14ymedio, Havana, 14 August 2020 — The Václav Havel Library Foundation announced this Thursday that Cuban author Ángel Santiesteban Prats is the 2020 winner of the award given to a writer at risk.
“Because of his open opposition to the regime, Santiesteban has been the subject of continuous harassment and accusations,” says the New York-based foundation in its statement, which notes that, in 2012, he was sentenced to five years in prison for his opposition to the dictatorship of the Castros.
“The regime tried to hide him in a military hospital claiming a dermatological treatment, but his family and his lawyer said it was a ruse to deprive him of access to the Commission of National and International Journalists, which had permission to visit him in the prison where he was previously,” says the statement.
The award includes $5,000 in cash and a one-month residency at the Václav Havel Library in Prague. The Foundation announced that the award will be presented at an online gala on September 24.
The writer, who in 2016 won the Reinaldo Arenas de Narrativa prize for The Return of Mambrú, has been awarded for other titles such as The Children Nobody Wanted (Alejo Carpentier Prize 2001) or Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Casa de las Américas Prize 2006). In 2009, he started the blog The Children Nobody Wanted. He is also co-writer of the film Plantados, about to be released, about the political prisoners of the 60s in Cuba.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.
Yolanda Huerga (Radio Televisión Martí), April, 19, 2020 — It’s been 17 years since that April 19 when a group of Cuban artists and writers signed a letter supporting the imprisonment of 75 dissidents, the execution of three young men and life sentences for the other four, after they hijacked a boat with the intention of going to the United States.
The letter disclosed how “Message from Havana for friends who are far away” responded to the other document signed by dozens of intellectuals around the world, including traditional friends of the Revolution, in which they condemned the repression for crimes of opinion in Cuba and challenged the legality of “revolutionary justice.”
Radio Television Martí interviewed people about the gloomy atmosphere during those days of the Black Spring and the execution of the three boys who had been in prison only 10 days.
“The year 2003 was a definitive year, not only for policy but also for Cuban culture and society. It was the year of that shameful repressive act known as the Black Spring, which would initiate the most important social resistance movements of the opposition and the Ladies in White, and it was the year when three young men, who tried to flee Cuba in a boat, were deceived by being promised a fair trial and, finally, in an absolutely illegal and inhuman procedure, were executed,” noted Amir Valle, from Berlin, Germany. continue reading
Already in 1961, Fidel Castro had summed up his cultural policy in one sentence: “Inside the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing.” There were no alternatives. Creative people had to bend to that mandate because their survival depended on it.
“Everybody I knew, from all strata of Cuban culture, everybody, thought that this was an aberration. They talked about it in small groups but never raised their voices, and many accepted this afront—the letter—in which personalities like Alicia Alonso, Silvio Rodríguez, Miguel Barnet, among others, not only defended the executions but also had the indecency to try to get thinkers from other countries to add themselves to this shameful support,” said Valle, the author of Los Denudos de Dios [The Naked of God].
The initial letter, signed by 27 noted figures of national culture and published in the official newspaper Granma, was followed by a call to all the members of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the Hermanos Saiz Association, cultural institutions and universities throughout the country to follow the decision taken by Fidel Castro.
In the following weeks, Granma regularly published a list of those who added their signatures throughout the country.
In this respect, the writer and activist, Ángel Santiesteban said from the Cuban capital: “When the convocation opened, as my apartment was very close to the headquarters of UNEAC, many people came by my house to say hello, and I can say that even the most ardent defenders of the Regime confessed to me at that time that they didn’t agree with the imprisonment of the 75, and, above all, they were outraged at the execution of those boys.”
The Cuban Government stated that there was “budding aggression” and that the U.S. intended to invade Cuba.
“The majority justified signing the ‘Message’ by saying they didn’t agree with the invasion,” lamented Santiesteban, who already in 1995 had received the UNEAC prize for his book of short stories, Sueño de un día de verano [Dream of a Summer Day].”
The essayist, Carlos Aguilera, located in the German city of Frankfurt, emphasized that “this letter was a disgrace. On one side, the despotic State was imprisoning, assassinating, repressing. And on the other, a group of sycophants was encouraging all the terror of Castro’s policy. When, one day, they can ask questions and bring the guilty to justice, they will have to ask the Cuban intellectual claque why they not only signed the proclamation but also contributed to the crime and favored the dismantling of all critical positions, all spaces of reflection and discrepancy.”
However, more than the strong declarations by figures like Günter Grass, Mario Vargas Llosa and Jorge Edwards, it had a much bigger impact on national intellectuals, artists and writers. Some, openly on the left, like Pedro Almodóvar, Joan Manuel Serrat, Fernando Trueba, Joaquín Sabina, Caetano Veloso, José Saramago and Eduardo Galeano, harshly criticized the Regime. Even Noam Chomsky, in 2008, requested freedom for those detained in the Black Spring.
“Suddenly there was an apparent unity among colleagues of the Left and the Right on the world level,” said Valle. “It was a small seed that was sowed in the heads of many of us and that flourished some years later in the intellectual rebellion known as ‘Pavongate, or the Little War of Emails in 2007’. For this reason I think that 2003 marks a before and after, because not only did the events occur and not only was society moved but it also made very profound changes in the cultural and social policy in Cuba,” he added.
“No one should be in favor of the death penalty; human life is sacred in my opinion,” said the writer Gabriel Barrenechea, a native of Encrucijada, Villa Clara. “And it seems to me totally incongruent that a writer or an artist would support trials against freedom of expression. To deny this is to deny our essence as creators.”
Through the blog, Segunda Cita, Radio Televisión Martí contacted Silvio Rodríguez, and asked: “In April 2003, you signed the ‘Message from Havana for friends who are far away.’ Seventeen years later, do you continue supporting the executions?”
“I never supported those executions,” answered the singer. “I’m sure that none of the signers of that letter did. We signed the letter to close ranks with Cuba’s right to be sovereign. It was 2003, and when Bush launched an attack against Iraq, Colin Powell, inspired by the worst of Florida, said: ‘First Iraq and then Cuba’. Later he had to say it was a joke. I never quit defending my country from bullies and their friends,” said Silvio Rodríguez.
In an interview given to the Spanish newspaper, El Periódico, in 2008, the trova singer Pablo Milanés said that, unlike others, he refused “to sign a letter of support for the executions decreed in April 2003 and the penalties of long prison sentences for the 75 dissidents.” To the question of whether it was a matter of “pure opportunism” on the part of those intellectuals who signed the letter, Milanés responded, “Yes, and pure cowardice.”
Ángel Santiesteban, Havana, 23 February 2019 — They slammed shut the doors of La Cabaña, ending the 28th Havana Book Fair; and one which, I suppose, has been the most disturbing of all of them up until now. I can imagine everything those culture officials had to do to prepare an event scheduled for the same month as the widely-publicised constitutional referendum.
One week after the end of the public holiday, Cubans will be invited to ratify the constitutional monster, on which the government had wasted miles and miles of paper, and rivers of ink, sufficient to be able to print an infinite number of headlines, and indeed the entire output of the national press for a whole year. All in order to indoctrinate the Cuban people, and to demand that they legitimise an eternity of communism in Cuba.
