More “Counterrevolutionary” Artists Speak Out For Their Freedom (Part 3) / Angel Santiesteban

Screen capture — A Cuban filmmaker with the black tape of censorship literally covering his mouth.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 21 December 2015 — In order to complete my personal impression about the G-20* assembly in the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Film Center this past November 28, I must recognize the solidarity and support of the filmmakers for their colleague, Juan Carlos Cremata, who, through writing, like Enrique Colina among others, showed their disgust and rejection of the assault dealt by the State against the artist, restricting his thinking and his work.

The abuses and injustices committed by the officers and political police have been the last straw for the patience of the unionized filmmakers who — with new verve — have come together with their claims showing that they have matured as people, a society and artists.

The wolf, who for more than half a century has sunk his teeth into the sheep that don’t abide by the rules of the fold, has paused now to wonder why, for the first time, the job of making them submit has been made difficult, and he waits, hoping that they will show some weakness or divide themselves in order to make his job of the bogeyman scaring the children easy.

The dictatorship prefers us to be alone.

I was amazed at the existing cohesion among the constituents of the G-20*, the clarity of their demands, like the Film Law that is indispensable to them in order to continue creating, but, above all, how well disposed they are to continue struggling until they achieve what they demand.

They are not naive, they know that in the eyes of the dictatorship they have been converted into rebels who should be drowned, and if a crack exists, it would be inside one of the columns that integrate the group; and then, beginning with secret conversations with State Security, it would cede before the pressure and would begin to distort, scare, divide and misconstrue the objectives presented from the outset.

Let’s hope that intelligence reigns over fear and serves to save this force that conveys their demands as artists, converts itself into a national necessity and triggers a new pattern in the country’s history.

Their laudable, noble and courageous abilities are the preamble of a new era in which artists recover the dignity that has been lost for more than five decades, letting them be devoured and beaten by the totalitarian Regime for not receiving their punishment.

It is new times, and democracy is the only system possible for any government; now there’s no space for authoritarian regimes (totalitarian) as, for example, Argentina and Venezuela, countries in which the opposition has just won the elections.

Later will come those that are missing, and of course the Castro clan’s dictatorship will have no other option but to cede. With the arrival of freedom, Juan Carlos Cremata and all Cuban artists will recover the cultural spaces that they should not have lost through censorship and prohibitions. Juan Carlos Cremata deserves that space for his talent, strength and commitment.

Let’s hope that without more delay, the Film Law gets approved for the benefit of the seventh art.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, November 2015, under conditional “liberty.”

*Translator’s note: A group of Cuban filmmakers who demand the approval of a Film Law in Cuba. They defend independent production companies. At this meeting they debated censorship and analyzed the case of Juan Carlos Cremata, whose play “The King is Dying” was censored. Cremata was denied the right to stage another play in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

How to Lose Friends / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, Havana, 23 December 2015 — These days I’m immersed in the culmination of my next novel, which I should deliver in February for its possible publication; for this reason, I have dedicated the last two months, in a tireless way, to improving the prose, born from the heat and emotion of the most recent creation. I’ve barely taken time for cultural recreation, repressing — now that it’s possible — going to the theater, movies, ballet, among other spaces of my personal consumption, after having yearned for it for two and a half years, because the dictatorship that considers thinking differently to be dangerous, especially if it involves an artist, decided to send me to prison.

It’s indisputable — and the reason for this post — that I haven’t been able to visit and comply with the demands of some friends, brother masons and political activists, who would like to see me more frequently. continue reading

The rigor with which I apply myself to writing totally absorbs me, to the point that sometimes I lose track of the time that I take up dreaming which I should be using for this final revision; however, some of those important friends are insulted by my absence, thinking I’m distancing myself from their devotion.

Likewise, I’ve received by email complaints from other friends, asking for more warmth from me, which I consider as personal pride; but I’m not lying if I confess to them and explain that when I write short stories, in general, they’re created by a breath, a hit of a chisel that sculpts them with a minimum of blows.

It’s not like that with novels: Then this breath is converted into a persistent state while its realization lasts. I’m possessed for months; an ecstasy keeps me transported to the actual time of the plot in question. It’s the most effective way, particularly for me, to advance and master the characters and their conflicts.

Of course at this rate I’m afraid of being alone and without a social life, and I question whether I work well or badly by remaining isolated, like being expelled from the real world, delivered to the profession of writing.

