Three memories of Angel Santiesteban
Miguel Iturria Savon
On September 2, 2011, I published on Cubanet the article SOS for Angel Santiesteban, then harassed by the political police of the Cuban government in spite of being a writer who had been awarded multiple prizes by the regime’s own institutions.
At the end of 2012 Angel was sentenced to five years in prison after a rigged trial in which they used his ex-wife as the spear point against him. I will not refer to the details of the case, because they still circulate in various writings and on Santiesteban’s blog, but to my personal impressions about this artist of the word.
Before personally knowing the author of Dreams of a Summer Day, The Children Nobody Wanted, Happy Are They Who Mourn, and South: Latitude 13, I read his books and heard several anecdotes that reflect his temperament and satirize the Cuban political situation. It is hard to forget some characters from his stories about prison and the Cuban intervention in the African wars. Maybe the masterful design of those alienated beings who gallop on the pages of his works are the true cause of the degrading judicial process that attempts to nullify his rebellion and the voice of this audacious man without masks.
As my son was the lawyer for Angel Santiesteban I had the privilege of receiving him in my Havana home and of speaking with him over a glass of water — Angel does not drink rum or coffee. We spoke of literature and of his family experience. Only on one occasion, on asking him about one of his characters, did he reveal to me the traumatic scars of his brief prison stay before turning 20 years of age, after being arrested on the north coast while saying goodbye to a relative who tried to leave the island on a raft.
I encountered Santiesteban several times in the home of blogger Yoani Sanchez and in the cultural gatherings organized in the residence of the physicist Antonio Rodiles, leader of the Estado de Sats program. I remember that Angel barely intervened in the debates and sat almost always at the end of the room, far from posturing and prominence but cordial to whomever approached him. In the end he would leave in his car with four or five others whom he took to or near their homes.
The last time that we met was across from the Infanta and Manglar Police station, next to the building “Fame and Applause,” where half a hundred opponents were demanding the release of Antonio Rodiles, arrested after the burial of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, dead in a suspicious accident. We talked there while Wilfredo Vallin and Reinaldo Escobar tried to negotiate with the Station Chief, also surrounded by a gang of delinquents who awaited orders from Security officers to kick and drag the opponents.
The legal farce against Angel Santiesteban reminds me of the celebrated storyteller Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla — incarcerated in 1971 — and Raul Rivero — sentenced in 2003 — victims of a dictatorship that sanctions freedom of expression and promotes the quietism and complicit silence of the intellectuals.
Published in Island Anchor
Translated by mlk
9 June 2013