The poor Cuban reader, who waits every year for that event which hardly shows any books and which silences the great writers around here and world-wide. The Censorship Fair, in its capital, Havana, slammed its doors and started its follow-up fanfares in the provinces, with identical procedures and the same limitations. continue reading
This was the same as all the ideas which came out of Fidel Castro’s head, who, although he didn’t achieve it, dreamed of making the International Book Fair into the most important literary event in the world, more important than the ones in Frankfurt, Buenos Aires or Guadalajara. Nevertheless, in contrast to the other ones, the Fair in Havana had to face up to the real essence of these very diverse events, where you can even trade those monstrous editions of his collected speeches and interviews, which is the sign of true democracy.
This fair felt the weight of the upcoming constitutional referendum on its shoulders. Many books arrived hot off the press into the hands of their readers because all the publishers in the country were churning out hundreds of thousands of copies of the Constitution and all its accompanying bells and whistles.
This got in the way of all those books which should have been on display on opening day. But, nevertheless, all the officials said it was a success. And Alpidio Alonso, that Minister so distanced from the arts and culture, but offensively titled Minister of Culture, will have passed a trial by fire.
The Fair had to go ahead, and could not be set back by anything, not even the devastating tornado which hit Havana. Everything had to go ahead, whatever else was happening; the march for Martí’s birthday, the Fair, and everything that would show just how great, cultured and revolutionary Cuba was. And the Fair finished, with tributes to the official writers, the ones who dance to the tune of this non-government.
Havana’s fair has now closed, and the city will continue in its sad misery, with its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants who have no interest in opening a book, unless they have run out of toilet paper. The fair closed, and, with it, the tributes to the obedient writers, and the rent-a-claque of professional applauders. The doors of the fair have closed in Havana, but others will follow, with the same crap, the same arrogance and the same callousness.
But this Fair was also, in spite of the attentiveness of G2 (the State Intelligence Agency) a scene of political confrontation. One writer, taking part in a presentation, ripped off her shirt and revealed her sweater with its written message to say “No” to the Constitution.
This was met by the usual repression and hate: they harassed and insulted her; they turned violent and furious, pulled her hair, and hit her, by way of bringing to a close the proceedings and making it quite clear in passing what might happen the following Sunday, when more than a few people will say “No” to the Castro farce.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(Havana, 1966). Graduate in Film Direction, living in Havana, Cuba. Honorable Mention in Juan Rulfo Competition (1989), National Writers’ Association UNEAC Prize (1995). The book: Dream of a Summer’s Day, was published in 1998. In 1999 winner of the César Galeano prize. And the Alejo Carpentier Prize in 2001, organised by the Cuban Book Institute, with a set of stories: The Children Nobody Wanted. In 2006, he won the Casa de las Americas Prize in the stories genre with Happy are Those Who Mourn. In 2013, he won the International Franz Kafka Novels From the Drawer Prize [given in tribute to novels that are written, but then shoved to the back of a drawer rather than published], organised in the Czech Republic, with the novel The Summer When God Slept. He has published in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, England, the Dominican Republic, France, the USA, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy, Canada, among other countries.
Ángel Santiesteban, Havana, Cuba, Thursday, October 25, 2018 — Whoever commits a crime in Cuba should be certain that it won’t be enough to complete the punishment that the court decides for him, that isolation and prison will not be sufficient. One who breaks the law on this island has, beforehand, the certainty that the guards will put all their effort into making him feel like he is in a Hell in which the character of a uniformed Lucifer recurs.
The common prisoner also pays dearly in his stay in that diabolical underground, almost as much as he who goes to prison for “political reasons.” There any human rights are not respected, although the official discourse tries to show the opposite and brags of the virtues of Cuban prisons, and even seems to embrace theUnited Nations Charter of Universal Human Rights. That figure known on the island as a common prisoner is used as slave labor, and those who receive some economic benefit know very well the treatment that the military dedicates to them. continue reading
Beatings are commonplaces in those spaces of confinement, insulting the prisoner is the dish that the guards cook best. The beatings never have justification; beating is a right given to them by a government accustomed to repressing and pounding since it seated itself on the throne. A prisoner can be beaten with impunity becaused the uniformed don’t recognize the rights of the inmates. Their frustrations and ignorance are viciously taken out on the convicts.
Didier Cabrera Herrera is now thirty-nine years old and serving a sentence for a homicide he committed in self-defense. Didier was attacked in his own house. Didier used to make yogurt and sell it in his home, until a delinquent from the neighborhood asked him for a tube and later refused to pay for it. The assailant took out a knife and, making a show, attacked the vendor, and from the show passed to a more real aggression, to unforeseen violence. The criminal intended to thrust with the knife; first at one point, then another, without counting on Didier’s dexterity.
Then would come the struggle in which Didier was more skillful and managed to grab the knife from his aggressor and use it in self-defense. Didier defended himself, stuck the attacker with the sharp point, but didn’t compromise any organ, but a blow fractured a rib that damaged some vital organ, according to the determination of the pathologist. Thus Didier went to prison to serve a sentence of five years.
Traveling to the prison with the prisoner were the certified doctors, those who warn that this man suffers from a “personality disorder of emotional instability of a moderate intensity, and of an organic base,” that had already prevented him from fulfilling the obligatory military service. The medications to keep him calm are: Carbamazepine, Sentraline, and Clonazepan, but they are not always administered with the regularity prescribed by his doctor, despite the fact that authorities are aware that the patient attempted suicide before entering prison.
The first prison that received him was “Combinado del Este,” where he kept good discipline, despite how irregularly he was returned to his medication when they moved him away from his mother. Doctors attributed the carelessness to the lack of those medicines, even though they didn’t accept those that his mother, Iris Josefina Herrera López, with many pleas, tried to give them.
Didier was then sent to a prison in Manacas, in the province of Villa Clara. His mother traveled there for each visit, negotiating all the obstacles of the island’s bad transportation. And many were the pleas of this woman for authorities to permit her son to return to Havana or a closer place. She asks and asks at the National Directorate of Prisons at 15 and K, in Vedado, but so far she hasn’t managed to bring her son closer, like Leonor Pérez did achieve in the 19th century, when the Governor General of the island, following the “plea of the mother,” responded to Leonor’s entreaties.
This man is still here, so far from his mother, suffering humiliations in punishment cells and even rape attempts from “Calandraca” and “Calabera,” two dangerous prisoners who scour the prison displaying knives without receiving any punishment. Who was punished was this sick man, who was transferred to Guamajal prison, on the outskirts of the city of Santa Clara, where he spends his days in the atrocious imprisonment of another punishment cell, in which two guards beat him with so much force that his left eye was affected.
To top it all, and despite so much abuse, Major Cepero just informed the mother that he had been denied parole for a year, without letting her know the cause, although she supposes the reason is the many telephone calls her son made saying that they were not giving him his medication. Thus survives this sick young man, faced with the apathy and injustices of the authorities of the law and of Cuban “justice” that isn’t interested in putting right those effronteries that could put an end to the life of Didier Cabrera Herrera, a very sick young man.