But what other quality of life could I assume if it’s the only way I know of feeling useful, to breathe in peace, to bring to my dear friends themselves, brother masons and brothers in the struggle, through my texts, that reflection on justice and nobility for the society where we come together? I write for my time, and my spaces of struggle and longings converge: friendship, fraternity and unity in political activism.

Although I appear to be absent, I am, through literature, very close to each one of you and to the national problems that I try to reflect in my books. And very soon — between this writing and the next — I will appear to receive your hugs with the same zeal with which I profess to you that I hold your friendship, in order to then celebrate together a new birth of that literary son that I bring into the world, that I humbly bring to the national culture, our struggle and our shared dreams.

But God makes me lower my head and return every day to ask all of you: If I didn’t have you, then why am I creating literature? For whom would I write?

I wish you a Merry Christmas, although we are aware that it won’t be as we would like while the dictatorship exists.

Big hugs.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, December 2015, under conditional “liberty.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Media Campaign Aims to Discredit Rodiles / Angel Santiesteban

Antonio Rodiles making a statement after his arrest

Angel Santiesteban Prats, 26 December 2015 — State Security is using all the tools in its arsenal to denigrate Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles, who is currently the most uncomfortable thorn in the side of the regime, in the court of national and international public opinion.

Rodiles is one of three organizers of the Forum for Rights and Liberties. In conjunction with the Ladies in White and other human rights organizations, the group promotes peaceful Sunday marches — demonstrations which have been causing great harm to the regime — under the hashtag #TodosMarchamos.

Following mass at St. Rita Church, the group meets — as coincidence would have it — at Gandhi Park, and walks in a peaceful weekly procession along 26th Street to Third Avenue. They do this knowing that what awaits them, Sunday after Sunday, is one of those operations mounted by the repressive forces of the Castro clan to which we have become so accustomed. Fortunately, however, images of every repressive attack are recorded, leaving no doubt as to what is really going on. continue reading

The reaction by the regime is clear evidence that Rodiles is hitting them where they are most vulnerable: the nerve center from which they have zealously maintained, for more than half a century in power, social discipline. As usual, they have used nastiness, lies and posturing in an attempt to strip him of his personal attributes, actions which have caused outrage because of the cowardice which they have been concocted.

This is a well-known tactic, one that has been used many times before on other opposition figures. The macabre plan is to first tarnish his image and, once they have sown doubt about him in the public’s mind, to then imprison him, because putting Rodiles behind bars is a longstanding dream the political police will always fight to achieve.

This smear campaign recently began after Rodiles returned from the United States, where he was invited to speak at a congressional debate in Washington on the topic of Cuba. He later met with prominent Cuban-American congressional representatives, who are calling on the government of Raul Castro to respect freedom and human rights on the island as a prerequisite for progress in restoring diplomatic relations. It is worth remembering that, upon returning home from his first such visit last year, Rodiles’ organization was the object of a cyber attack, albeit a relatively minor one.

Those maneuvering to sully human rights activists are working hard to dismantle the Forum for Rights and Freedoms. To do this, they need to get Rodiles out of the way, dismember the Ladies in White organization and remove the obstacles blocking their path to remaining in power, as they have done for nearly six decades.

If the Castro dictatorship reacts this way to someone like Antonio Rodiles, clearly it must be because he is doing something right. Persecuting him is payback for his political activism, for his constant defiance of the injustices that the regime perpetrates against those who oppose its plans.

Neither the defamations aimed at vilifying him — in essence, because of his pride — nor the entire army of followers that the terrorist state uses to harass him will be enough. Nor will plotting to achieve spurious benefits succeed in changing our standards or our ideas. On the contrary, this shameful strategy convinces us even more of the need for a clean and democratic government.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, December 2015, “free” on parole.

#Cuba Angel Santiesteban: Is Going to Jail Like Going to War?

Interview with writer Angel Santiesteban

Jorge Ángel Pérez

Jorge Ángel Pérez, HAVANA, Cuba, 23 November 2015 – Angel Santiesteban has authored one of the most outstanding works of our literature. For that, he has received numerous awards in Cuba and abroad. As a young man he won the UNEAC Prize with the book “Dream of a Summer Night,” and then the Alejo Carpentier prize with “The Children Nobody Wanted.” This title also served as the name for his blog, with which he has been expressing himself in recent years. “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn” was also prizewinner with the “Casa de las Americas award.”

