliged “to fulfill their honorable professional careers” to face the stubborn truth of the facts, they respond with a theatrical “I didn’t know” (at least this happens with the majority of those I know).

But there is even something more embarrassing. A good part of those intellectuals personally knew Ángel Santiesteban when he still hadn’t decided to say out loud and to write journalistically to Cubans and the world what he thought about the harsh reality of his country. At that time he was limiting himself to writing only short stories, which were hard, critical, not at all complacent. But even so he was then considered a prestigious voice in the concert of Cuban narrative. The official critics, many of them cultural functionaries in important political posts, categorized him as “the best storyteller of his generation.”

But none of those critics, none of those functionaries, could ever explain why, while the Latin American Literary Agency (that represents and manages internationally the literary works of the resident writers on the island) placed in good, mid-range and even unknown publishers abroad works that were “not conflictive” (many of them of lesser quality than the books of Ángel), the Agency never managed to place one single one of the much-praised books of Ángel Santiesteban.

We heard the unofficial response from the mouth of a Cuban editor, then the director of one of the most prestigious publishing houses on the island, at a party in the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center. And perhaps that explosion of sincerity had something to do with the several plastic cups of rum and cola that the editor had drunk. Now we know, because life has shown us: children and drunks tend to be implacably sincere. Later I knew that the weight of conscience bothered that poor man, the guilt of not having been able to overcome the fear that obliged him to leave his ethical principles to one side and convert himself into the worst of intellectual marionettes: a censor.

“Some day many things I did will come out into the open…the many masks I had to put on…to save you from the hell that I had to go through…to defend the right of writing with freedom, believe me, I did a lot…a lot….,” he said, with a nasal voice.

“I saved your ass when you wrote the true Manuscritos…and now I can tell you that was a great book….,” he told me, pointing at me with a trembling finger.

“And you, for your book of stories about Pinos Nuevos,” he told Alejandro Aguiar, who I didn’t think was really listening because he was talking with Alberto Guerra, who now also had ears as red as Mandinga from the alcohol.

“And just now I came from a meeting where a bastard from the Agency, whose name I won’t mention, said clearly, clearly, that he is not promoting outside Cuba “gusano books” — the books of worms — like those of Ángel Santiesteban.

That I remember. Of course with all the repetitions, all the babbling and all that comic slurring of words that drunks usually do. Even tears, especially when he complained that it hurt him to be seen as a censor by colleagues like us.

The period of time, and above all the secrets that some writer friends told us under their breath who also were functionaries “of confidence” would allow us to prove that that behavior was not an aberration of one particular censor. It was a clear political tactic: books that showed the island in a way that was “not convenient” to the official image that Cuba projected were shelved and the authors were always told that “we don’t know what’s happening, but we are not able to place your books…it’s difficult, the international market is very hard.”

And when they placed some of those books it was strictly for propaganda purposes, well calculated. One writer who protested too much had to shut up (and was then published by a very small house of almost no distribution, so that the book didn’t circulate except for guaranteeing a few samples for the author who boasted of being published abroad) or had to show that it was a lie that Cuba censured him, for which they flocked to false or blandly “conflictive” books of writers who clearly adhered to the Regime, most notably the “critical” novel “The Flight of the Cat,” by Abel Prieto.

Nothing of that, of course, do they accept, those foreign intellectuals who then came to Cuba and were astonished at the “fabulous narrative capacity of Ángel Santiesteban,” as some told me personally in those years. I even dare to assert that some, if they are asked, upon receiving the official version (in which, I am also sure, they don’t believe) have decided to make like ostriches and hide their heads in the sand.

None of them, even where it is known in the intellectual milieus of the island and exile, has interceded for this writer they praised so much when he was unknown by “the enemy press, mercenary of imperialism”; none of them, in their numerous trips to Havana, has demanded that the right of Ángel Santiesteban to say what he thinks, to publish what he thinks inside and outside Cuba be respected, not even with 0.5 percent of the rage with which they defend a phony like Julian Assange (who presents himself as a paradigm of free expression of the press but runs to seek refuge under the wings of a government that is a paradigm in the world of repression of a free press).

None of those who verified with their own eyes that Ángel Santiesteban is, above all things, a sincere writer, with a literary career that has persevered since its very beginning in offering a critical look at the Cuban reality, none of them, I repeat, has pronounced publicly, like they should, to simply defend the right of Ángel Santiesteban to be considered thus, a writer.

Berlin, November 9, 2012

Translated by Regina Anavy