Deutsche Welle, Amir Valle with Angel Santiesteban, 18 September 2018 — Invited to the International Festival of Literature in Berlin, the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban speaks with Deutsche Welle (“DW”) and criticizes the passivity of the European Union and international public opinion in the face of the tragic situations in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Considered one of the most important Latin American writers at present, the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban was condemned to five years in prison for opening his blog in 2007, “The Children that Nobody Wanted” to give his opinion about the political and social disaster imposed by Castroism in Cuba. continue reading
Beginning from that moment, his life became a struggle against governmental censorship and for democracy on the island. In 2014, Reporters without Borders elected him among its 100 Information Heroes in the world. The Cuban Government prevented him from traveling outside the island for 10 years, but he finally was able to visit Berlin, in order to present the German edition of his book of short stories, Lobosen la noche (Wolves in the Night), published by the prestigious publisher, Fischer.
DW spoke with him, in his role as intellectual and dissident, about matters of relevance that mark his life and that of Cubans.
DW: “Europe has legitimatized the Cuban dictatorship” is a recurring phrase in your interviews.
Ángel Santiesteban: Talking with a Regime that has shown for decades that it does not believe in dialogue legitimizes it. That’s undeniable. There have always been businessmen flirting with Castroism, but it’s understandable, since the only thing that matters to them is making a profit by being in Cuba. But to have a business based in a region that is struggling to establish what they call “the State of Wellbeing and Rights” is an enormous contradiction and, in many ways, shameless.
Since the European Union decided to sit down and talk with Cuba, the only thing we’ve seen is that it has had to cede time and time again to Havana’s demands, and that the dictatorship has repressed the opposition with more force, since it has seen that no one questions its violations. The same thing is happening in Venezuela, in Nicaragua. Europe has left us alone to confront the dictators. And that makes it responsible for our suffering and our dead.
As an opponent, in your blog, you were one of the most concerned with denouncing the responsibility of the Cuban Government for those social disasters that we see in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
I believe that what’s called the “Free World” should once and for all condemn the Regime openly, and not just with timid sentences, for the moral support and advice in many areas that the Castros give to Maduro in Venezuela and to Ortega in Nicaragua.
Castroism has always been a parasitic government: first, the Russians and the socialist camp, then Venezuela. It’s a parasitism disguised as “the struggle for the rights of the poor in Latin America,” and now we know how many dead were the result of Fidel Castro’s promotion of the guerrillas in the region, not to mention that those guerrillas ended up being terrorists and narcotraffickers supported by the Cuban dicatorship.
Later, Fidel Castro and Chávez invented the poorly named Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), supposedly to defeat the neoliberalism and impose 21st-century socialism: another failure encouraged only by Castroism. And now, with their plan of extending socialism throughout Latin America, they behave like what they are: dictators, because they know that the “Free World” will criticize them only with politically correct words.
As a protagonist of Cuban culture, you have demonstrated against the most recent Cultural Law, Decree No. 349. Is it really dangerous?
From the time he came to power in 1959, Fidel Castro knew that he had to keep a lid on freedom of creation and expression. But with the exception of Law 88 directed at journalism, which we opponents call the “Gag Law”, all artistic censorship has been based on the application that the cultural commissars made from those famous words of Fidel: “Inside the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”
But now the censorship is law: among many other obstacles, it limits the freedom of creative expression, then criminalizes and punishes those who try to show their work in public without the approval of governmental institutions. But the intellectuals are gagged by fear, and very few have raised their voices against it. Only the independent cultural opposition movement is protesting against this legalization of censorship.
Many people don’t understand that a large part of the Cuban opposition supports the North American president who is the most controversial of the last 100 years: Donald Trump.
Although there were some timid openings in economic matters, increasingly, as far as achievements in human rights go, we know what a failure Obama’s politics were for opening a supposed “new era” between Cuba and the United States. We can today question Trump’s other measures, but his pragmatism makes him understand that you can’t have a conversation with someone who doesn’t want to listen.
People who criticize our support of Trump should go to Cuba and suffer all the repression that has fallen on us since Raúl Castro saw that his eternal enemy, the United States, was ready to sit down and negotiate, and placed human rights last in the list of demands of the Cuban dictatorship. Trump, whatever you say about him, has leapt into first place in resepct to demanding that Castroism should grant human rights to Cubans.
Author: Amir Valle (CP)
Reproduced on Angel Santiesteban’s Blog
Deutsche Welle is the international network of Germany and produces independent journalism in 30 languages. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
THE END OF THE CASTRO ERA IN CUBA
1959 – The Triumph of the Revolution
The rebels, led by Fidel Castro, come to power after expelling the dictator Fulgencio Batista in January. The United States recognizes the new government. Soon “revolutionary laws” (such as agrarian reform) affect U.S. businesses. In December, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves a CIA plan to overthrow Castro in one year and substitute “a junta friendly to the U.S.”
Recent coverage of Cuba from DW
NO TO DECREE #349: AGAINST THE “CRIMINALIZATION OF ART” IN CUBA
One of the first decrees signed by the new Cuban President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, penalizes independent art on the island and denounces artists and activists. Their protests have been repressed by the authorities. (August 29, 2018)
POSADA CARRILES: HERO AND VILLAIN IN DEATH
While Cuba and Venezuela announce “A terrorist has died without paying for his crimes,” intellectuals and Latin American political exiles hope to one day know the true face of this man. (May 24, 2018)
BOOK FAIR IN HAVANA: LIGHTS AND SHADOWS
Although thousands of Cubans attend the book fair, Cuban writers and intellectuals say that the International Book Fair is no longer as important for Cuban letters as it was in the ’90s. (February 10, 2018)
THE END OF THE CASTRO ERA IN CUBA
Almost no one in Cuba can remember life without the Castros. Since April 19, there hasn’t been a Castro at the front of the State. For almost 60 years, the brothers Fidel and Raúl have governed the country with an iron hand. (April 18, 2018).
Angel Santiesteban, 18 October 2018 — The embargo has actually accomplished a lot, and it’s that the Regime has not been strengthened. That leftist Obama discourse which suits the dictatorship, needs to be undone. Imagine if the embargo didn’t exist how much more pain the totalitarian Cuban Government would have imposed on us.
In fact, the first thing it would stop doing would be exporting guerrillas around the world because it wouldn’t have money, and the socialist camp, also under pressure, would have accepted not continuing to do it, nor would they be able to continue advising and protecting terrorists.
The Cuban Government never would have permitted the paladares (independent restaurants), rentals and the other businesses of independent entrepreneurs. Everyone knows that Fidel Castro accepted it because he had the noose around his neck. If it were up to the dictator, the “Cuban community in the Exterior” never would have been let in; he had no other option but to accept it in order to suck up the money they left. In his economic insanity, he didn’t want tourists either because they would bring the scent of freedom. continue reading
The proof is that in the two years that Obama ceded before the Regime, the population didn’t see any improvement. And when they began to taste tourism, which was going to have a strong economic impact, the response was to raise the price of permits for independent entrepreneurs, asphixiate them so that they would give back their “licenses” and the State could fill its retaurants, taxis and hotels. They wanted everything for themselves; the population didn’t matter.
This doesn’t count the harm done to the opposition by Obama’s recognition, which immediately raised the number of arbitrary detentions, kept the Ladies in White from marching on Fifth Avenue and prevented their going to church to attend mass, as well as encouraging their being beaten.