After this brief recount, anyone unfamiliar with his work would say he is a “lucky one” but the truth is that he always gets what is most important: the laurel of his readers. Life in prison is one of his recurring themes. Whoever starts reading his texts will discover it from the first line in many of his narrative pieces. It turns out that he was already in jail twice, and in a bunch of police stations. About prison and his work we talk for a long time, in my house, a few days ago. And now, while I transcribe our conversation, I learned that he was nominated by Reporters Without Borders to receive the Citizen Reporter award which was just awarded to a group of Ethiopian bloggers. continue reading

Jorge Ángel Pérez

Jorge Ángel Pérez: Angel, not many Cuban writers have lived through the hell of prison for two terms. Were they useful for the writer those two stays?

Angel Santiesteban: Prison has been a rare source of “food”, describing the events I experienced, what I witnessed, turns out to be my armor. Thanks to writing I did not lose my head. I think living intensely those instants gave my writing great spontaneity. A writer of great imagination can write a great book without the need to be locked up, but we cannot deny that anyone who was there will tell it more openly …

Jorge Ángel Pérez: This is proved by your books and “Men Without Women”, by Montenegro

Angel Santiesteban: I think so. Being in prison helped me have the spontaneity and sincerity required in literature. That openness will always remain. That is why as I walked those two times to that hell, I thought of the stories I could find, how would they serve my work. To think that I was in search of material to write saved me, it made less harsh those stay.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: Finding those stories …

Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban: I found them there and they were the ones that saved me. Going to jail is like going to war. The prisoner and the soldier have much in common. The two are away from home. The two are withdrawn. Both have sexual desires they cannot fulfill. The two are under military control and that can be abusive and impose itself, often in a humiliating manner. Every day you are in danger of losing your life; in prison by the hands of a criminal and in war the enemy can kill you.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: While there you found stories that would serve you later, but the truth is you did not go voluntarily to rummage in jail and in prisoners’ behavior.

Angel Santiesteban: I went because I was led, bound. The last time I went to jail because I believed, and still believe, I could do something for my country to be better, to make it democratic. Fidel once said that a better world was possible, and I went to seek a better world, to look for that better Cuba. That cost me jail. Because I wanted to get that world I began in my house, in this country that I love. My literary teachers had told me that the important thing was to write, it was my work I should look after, the first thing was to write, and publish, get readers. Write, write and write. Many friends, and those teachers, they thought a writer does not have to do anything else.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: And don’t you think so?

Angel Santiesteban: No, I don’t think so. That’s a lie, although I believed it for many years. For a long time I devoted myself only to writing. I put together my work, I published books and keep quiet …because of fear.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: And where did you leave that fear?

Angel Santiesteban: It is still with me. It never left, but I learned to accommodate it. It never forsakes me the fear of going to jail. There you can die in an instant, and that’s terrible. Fear comes when I think that I can not be with my children and with my family at the moment they need me the most. Imagining that moment impress me a lot. It scares me to think of the possibility of they getting sick and  can not help them. My daughter did not attend college when I was arrested the last time and that made me feel responsible.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: And who was responsible?

Angel Santiesteban: Viewed in a simply way it should be me, but the real blame lies with those who arrested me. It was the unjust detention what distressed me. It was the possibility that her father went to jail again that made her sad, because of that she decided not to go to the classroom, because of that she missed the class, because of that she will have to justify her absence.

I imagine how many times she thought she would have to go back to visit the prison to accompany her father in his confinement. Who are the real culprits for her distress? Is it me? It makes me very happy she studies. I want her to graduate, and nourish her desire to study, but a young student will not feel very comfortable in a classroom knowing her father is imprisoned unjustly.

It was also distressing when I saw them coming to the prison. Seeing seventeen or eighteen kids visiting an inmate is not comforting. My first confinement had to do with my accompanying my family to the shore line when they wanted to leave the country for good. I ended up in prison, but I had no children. The last time they were grown already and they studied.

Their father was arrested for going around seeking democracy. And they knew what that could cost me.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: What is democracy for you?

Angel Santiesteban: Speaking my mind out loud and that nobody bothers me. Saying what I want and that everyone understands that this right exists and it pertain to all of us, that everyone understands that there are different ideas the ones professed by our rulers. Is it so difficult to understand that? I think it’s good to talk, and that the differences you have with those in power do not take you to jail. That’s democracy for me.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: And are you willing to talk to get this democracy?

Angel Santiesteban: Of course, that what this is all about. I can talk to a Communist if he is able to listen to me respectfully, if he allows me to act according to my principles. I have that right, although they take it from me I know I have it. I can also talk with a liberal. I can converse with those in power and those who oppose to them even though we don’t agree on everything. I wouldn’t talk to those fomenting terrorism. In that table I want to defend my right to express myself. If I have a political activity now is because I intend to find that democracy where everyone can live in, even with their differences. I would love it if in the future someone talks about me, that if I am just mentioned in one line , that’s what they say about me.

Jorge Ángel Pérez:  And about your writing?

Angel Santiesteban: I prefer it is talk before the effort I put into getting the dialogue, about my dreams of democracy, it must say that I faced those who would not let me express myself. That I want, and it must be said very briefly in just one line.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: Just recently you were arrested in a police station. Why?

Angel Santiesteban: All  I can say will be a speculation, everything would be an assumption. I don’t have the truth. I think it was something more than a threat, they intended to revoke my probation, which would take me back to jail.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: Why do you think that?

Angel Santiesteban: I was told there was a complaint from my ex-wife, the mother of my son. They showed it to me and I recognized her signature, but she told our son she had not accused me. They could forge her signature to intimidate me. I haven’t seen her in a long time, so there was not such a threat, but then (freelance journalist) Maria Matienzo went to the police station inquiring about me, and she was told I was imprisoned for armed robbery, however (Antonio) Rodiles was told the same thing they said to me; that I broke into the home of the mother of my child.

They never agreed among themselves to give the reasons for the arrest. I believe, and this remains an assumption, that it all had to do with a text I wrote the day before being arrested denouncing the imprisonment of Lamberto Hernandez Planas, where I commented on his hunger strike, the risks for his health, and I also demanded his immediate release.

Everything has to do with my political activities, my opposition. I did not threaten anyone and much less committed an armed robbery.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: What happened afterward?

Angel Santiesteban: Afterwards my son tells me that his mother had not accused me, certainly the ones who had arrested me knew, they stopped showing the alleged accusation of my ex. The next day I was taken to the provincial court. When we arrived, the police officers accompanying me wanted to know in which room the trial would be held and someone said to take me to an office. There the president of the court was waiting for me and told me that my freedom had been revoked. There was a brief silence and then she continued. She said that despite the revocation order she would set me free, and suggested that I behave, that I should behave.

Jorge Ángel Pérez: And do you think you could go to prison again?

Angel Santiesteban: Maybe, but I hope the excuse to be less dubious that the one that took me to jail last time. If they were less awkward they should send me, if there was a next time, on a fellowship in Paris or Berlin. Never to jail. That’s the worst thing you can do with a writer. Can you imagine what you could write there?

Jorge Ángel Pérez: I do not want to imagine it, it frightens me.

Angel Santiesteban: A writer will write everything he sees, everything will serve him. A criminal will hear the stories of others and perhaps they will serve him for the next wrongdoing, but a writer will analyze every detail, every gesture, every story, and then he will not be able to resist, he will write, and people will read it, people will find out what happens there.

Being in prison is like walking through the bowels of the country. Imagine that reader when reading those rotten descriptions. Everything I saw nourish that desire to write, to publish in my blog, to write stories, to do what I think is best for my country. There I wrote a lot. I wrote stories, from that stay in jail came out a novel. From the stories they told me during those hours I spent at the police station could emerge many narrative pieces. And there’s also my blog. From there I will continue telling, without stopping, without them get me to stop.

Published in Cubanet

 Translated by: Rafael

More Counterrevolutionary (?) Artists Speak up for Their Freedoms (Part I) / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban “on probation,” Havana, 5 December 2015 — On Saturday, November 28th, there was a meeting at the “Fresa y Chocolate” center in Havana, of the Assembly of the G-20 as they have been called, this group of twenty directors of the seventh art — which has the desire and the priority that the dictatorship accept, finally, a Film Law with which they can obtain a space of personal freedom for their art. That is, to be able to conquer creative liberties in favor of independence from the bureaucracy that has, until now, made them in their entirety bow down to the government. For all we know, so far, they have not sent the hit-men to intimidate the “G20”. continue reading

Although the Government has not yet presented its real face — because of the scandal that would arise when dealing with internationally recognized filmmakers — it is possible that they are cooking up something against this group so difficult to re-educate. So far they pretend to ignore them, perhaps betting they’ll wear themselves out.