What Obama really didn’t want to see, hear or understand is that the only thing the Castro family dictatorship understands is force. He’s complicit, he perceives some benefit or simply doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand it because the history is there, fresh and at hands’ reach, collected in the history books and its testimony.
Nor would they accept a plebiscite or other variants. There is no dialogue with the dictatorship, and they demonstrated that yesterday in the United Nations. It didn’t have to happen to know what they are capable of doing!!! With what they have done up to now it’s sufficient to know their nature and what they would be capable of doing to stay in power. The best example of their intransigence is Venezuela and Nicaragua, which are their pupils in these matters of repression.
There is no other option with the Regime but international pressure. The rest is fallacy, stupidity or furtive work in favor of the Castros.
ACERCA DEL AUTOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(Havana, 1966) Graduate of Film Direction, he lives in Havana, Cuba. Mention in the Juan Rulfo competition (1989), UNEAC national prize of the writers guild (1995). His book, Sueño de un día de verano (Dream of a Summer Day) was published in 1998. In 1999 he won the César Galeano prize. And in 2001, the Cuban Institute of the Book Alejo Carpentier Prize with his book of essays: Los hijos que nadie quiso (The Children that Nobody Wanted). In 2006, he won the Casa de las Américas prize in the short story genre with his book Dichosos los que lloran (Happy are Those Who Cry). In 2013 he won the Franz Kafka International Prize for paperbacks, convoked in the Czech Republic, with the novel El verano en que Díos dormía (The Summer when God Slept). He has publisihed in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, England, the Dominican Republic, France, the United States, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy and Canada, among other countries.
Angel Santiesteban”When I left the fold they settled the score because, in addition to their spiteful nature, the Castros needed to punish me so that other artists wouldn’t escape from the corral.”
Ángel Santiesteban-Prats (Havana, 1966) is one of the most prolific writers of his generation. Dichosos los que lloran (Happy are Those Who Mourn) (2006), Suerte que tienen algunos y otros cuentos(The Luck of Some and Other Stories)(2012), El verano en que Dios dormía (The Summer When God Slept) (2013) and El regreso de Mambrú(Mambrú’s Return) (2016) are some of his most well-known works. The winner of several prizes inside and outside the Island, he is a member of the PEN Club of writers in Sweden. continue reading
In 1995 he won the prize for short story from the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC) with Sueño de un día de verano(Dream of a Summer Day), a harrowing look at the war in Angola, which was not the official version, and the book was banned until 1998. When he founded his blog, Los hijos que nadie quiso(The Children Nobody Wanted) (also the title of one of his most praised books, awarded the Alejo Carpentier prize for short story in 2001) in order to denounce the reality of his country, the response of the political police was to beat him, threaten him and fabricate a case of a common crime against him, in order to condemn him to prison.
Since then he has also become an independent journalist and dissident, one of the most hated and persecuted by State Security, for disarming and openly denouncing the farces and violations of the Cuban Regime, while most intellectuals remain silent.
Santiesteban-Prats gave an exclusive interview to Martí Noticias about Decree Law No. 349/2018, which implements a long list of new political crimes in the cultural sphere, increasing the dictatorship’s censure and control of artists on the Island. He also spoke about other subjects.
Why are these new censorship measures, outlined in Decree 349, coming precisely at this moment?
Santiesteban-Prats: They are trying to sustain a regime that is fading. They know it but don’t want to admit it; they think they can continue deceiving the international community. The Cuban people took off their blindfolds a long time ago but are still afraid. They fear reprisals to the point that they might even be killed, above all those opponents who aren’t visible on social networks, meaning that no one will raise the cry for them. After suffering and enduring unfair trials in the courts, which answer to State Security, they rot in prison. Cuban families can barely bring food to their tables, and it’s very difficult to feed a prisoner. In general, the families reject any rebel who comes up against the Regime, because they know the high cost they all will have to pay later, apart from being marked as suspect by Castro royalty. The Castros and their hit-men use terror to stay in power. It’s that simple.
Some opponents have sacrificed themselves, and the best have managed to show the rest of the people that the sacrifice is valid, that it is possible to confront Power even when it slaps them in the face. Thanks to those who have endured punishment and have duplicated their opposition in response, many have decided to join the struggle. Every time, people speak more openly, say what they think, which before was unthinkable. Things have changed, and who knows it better than Alejandro Castro, the power behind the scenes, and he needs to keep hold of the reins and try to control his puppet, Díaz-Canel. They are sacrificing him like a pig, without minimum consideration. He will be there as long as he fulfills his orders; when he no longer complies, he will have a fatal illness, committ suicide or simply be charged with corruption or treason, and he will leave the scene.
How important is it for the Regime to control cultural expression, which has so much to do with the freedom of expression?
Santiesteban-Prats: In general, dictatorships fear journalism and art. From experience, they know that artists and journalists drive public opinion, and it’s the last thing they need now when it’s so easy for anyone to give an opinion or put the news on social networks. So they try to gag the independent voices. It’s a gesture of desperation in order to delay the tsunami that will come without fail.
When I left the fold they settled the score because, in addition to their spiteful nature, the Castros needed to punish me so that other artists wouldn’t escape from the corral. Since then, the intellectuals have learned the lesson, and after me, no one who is established in Cuban culture, like I was, has opposed them with the force and decision that I did.
They always need to close off any opening so the truth won’t come out. Thus they now are implementing new measures and more censorship, counting on their Stalinist way of doing things; maybe they think it’s the only way to stay in power a little longer. They are betting on that. The Castros don’t want to loosen their grip on the family estate. They are convinced that it belongs to them and they will hang onto even by their fingernails.
What is the concrete objective of these regulations that affect freedom through economics?
Santiesteban-Prats: To slow down the freedom that we will have in our lives sooner rather than later. While they test out who can continue Fidel and Raúl Castro’s work, which isn’t anything other than an outrage for the Cuban people, continuing to make them live in total misery. They don’t want any Cuban, whom they consider their slaves, to empower themselves, be independent, live without the “charity” of their dictatorship. It’s like that anecdote of the featherless chicken in the snow that always ran between Stalin’s boots in order to get warm.
How do you think most creative people will respond to this?
Santiesteban-Prats: With silence. Most who are established are busy begging to be allowed to travel in order to survive. They will not sacrifice what they’ve won when they are convinced that it won’t solve anything and that they would be crushed like cockroaches. And those who still haven’t managed to establish themselves push, lower their heads and pretend that nothing matters to them, the only important thing is their work, art, while they wait for their scrap to fall from the sky. They believe that if they move away from power, they will freeze, like the chicken, and they prefer to be sheltered between the boots of the master. They believe that by publishing their books, singing their songs, or having their work shown in theaters, they already have enough. Although they know that things could be worse, and thinking of me in jail is enough for them to do nothing.
Let’s continue speaking out so we can deal with our fears together, until they take us out or lose power. We can’t count on the artists in the National Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC). They have something more important to do: protect themselves. Don’t forget that, in spite of everything, the artistic sector gets the most benefits, so they feel lucky about surviving the calamities when they look around and see the rest of the people.
What artistic expressions are the most affected by the new censorship regulations?