The firefighter that the dictatorship has used in the past twenty years for these acts of insurrection, is the well-known Abel Prieto, who served once as President of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), then as Minister of Culture, and today, as tyrant Raul Castro’sAdviser.

But  they have worn out this character Prieto to such an extent that a large percentage of artists do not believe his words anymore and consider him a kind of Cardinal Richelieu, creator of intrigues and persecutions against those who do not abide by his directive. It is clear, there is no other character that could dialogue with this group of artists, so it would not be surprising that at some point he wears the “matador suit” and must enter the ring to face the bulls.

Public censorship in the UNEAC Congress

But returning the purpose of this writing, I should describe the events of the last meeting of the G-20, admitting in advance that the filmmakers are hostage to the so-called “Revolution” whose makers became dictatorship figures almost from the beginning. The totalitarian system maintains a tight grip on artistic production, maintaining an exhaustive and constant eye on this genre that attracts such a large audience; and because as the government knows what is at stake if it accepts granting them “independence”, it refuses to untie their hands and minds, preventing them from doing and undoing what they please with their art, because they know that soon, it would bring discredit, criticism and ridicule from art, without their being able to act against them.

The  most direct and effective effort so far, has been the attempt to expose and demand a debate at last congress of the UNEAC, when the filmmaker Rebeca Chávez proposed opening the subject and the sinister official Abel Prieto acted as a censor in the most violent and despotic way imaginable, and radically prevented the director from presenting the needs filmmakers have today.

This “Cain” in disguise as Abel, feverish for power has become today the most intransigent cop, and the more fanatical persecutor of those creators who dare to raise discrepancies with the cultural power or political power, and all this when he should be the bridge between artists and the government instead.

The functionaries commit censorship and fraud

The vast majority of those attending the Congress were offended by that political official’s outburst, from a man who was once a colleague, someone who pondered, defended and represented art in general, but the more power he has gained in the Nomenklatura the more he has been betraying the principles of commitment to genuine art. Understand that, “delegates” chosen in the congresses of the guild, are, mostly, the most “committed”,  those who, having passed through the scrutiny, and so they were unable to rebel against official orders — although they were the most unfair — and in the most disciplined of fears they remain quiet before the abuses and injustices of the dictatorship.

Film directors demand the censors show their faces

At the Assembly on the 28th of November, a fraud perpetrated in the election of the authorities of this congress was exposed, as those who got the most votes from the artists, were later replaced by the docile ones, whom they exchanged for the chosen ones in order to take to that meeting the most submissive and manipulated to lift their arms in favor of the government and, ultimately, to refuse these spaces of freedom that urge the artist and the times they live in. Replacing elected ones by the meek ones has been a common practice for years; and in some post I stated that I witnessed these frauds, where Abel Prieto pointed his finger at those who had showed him such pusillanimous attitudes.

The filmmakers, dissatisfied with the government’s attitude and its envoy Abel Prieto, decided to continue gathering to achieve their aspiration, approval of a long-awaited Film Law. And in that sense Gustavo Arcos was very specific, talking about movies currently censored by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), also raising concerns about the state of the national cinema, and calling for the discussion to be sustained with the counterparty which denies the Film Law.

He recalled the times that Fidel Castro met with the filmmakers “to save the cinema” and that — since the ancient dictator is no longer in power — that interlocutor who, without revealing his face, denied the necessary Film Law from the shadows should be sought, including Raul Castro, Diaz Canel and, according to some of those present, Alfonsito Borges, that grim and mediocre “administrator” of the culture who has done so much harm, and now serves as ideologist of the Party Central Committee, and demand that he answer why he considers that the Cuban films that are censored are also “counterrevolutionary” and to explain “where, how and why these films are against the Revolution, and have a dialogue with the decision makers and probably those considered counterrevolutionary: Alfonsito Borges, and I do not know the others (…).

As for me, I feel that the filmmakers have been too patient, waiting for the routine, when a plan B with stronger actions should have been in place, because that is the only way that things in this country will evidently be resolved, by forcing a discussion. I do not know how much Raul really knows about all this because I am very surprised that Abel Prieto himself, who is his adviser, opposed or at least slowed down, keeping his cards close to his chest, right there at the congress of the UNEAC, the so-called Film Law.”

And in full assembly state security appears imposing their terror (to be continued).

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translated by: Rafael

More Counterrevolutionary (?) Artists Speak Up For Their Freedom (II) / Angel Santiesteban

Eliecer Avila, back right, blue shirt. Screencapture

The latest: the government’s reaction

In the midst of the Assembly of the G-20 (as a group of twenty film directors call themselves), while the filmmakers debated the need for the approval of a Film Act and continued to denounce the hairy hand of censorship with Abel Prieto as its visible creator, as recently happened against Juan Carlos Cremata, a scream alerted that State Security was trying to expel one of those present.

It was Eliecer Avila, who was attending as a member of the general public until he was discovered by an agent of the regime. When the agent entered the room to expel him, he was rebuked by some of those present, although most preferred, as usual, to keep silent, because they knew that he was one of those shadowy figures who swarm cultural institutions and is responsible to pursue, monitor and warn them, and to make them regret their “mistakes” later on. continue reading

Everyone in the room stood up and approached the door where the official from ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry) and the agent of the State Security pressured Eliecer to leave the room, telling him that his presence stained what they were trying to build there.

Eliezer said he did not understand their attitude as he stayed quietly in the audience and had not even spoken about what was discussed there. The “segurosito” –little security guy — (he  wasn’t even five feet tall) responded publicly that he (Eliezer) was a counterrevolutionary and offended them with his presence at that cultural space. Eliezer defended himself saying that he was a revolutionary; his wife supported him, saying that “they were revolutionaries.”

By that time, I had managed to approach and I said it was me who was not “revolutionary”, so before removing Eliezer they would have to remove me. Many filmmakers were amazed at the impudence with which the censor appeared before them as they debated how to end censorship. Freelance journalist Luz Escobar, berated him to read his name and the position he occupied in the ICAIC, to which he replied, “Everyone here knows me.”

Finally, Eliecer, despite assuring he was revolutionary, which didn’t matter to either the “seguroso” nor the ICAIC-official, refused to leave the room and the meeting continued with those present on their feet. They agreed, through voting, try to reach a bridge of dialogue with the pertinent state authorities.

It is unfortunate that once again they usurp spaces from artists, because only they had the right to ask Eliezer to withdraw from the room if they felt he should not be present. I guess State Security will demand that the next Assembly of the G-20 will take place behind closed doors.

However, looking at the gains from these troubled waters, I think that the presence of independent journalists has alerted the dictatorship to an understanding that the issue of the filmmakers is getting out of hand and becoming international news, and although their media prohibit publishing that information, they can not prevent us, independent bloggers, from doing it.

Hopefully our presence there has forced the dictatorship to accept that they must negotiate with the G-20 to restore what belongs to them in their own right: freedom of creation, something that never should have been seized with the justification of making a  “revolutionary” cinema.

I thought I had finished recounting the events at the Assembly, but something told me I should wait; we could expect some reaction after that altercation. And this December 3rd, TV reported a meeting of the plenary of the UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), led by the government firefighter Abel Prieto, where they pledged to “not allow artists and their spaces to converge with the counterrevolutionaries”.

Abel Prieto and Raul Castro

It was the stubbornness I expected from State Security, the Communist Party and the leadership of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba; the coherent response of the dictatorship to a dilemma that is getting out of hand.

I am sure that this time the “counterrevolution” which is how they call us, the ones who are fighting peacefully for freedom and democracy, will push for the necessary dialogue between filmmakers and dictatorship to finally take place.

Last minute phone call

I received an anonymous call from a “concerned” person about my likely attendance at the inauguration of the New Latin American Film Festival.

Angel: Hello, -I said.

-Unknown: Santiesteban?

Angel: Yes, speaking.

-Unknown: I am calling to give you advice -says the enigmatic character

Angel: -Ok, I am listening – I insist.

Unknown: -Just to tell you, you will not be welcome at the opening of the Film Festival.

Angel:-That does not sound like an advice, is seems more like a threat.

Unknown:-Take it as you want, but don’t regret it later.

Angel:-I will be present anywhere I please -I say upset.

Unknown:-Do not think that we will again allow you to interfere with your presence as you did at the “Fresa and Chocolate” meeting room. We do not want you at the Karl Marx Theater, neither at the opening nor at the closing.

Angel:-Well, you do your part that I will do mine. -and I hung up.

I did not want to go anyway, but it mortifies me they want to manipulate their instruments of fear.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, “on probation”

Translated by: Rafael
17 December 2015

#Cuba, Cubans celebrate the 17th of December. Or do they cry for it? / Angel Santiesteban

For Cubans, as long as I can remember and from the history I learned, December 17th is a sacred day in which St. Lazarus calls his devotees to the shrine at El Rincon, on the outskirts of Havana, to make promises, to thank him for favors received or to ask him for health for next year.