Santiesteban-Prats: Everything in general, but mainly those who deal in words. I think they’re the most fearful because they permeate more in the population, at least in the professional sector, through scripts for movies, television, theater and literature. Don’t forget that many of these creative people write for alternative, independent media, far from the Castro umbrella.
How is Díaz-Canel seen in Cuban artistic circles?
Santiesteban-Prats: For what he is, an innocuous man. There are no “revolutionaries” left in the cultural sector, maybe some fidelistas: but at this point in the game they feel deceived, even by that man who hauled them out of poverty in order to ultimately steal the lives of several generations. Every Cuban knows that Díaz-Canel doesn’t represent anything. He doesn’t occupy any particular post in the cupola. He’s a carnival toy that you can throw balls at to try to knock off his hat. Every time that happens and it falls off, the owner – meaning the Castros – put it back in the same place or substitute another toy. Thus, successively, while the international community allows it or the desperate people throw themselves into the streets and are massacred like in Venezuela or Nicaragua.
What does Díaz-Canel have to do with these new regulations that intensify the censorship?
Santiesteban-Prats: He also is busy praising the Regime while fulfilling the Castros’ orders. He assumes his role of overseer of the slaves and plays it without protest. But as far as making decisions, it’s clear they don’t come from him. He only has to show his face, pretend that he’s the “President” and Raúl and his children, Alejandro and Mariela, will take care of the rest.
The Regime sold Raúl Castro as a supposed reformer. Then it designated Díaz-Canel to succeed him. What do these successions mean for the System and what do they mean for the people?
Santiesteban-Prats: Pure makeup, a cosmetic display. Fooling international public opinion, like they’ve done with the European Union. They pretend to make decisions that will gradually lead to democracy, but it’s nothing but great theater. The Castros are professionals in the art of transformation. They change every time they feel pressure, the possibility of losing power. They’re professionals of illusion. They spent decades making a large part of the population believe in accomplishments that they couldn’t feel. Intangible projects where millions of Cubans got involved so that the final result would be catastrophic. One project after another, and on like that for six decades. These successions mean nothering for the people because nothing will be resolved for them, while for the System they mean another breath, gaining time while they wait for better times to arrive, sips of oxygen that will permit them to remain in that imprecise space, but definitively, staying in power is the only thing that interests them. Now that family doesn’t know how to live without it, and they aren’t ready to cede power peacefully.
What should independent artists do in this new context?
Santiesteban-Prats: Not abandon the struggle. Don’t give up even if it’s all we can do. Don’t leave Cuba. Staying inside the archipelago now is a challenge to the Regime. I’m one of those who has exercised freedom of creation, and now that I’ve done it, I don’t know how to live without that divine grace. As long as artists don’t taste freedom, don’t remove their fear of writing, they will never know the satisfaction of being an artist with full integrity.
Luis Leonel León
Journalist, writer, director of radio, film and television. After living in Venezuela and Colombia, he went into exile in the United States. His weekly column appears in Latin America media (El Nacional), Spain (Disidentia) and the United States (El NuevoHerald, Infobae, HispanoPost), among others. Previously he wrote for Diario lasAméricas. Among his prize-winning documentaries are Habaneceres, La gracia devolver and Coro de ciudad. He has produced entertainment, opinion and debate programs for Florida television. His texts have been published in books and journals. He founded the publishing house Colección Fugas, dedicated to the writing of the diáspora. He is a member of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, for which he has made documentaries, feature reports and interviews about freedom, democracy and their institutional framework in the Américas. His web page is luisleonelleon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @LLLeon_enMarti.
Amir Valle, September 16, 2018 — Embracing a brother after 12 years of separation imposed by a dictatorship is a special, unforgettable moment. We both have advanced in our literary and civlc careers: Ángel from Cuba, as an intellectual opponent, and I from the exile into which I was forced in 2005. But nothing has managed to destroy all the things that unite us like brothers since we knew each other from the time we were kids and had the luck to read each other’s first stories. More than half our lives together, in good times and bad, and now we rediscover each other in Berlin. Here we are together, in a photo taken by a friend, the German photographer Anna Weise.
Ángel Santiesteban, 12 May 2018 — Every effort against the dictatorship seems appropriate and inevitable to me. I believe fervently that in all of them is the pushback on the wall of dictatorship; but the actual reality does not lie there, at this stage of the championship contest we can’t believe in siren songs.
In particular, I believe in all of the opponents, in the Ladies in White, in Rosa María Paya, whom I respect and admire, in Antonio Rodiles, in Guillermo Fariña, UNPACU, Antúnez and all the others, just to mention those that come to mind now. continue reading
What I don’t believe is in the regime, in that some opponent can count on the Castros and his minions compromising and accepting any exigency that does not include them.
It is simply about agreeing or not, with one or more projects. I think it is unnecessary that five years can pass by only for them to tell us, this is not the way, we better rectify it.
From now on, and we see it in the example of Venezuela where Cuba is the ideologist, they won’t permit anything. The demand it seems to me, must be direct: that the regime abandon power and allow the road to a democracy where the people are the ones who govern. Accept that they will not be actors in that transition, and that it can only be achieved, of course, with pressure from the concert of nations.
By then we will have saved several years, that our generation has already missed, to see if we can have the experience of freedom in our beloved islands that make up the Cuban archipelago.
Hopefully the opponents who are leaders of projects will sit down to talk and find a roadmap, between all of them, the best path, the most united, in time and in form, as to what the dictatorship needs in order to leave power. This is like religion, each one contains a little bit of truth, of reasons and needs, none alone has all the answers and all the knowledge.
And for that I think that the artists and intellectuals should have an active role. As you well know, no political movement has been achieved without a prior cultural movement of art and of developed thought. I lend my voice so that it can be achieved.
About the author
(Havana, 1966). Graduated in Film Direction, resides in Havana, Cuba. Mention in the Juan Rulfo contest (1989), National Prize of the Writers Guild UNEAC (1995). The book: Sueño de un día de verano [Dream of a Summer Day], was published in 1998. In 1999 he won the César Galeano award. And in 2001, the Alejo Carpentier Prize organized by the Cuban Book Institute with the set of stories: Los hijos que nadie quiso [The Children Nobody Wanted]. In 2006, he won the Casa de las Américas prize in the story genre with the book: Dichosos los que lloran [Blessed are Those Who Mourn]. In 2013, he won the Franz Kafka International Novels of the Drawer Prize, organized in the Czech Republic with the novel El verano en que Dios dormía [The Summer God Slept]. He has published in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, England, Dominican Republic, France, USA, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy, Canada, among other countries.
Ángel Santiesteban, 14 July 2018 — Iliana Hernandez screams from her punishment cell. This sister sleeps in jail without having committed any crime, apart from, in the regime’s eyes, thinking differently. She knows about sacrifice. Of having left a free country to confront the government. In Spain, where she is a citizen, she would have no problem getting by comfortably.
Nevertheless, here, we have her fighting for our universal human rights. We should express our gratitude to her by thinking spiritual thoughts. It’s our only way to be with her where the dictatorship has her locked up in darkness. I phoned her house at night and her mother could hardly speak for crying. I told her she should feel proud; but how can you tell a mother to feel proud that her daughter is locked up. It’s asking too much. Free Iliana Hernandez!