The General-Without-Battles Raul Castro and President Barack Obama decided to make public the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States — after sealing the deal with the exchange of hostages, three spies of the Group of Five who were in prison for one American hostage accused of spying for the northern country, Alan Gross, and an agent of the Cuban intelligence accused of treason continue reading

— in such an important date for Cubans, and that way, tarnished the tradition, because even for the more pagan or “communist”, on this day they light a candle asking for health and prosperity for their people.

Since last year, along with the tradition there is the fatal remembrance of an agreement that brought neither prosperity nor a decent opening that shows any willingness from the dictatorship to respect human rights and move the country towards a prosperous and democratic future. It has only been observed by the US President; docility and patience, like the stability of his country would depend on that diplomatic exchange.

This year, when the day of the first anniversary of the agreements comes, we Cubans must light two candles: one for our St. Lazarus and one for the funeral of that presidential pact. The only thing that has been brought by the opening of embassies, is a new stampede of Cubans fleeing their homeland and it far exceeds that of the 1994 Rafter Crisis.

The talks between the two governments eventually convinced people that the only thing to expect is more instability and economic strengthening of the totalitarian regime. The pilgrimage of Cubans throughout Latin America is overwhelming. The latest scandal of the islanders still remains unresolved in Costa Rica; there was a bottleneck with thousands of people stranded in emergency camps because of Nicaragua’s refusal to let them pass through, preventing them from reaching the United States. We could not expect less from President Daniel Ortega, disciple of the Cuban dictatorship.

The Castro mob likes to steal important dates of national traditions. As if was not enough usurping Christmas, banning it, and noting as “counterrevolutionaries” those celebrating it, they chose January 1st as the starting date of the so-called Revolution, that is, the dictatorship disguised as populism, plunged us into the most extreme misery of all and led millions of Cubans to emigrate. Now, they desecrated December 17th, a holy day of a saint who always annoyed them because of the huge number of devotees he has.

Translated by: Rafael
18 December 2015

#Cuba Abel Prieto, Interior Minister / Angel Santiesteban

Abel Prieto, 2nd from left, next to Raul Castro, 3rd from left

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 23 November 2015 — Former Culture Minister Abel Prieto, adviser to the “President” Raul Castro, has distanced himself so much from the realm of Art that today he could be the Minister of Interior since, for several years, he devotes himself to pursue creative sheep who dare to challenge or abandon the sheepfold constructed by the dictatorship to keep artists and intellectuals bowed down.

That friendly editor, devotee of “Lezama’s work,” union-based politician, president of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), Minister of Culture, and finally presidential adviser, has distanced himself so much from the affairs of his colleagues that today, he only responds to the imperatives of the dictatorship. continue reading

How can he forget the persecution launched against intellectual Antonio José Ponte, who he personally accused publicly, expelled him from the UNEAC and shut the doors in the culture area, to the point of making him leave a meeting of writers. Ponte’s being abroad today, it is largely due to him.

The same thing happened with the writer Amir Valle: he also suffered Abel’s harassment and his name could not be pronounced in his presence. He ordered him to be excluded from all cultural events in the country. Amir also thanks Abel — largely or absolutely –for prohibiting his entry to the country upon his return from Madrid, where he traveled in 2005 to present a novel.

Recently, Abel Prieto aggressively challenged the filmmaker Rebeca Chávez during the last congress of the UNEAC, when she and some directors wanted a film law to be approved, that benefits the filmmakers and cinematographic arts in general.

He did not even care that the lady in question has supported the dictatorship for decades; nor that she was the wife of writer Senel Paz, a prestigious intellectual, and back then a UNEAC official — afterward he resigned from UNEAC —  a generational comrade and, as far as is known, his friend.

For most attendees, the aggressiveness and lack of chivalry of Abel Prieto, who completely lost his marbles, uncovered his true character and commitment to the system, turning away from the cultural issues and artists.

From left to right: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz and Abel Prieto former Minister of Culture — photo taken many years ago

In my case, he also did his part: he organized that “spontaneous” campaign to collect signatures against me among the women of the UNEAC. Alleging gender violence, they put me as a paradigm of the perpetrator knowing I was innocent, but simultaneously — this is the most painful — they became accomplices of state violence against the Ladies in White (Women for Human Rights), who systematically and publicly are subject to beatings every Sunday after Mass in the church of Santa Rita. The same attitude assumed when actress and human rights activist, Ana Luisa Rubio, faced a mob that responded to the State Security and disfigured her face in a beating.