Cubanet, Angel Santiesteban, Havana, February 20, 2018 — The first stage of the Havana’s “International” Book Fair, which this year was dedicated to Chinese culture, has ended. Perhaps it would be better to say it was dedicated to the three or four Chinese individuals who have been tasked with traveling the world, extolling the dictators who govern the “Asian giant” and exalting its tyrants.
The Havana Book Fair long ago lost what little sparkle it once had. It used to be an event at which, for a few days, people pretended the work of the country’s authors mattered. More than a few writers actually believed the forum was about them. For a few days each year colleagues from every corner of the island embraced each other and talked about their projects, a few days when the crafty military convinced them it respected their space and were keeping their hands off the event. continue reading
But the day came when the real writers disappeared and it became clear that it was the Army that controlled the fair, that it was Raúl’s forces who decided who got the best exhibition booths and the most desirable time slots. The regime has shamelessly turned the fair, and of course its books, into a joke. Political rhetoric dominates, along with green-clad buffoons sporting epaulettes and stars. The fair has become a circus in which the military presents books carefully scripted by its servants.
Today the release of any work by a real writer is conditional. Now, more than in years past, editors must juggle whatever money is left over after the publication of all the titles those in power demand. Only then will they know how many authors might be able to have a slim volume showcased at the fair. And almost always the writers will be those who comply with the state and its military.
One of the fair’s greatest absurdities was the presentation of the book Raúl Castro and Our America Nuestra América, a collection of eighty-six speeches by the Cuban head of state. The book was compiled by a certain Abel Enrique González Santamaría and presented by Eusebio Leal — Havana’s official historian and a man of great notoriety within the halls of power for his exalted language — who acclaimed the work and recounted its history. As expected, he praised the brothers Castro left and right, earning him the applause of a room filled of soldiers and government loyalists.
Among those present was Alejandro Castro Espín, the most powerful of Raúl’s children. It was clear how proud he was of what Eusebio said about his father, that he felt like a prince who, through blood connections, will at some point determine the fate of the country. This was perhaps the most significant of all the presentations, the one that required the skills of the entire security apparatus, the one in which Eusebio — the man who undoubtedly saved Havana’s historic city center — got the key role by being the most loyal of the Castros’ “brown nosers.”
In a country where battlefield rhetoric is prevalent, Eusebio stood out. Those who heard him were as ecstatic as rats at the sound of the Pied Piper’s flute. Eusebio spoke of Raúl as if he were God. However, this should not be surprising for a man who was educated in the Church but who later became loyal to the communists, though not without sometimes ridiculing them of course. But it is not just words that matter; one also has to prove oneself on the battlefield, especially in the area of sexual conquest, of which the macho men of the armed forces are so fond.
It was not long ago that Eusebio was doing the same thing with the late Fidel. But then, without missing a beat, he understood the moment had come to do it for Raúl too. I suppose Leal, like everyone else, knows Raúl has an inferiority complex and perhaps, along with Colonel Alejandro, he decided to raise the general’s self-esteem. So here was the historian, playing his greatest role, with a speech that grew, that rose, as though he were flying a kite. Leal, a man who very much likes history, wanted to make it very clear to us: “The king is dead; long live the king.”
Everyone understood and was grateful that his words reaffirmed the authority of the boss. Then came the hugs. First those of Alejandro, the general’s son, who has more power than any of the army chiefs scattered around the island. Culture minister Abel Prieto joined the waltz, all too ready to embrace. But Eusebio thought that this tall guy with his mundane hair style was not what he needed right then. So with cameras rolling, he left Prieto standing there, his arms outstretched. Rather than embracing, he patted the minister’s raised shoulder a few times, as if to say: “Boy, behave yourself and let me work.”
Another “crucial” event was the appearance of Fidel Castro’s grandson, who recently lost his father, Fidel Castro Díaz Balart. The latter’s mysterious death* has triggered a number of suspicions, including a possible murder carried out by that part of the Castro clan that now holds the real power.
Thus ends the latest Havana Book Fair, which will now travel to the provinces in the exact same form. It is unlikely to change in the coming years until it is turned over, as it should be, to the writers, especially to those who express themselves freely, regardless of the consequences.
*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro Díaz Balart, the eldest son of Fidel Castro, is reported to have committed suicide on February 1, 2018. He had previously been treated for depression. The report of his suicide by the Cuban government was described as “unusually public.”
Havana, Cuba. Your Holiness: Now that your name is no longer so popular on the Island of Cuba, I have decided to write you these lines. I suspect that this decline in your prestige has to do with the scant companionship you have provided us, as well as with the distance that you have placed between yourself and the Cuban people. If I insist on threading these ideas it is because I am certain that your work as head of the Church–that is, of the Earth–is a far cry from the love, justness, and fairness that we knew from John Paul II, whom we Cubans remember with affection and devotion.
I want to tell you that there are many of us today who think that your appointment has not been good for this Island’s inhabitants, although I assure you that many were the Cubans who rejoiced when we learned that you would be the new leader of the Catholic Church. We were euphoric that a Latin American, who spoke our language, and who knew well what a military dictatorship means, would be in charge of the Church. continue reading
We happily believed that Your Holiness would take care of us just as John Paul II did but this was not to be. Your history was entwined with that of John Paul II. You knew that bloody military dictatorship in Argentina and the Polish Pope knew well what fascism and communism, which are so alike, signify. We had no doubt that you, Holy Father, would see the Cuban reality and would denounce it. But what actually happened was something else.
John Paul II was acquainted with fascism’s outrages, he denounced them and never left the world’s downtrodden to suffer the horrors of a communism that still persists in certain places on the planet. Holy Father, today I am certain that your visit to Cuba served only to leave behind the bitter memory of futility. Now, in the wake of your departure, many are reminded of the incarcerations suffered by those who never believed in the premises of a communist government.
While you were flying back to Rome, many Cubans were put behind bars, and I have not heard of an energetic comment coming from your mouth. The very same government that segregated Catholics in Cuba, that expelled the faithful from the universities, that imprisoned them in those concentration camps known as the UMAP, once again repressed those who thought differently, who were not willing to commune with a dictatorial regime.
We Cubans were waiting for some vigorous response from your mouth, from the mouth of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, but all encountered was a wall of silence. And as we already know, “he who is silent consents.” I suppose that you, and that cardinal who so much recalls a Communist Party militant, were much more interested in maintaining good diplomatic relations with the government than with being close to the long-suffering Cuban faithful.
Supreme Pontiff, I wish to remind you that during your visit to the Island, a desperate young man lunged towards your vehicle as you were traveling before a multitude whose members had, for the most part, been selected by the political police. That young man begged for your attention, that young man tried to direct your eyes to the injustices that the Cuban regime commits daily.
And what did you do, Holy Father? You left him to fend for himself, and the faithful the world over could see on their televisions how you continued on your way without so much as a glance backward. Did you ever learn of the ordeal which, from that moment on, that young man began to suffer? Did you discover how the regime responded to someone who wanted to get your attention? Do by chance realize that every visit by a world leader to this Island is a boost to the Castros’ communist regime? In a situation like that, the most honorable action would have been to step out of your automobile and offer protection to that faithful young man. But the opposite occurred: you abandoned him, you left him in the hands of assassins, who are in no way different from those you knew in Argentina.
Vicar of Christ, I dare to remind you that there exist on this Island some women who are called the Ladies in White. They keep with great devotion a photo showing one of them standing next to you in a plaza of the Vatican. It was during this meeting when Berta Soler, the leader of these Ladies, gave to you–besides her pleading words–certain documentation that serves as proof of the many injustices committed against them and against Cubans in general.
I wish to inform you if indeed you do not already know, that these women can no longer attend Mass and that they are arrested every Sunday and thrown into dark cells. And, although it may seem strange to you, this is for me a proof of God’s existence. It turns out that six days are sufficient for these brave women to recover from the beatings, and they once again sally forth with renewed strength; six days are enough for the Ladies to re-energize their will, to forget their bruises, to overcome their physical and spiritual fractures. These women, Holy Father, again go out the following Sunday. But the Church that you represent maintains absolute silence regarding them.
I will tell you that the photo of you and Berta graces the entrance to the Havana headquarters of these women’s organization. I will tell you that alongside that image are displayed others, those of many activists who have paid with their lives for daring to confront the dictatorship. I love the contrast in that picture of your pure white cassock with the blackest black skin tone of that woman in your company.
Please also know that, next to that photo that those ladies gratefully exhibit, rude words are scrawled on the wall, abusive comments intended to disparage them. And why does such a thing a occur? Because they make visible their discontent with a vulgar and dictatorial regime. And know that those who so denigrate them also hurl chemicals onto that photo. Know that these responses are ordered by that government that received you in Havana. Know also that nothing subdues those women–that once the attacks are over, they meticulously clean their areas with the intention that the environment surrounding that picture be as white as your cassock.
We Cubans, the Catholic ones, know that you favorably influenced the rapprochement between Cuba and the US and the reopening of the embassies. But I do not know if you are aware that since this conciliation, democracy moved further away from our reach, and there were more arrests and beatings of opponents and deaths occurring under mysterious circumstances. I assure you that your parting left a shroud of sorrow upon the Cuban people.
Unfortunately, it has also become notorious how this government which you helped tried to damage the health of US embassy personnel. Have you weighed-in on this matter, Holy Father? If so, we have not heard it. And your silence pains us, your apathy vexes us. And what would you have done if things had been reversed? What would you have said if the US had been the aggressor?
Please know that many of your flock are frightened at your cordiality towards the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela–and towards the Colombian guerrilla force. So much so that already there are many who believe you to be very close to the leftist forces in the region. Unjust or not, what is certain is that your actions have been very aligned with those “diplomats,” so much so that you are now called “the communist Pope.”
You represent the Catholic Church today, but tomorrow–when God wills it–another will do so, and in each case, the individual should be a mediator of truth, in solidarity with our pain, not causing more pain. We, the opposition in Cuba, are also your flock, flesh of your flesh. And I do not believe that the dictator, his family, and every one of his henchmen who have directed so much hate towards God and the Church during these 60 years of iron-grip dictatorship, deserve your attention and friendship.
Father Francis, who was able to deceive you so? Who made you believe that the dictatorship could dialogue sincerely with the Church? How could the Church forget the persecutions that the Cuban government unleashed on Its priests and faithful? Who convinced you that the embargo was more hurtful to the people than to the dictatorial government? Two years of restored relations with the US leave it clear that this friendship empowered the regime even more.
Holy Father, it was all a ruse, a smokescreen to fool you. We Cubans desire–before food–liberty, rights, democracy. Messenger of God, cease from appearing cold, stop looking away when this archipelago begs you to intercede for our liberty. Know that the young man who during your visit clung to your vehicle, even today is continuing the fight, and he alternates his theaters of action: sometimes on the streets, sometimes in the prisons. And do not be surprised if someday you learn that he was found to suffer from an unexpected and rare “illness,” or that an “accident” took his life.
Those who are assassinated by the regime do not mourn their own deaths, those assassinated by the regime believe that death is a worthy price for obtaining what belongs to us. Those who in the jails go on hunger strikes do not clamor anymore for your attention, perhaps anymore they see you as a ghost. Their prayers go to Christ, He who forgets not the pain of those who suffer on the Earth.
Holy Father, see our reality–although I believe that it would be better for you to keep your distance because every time you have glanced our way, you have ended up harming us. Perhaps what we ask is your silence–that same silence you offered, in Argentina, when one of your priests was arrested.
Father, this letter is not intended to obtain a pronouncement by you in support of victimized Cubans, of those who are robbed of their most basic right, of those whom you well know. We know too well that you will never be the agent of a miracle.
About the Author
(Havana, 1966). Graduate in film direction. Resides in Havana, Cuba. Honorable Mention in the Juan Rulfo Award (1989); National Prize awarded by the writers’ union UNEAC (1995). Book, “A Summer’s Day Dream,” published in 1998. In 1999, won the César Galeano Prize. In 2001, the Alejo Carpentier prize awarded by the Cuban Institute of the Book for the short story collection, “The Children That Nobody Wanted.” In 2006, won the Casa de las Américas prize, short story category, for the book, “Happy Are Those Who Weep.” In 2013 won the Franz Kafka International Prize for Novels from the Drawer*, convened in the Czech Republic, for “The Summer When God Slept.” Has been published in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, UK, Dominican Republic, France, US, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy, Canada, among other countries.
*”Novels from the Drawer” is a phrase used to describe literature written under censorship; because the novel cannot published, the writer puts it in a drawer ‘for later’.
Angel Santiesteban, 16 October 2017 — Another title of this book could be A Cuban History of Fear. The fear of living (and, above all, of writing) surrounded by an army of police, undercover agents, collaborators and simple snitches in charge of rounding up the misguided souls of Cubans, be they writers or not. But “this book is not a monument to grievance,” insists the anthologist. What is intended is “to collect a small amount of Cuban contributions to a genre already proclaimed by Kafka from the first pages of his unfinished novel, The Trial. The first chapter of the novel, which announces in the first sentence that K. “without having done anything bad, was detained one morning.” A genre that Orwell would continue in 1984, with the addition of hope: “You are a difficult case. But don’t lose hope. Everybody is saved sooner or later. In the end, we will kill you.” A recompilation that stretches from the time of almost artisanal vigilance up to that virtual panoptic that is Facebook. And beyond.
Ángel Santiesteban, 2 September 2016 — After writing what will now be considered the first part of this post, and publishing it under this same title, I was arrested by State Security; however it was not the writing, and much less the visibility that it would attain in my blog, that was the real cause for the arrest. My captors, in the height of contempt, tried to make me believe that I was a trickster, a vulgar swindler. In a flash I became, again, a dangerous offender. I confess that I even got to imagine myself in the shoes of some famous swindlers whom I met in movies, but this was not at all a game, and the cell was not a movie set.
I have dug around a great deal in their procedures up to now, and I know their falsehoods, which was why I urged them to let me know the details of my mischief. What was the cause? What would they do now to present me as a swindler? continue reading
First would be to convince me of that strange condition of con artist that even I did not recognize in myself. Time and again, fraud would be cited in their arguments, with no trace of it when the facts were compiled. Diffusion, accusation…so that the crook I was would contradict himself and ultimately see the error of his ways. Which ways?
They themselves would offer me very few details. Everything had occurred a year ago, and on the Isle of Pines–that island south of the larger one which, arbitrarily and without popular consultation, the government decided to rename the Isle of Youth. While I was shut away in a dungeon, my “interlocutors” mentioned a fraud which they were not able to explain very well, only to later refer to a packet of leaflets which, supposedly, I had given to the photographer and human rights activist Claudio Fuentes, who was also detained.
Try as the hired gun might to convince me of the “misdeed” and that I had no option other than to recognize my “crime,” I could not help but burst out laughing. The allegation was so ridiculous that I could have dignified it with many guffaws such as the one it provoked at the start, but these spurious accusations have no intention other than to ruin the lives of we Cubans who think differently, and laughter is a good thing.
I had not other option than to let them know that I was well aware of those strategies, that I was sure that they were trying to make me believe that Claudio had denounced me, and how that was a well-worn tactic–even in the movies and police novels. “I do not think the same as you. I am not a coward, nor am I your ’comrade.’ I am not a lackey.” That’s just what I said to them.
Then they laughed, but their laughter was not that of a victor, it was the nervous laughter of someone who’s about to lose. I confess that I felt frustrated; I have always dreamed of taking on an intelligent adversary, an enemy convinced of the rightness of his actions. This would be much better, but this time again it was useless to pine for such a thing, and the worst was that those gendarmes had not the slightest idea what the words “liberty” and “democracy” mean.
I was so annoyed that I started to speak of my childhood, of those days when I believed that Cuban State Security was one of the best in the world, even mentioning out loud the titles of a few novels: “Here the Sands are Whiter,” and “If I Die Tomorrow,” and “In Silence It Has Had to Be.” I mentioned the mark that those works had left on a bunch of proud adolescents who, still, believed that what which those fictional officials were defending actually existed in reality–and that we even believed, naively, that on this Island was a concerted effort to create a lasting prosperity.
The bad part, I assured them, was when I knew the whole truth, when I understood that those agents were only after ensuring the perpetual rule of the Brothers Castro. I mentioned the moment in which I crossed the line, that line that placed me, irreversibly, on the opposite side. I spoke of my discontent with a totalitarian regime, and about how I discovered the true essences of those killers in the service of the Castros: people capable of abusing women, of planting false evidence for the prosecution (after brutalizing them) of those who fight for change in Cuba. They would laugh, nervously…and with no segues they arrived at a new argument, undoubtedly the most important one, the one that caused them to shut me away.
What had truly annoyed them was a post that I had published regarding Roberto Fernández Retamar, in which I called him an assassin. According to them, I had not considered the fact that Roberto was my colleague. “I don’t have colleagues who are assassins,” I told them, and they replied that my attack had not achieved any importance, that it had already been forgotten, and that Fernández’ true comrades had made a tribute to him immediately. Then why, I asked, were they holding me there? Why were they mentioning that post? For sure, they were contradicting themselves–but I was already used to that, and once again I smiled, sardonically.
I thought of a version of Silvio Rodríguez whom I had seen on TV making tributes, in song, to Fernández, which made me suspect that it all could be a reply to my post. My detention had nothing to do with the leaflets nor with any fraud– that seizure was orchestrated after I accused Roberto Fernández Retamar of having signed a death sentence against three youths who only wanted to get out of an extremist country where they no longer wanted to live.
I had already received some news about the comments that had been incited by that post, and I also knew of the vexation that it had provoked in some writers, who judged it excessive that I should call Fernández an assassin. Again it was I who was the monster, I who committed savageries, I the irreverent and cruel barbarian–while Fernández was presented as the venerable elder, the respectable and virtuous man, the honest citizen, even after having signed a death warrant.
My detractors, the same who became his defenders while forgetting that the poet was one of the signatories of that judgment that would send three youths to the execution wall, denigrated me again, but never mentioned that the “revolutionary” poet lent a veneer of legitimacy to the death of those three young men, whose only sin was to have tried to leave a country that was tormenting them, to separate from an Island and from the dictators that have been ruling it for more than 50 years. Is that a crime?
Those who were annoyed by the post are the same who repeat the charge against me that the official discourse prepared some years ago. Those who claim that I was unjust toward Roberto Fernández Retamar did not defend my innocence when I went to jail. They saw me be taken away, they knew I was shut away in a cell, and they were silent. They never had doubts, they never confronted a power that decided to accuse of me of physically mistreating the woman who was then my companion. Those who again judge me and cast me aside are also guilty of my imprisonment.
Those who today are annoyed because I accused the president of the Casa de las Américas, did not lift a finger to request, at least, a thorough investigation of my case. They believed in the “dignity” of that woman, and today turn a deaf ear to the statements by my son. They, whom my post angered so, are the same who remain silent when “State Security” beat the Ladies in White, a “State Security” that beats women who are demonstrating peacefully. What kind of security is this? Of what State? This shows their double standard and hypocrisy. Those who signed the accusation against me today are irritated by my “attack” on the poor poet Fernández, following the orders of Abel Prieto, who at the same time was following those of the highest hierarchy of a dictatorial government.
My attackers defend only their permanence in that official union that is the UNEAC. They who seek to tarnish me want to preserve their membership in the official delegations sent to any event taking place outside the Island. They who raise their voices to attack me defend the shoes and sustenance of their children. They who attacked my liberty because, supposedly, I was beating the mother of my son, said not a word after the thrashing that State Security delivered to the actress Ana Luisa Rubio.
That woman who found herself so vulnerable, so trampled, had no choice but to leave Cuba–and what else could she do, if the UNEAC did not offer her any support nor did it organize a demonstration to confront that power that decided to batter her. No woman was to be found confronting the janissaries that bashed Rubio. In those days there was no book going around collecting the signatures of indignant UNEAC members, if any there were. Nobody went out on the street–apparently, they were amusing themselves by protecting the crumbs they get from the powers that be for their services to the “fatherland.”
Angel Santiesteban, 30 March 2016 — The denunciation of the violation of Ángel Santiesteban’s human rights has been accepted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The organization has given the Castro dictatorship a three-month deadline to respond.
– The Editor
[A translation of the letter from the IACHR, addressed to Ángel Santiesteban’s editor, Elisa Tabakman, follows below.] continue reading
14 March 2016
RE: Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats
I have the pleasure of contacting you on behalf of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the above-cited petition in reference to the situation of Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats in Cuba, which was received by this Executive Secretariat on 13 June 2013.
I hereby inform you that by way of a note dated today, the parts of your petition pertinent to the Government of Cuba have been remitted and a due date of three months has been from the date of transmission of the present communication for a presentation of observations, in accordance with Article 30 of the Rules of the IACHR.
The present information request does not constitute a prejudgment regarding the decision that the IACHR will eventually make on the admissibility of this petition.
Likewise, you are informed that based on Article 40(1) of the Rules of the IACHR, at any phase of the investigation of a petition or case, by its own initiative o upon the request of the parties, the IACHR will make itself available to the petitioners and to the State, with the goal of reaching an amicable solution founded on the respect for human rights established in the American Convention, the American Declaration, and other applicable instruments.
I take this opportunity to give you my most cordial greetings,