From left to right: Current Cuban President General Raul Castro Ruz and Abel Prieto, advisor to the president (old photo)

Abel Prieto, in the presence of other artists said that I would serve the five years in prison to which I had been sentenced. Then, when on April 2015, when the deadline was met, I was denied the Probation I was entitled to, I knew he was not lying, that of being Adviser to the President was not mere investiture.

For many years, that jocose intellectual who betrayed his colleagues was assuming the role of a district chief of police. He was mutating to become another Papito Serguera in the era of Pavonato. In fact, he is a role model if you want to be boosted by the dictatorship. It may be true that saying: “When people get used to power, they do not know how to live without it, and to remain there, they accept the meanness and most desperate and deep contradictions.”

There he is for the dictator. Then he can be used for what he already is: a recruit of the Interior Ministry

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, 20th of November, “on probation”.

 Translated by: Rafael

23 November 2015

Havana Regime Continues to Violate Human Rights / Angel Santiesteban

The regime in Havana continues to ignore the CIDH (International Commission of Human Rights) and keeps violating human rights.

From Angel’s Editor: As I’ve been doing for 3 years, I make available to readers of the blog “The Children Nobody Wanted” the correspondence I keep with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which is systematically ignored by the Castro dictatorship.

Two-weeks from “celebrating” the first anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, let this be an illustration, one more if possible, of what the regime understands as “reforms” and as “humans rights “. continue reading

The delay with which I published them, is because, just yesterday, December 2, 2015, I received the documents dated September 16, 2015.

It is important, although Angel Santiesteban has the appropriate precautionary measures and his case is constantly monitored by the CIDH, on 5th of November last year he was the subject of a new arbitrary detention for 24 hours; he was subjected to a summary trial in which he his Probation was revoked and right after, “it was reversed again”, in what became the final chapter in this “Kafkaesque process.”

Of course, the decision of the retrial continues in a limbo. What will be waiting for Mr. Dictator?

Angel’s editor

Translated by: Rafael
3 December 2015

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

It was an attempt, the first one of that natural instinct that later we would know as a personal trait of yours, to get out of the fold, out of the official frameworks and, in a statement drafted and made public by some of those youngsters that were named “The Six of Eighties” group in which, you along other writers: Jose Mariano Torralbas, Alberto Garrido, Madlum Marcos Gonzalez, Ricardo Hodelín Tablada, José Manuel Poveda Ruiz, somehow stepped aside from the ruling canons.

That meant a scandal in Santiago de Cuba and, like gunpowder, arrived at Havana, so the national bodies of the political police issued a directive to “assist you”:  as we know, they took you all as a “dissident” group who, influenced by — no one knew who — you were being “manipulated” by the “anti-communist propaganda”, therefore you were besieged, interrogated, tempted by being offered a boat ride from the bay of Santiago to an open area, they pressured your parents, and that way, as it was known later, you became part of the “black list” for good.

At the first opportunity, you picked up some books and you left for Havana. I witnessed all the sacrifices that you made at the time, besides, away from your parents, with whom you shared so many dreams.

Angel Santiesteban: 1. What do you remember, after so many years, from those events that took place when you were almost fourteen years old that prematurely marked your life?

AMIR VALLE: Those were very happy years. Those who lived in Santiago de Cuba in the ’80s will agree with me that they were really glorious years for culture, a time that, as I have heard, has not been repeated.

Santiago received the greatest Cuban and Latin American writers; the complicit joining of Aida Bahr, Oscar Ruiz Miyares and Augusto de la Torre from different positions in cultural institutions and in fighting a well settled state bureaucracy in the city, supported by literary specialists, among whom I remember with particular fondness, Maritza Ramirez or Gladys Horruitinier, which allowed the development of the movement of literary workshops, even publications in other parts of the country they could not have dreamed of.

The network of literary competitions was very important;  besides the musical force of Santiago, the takeoff of theater, dance and the visual arts was impressive; Santiago hosted the most important cultural events in the eastern part of the country and in the whole country as well, and among the young people, as well you say, the idea of creating literary groups. “Six of the Eighties” in our case, the La Raya group of poets, and other groups they had no name, but they worked the same.

But the most beautiful was the unit that was created among those young writers who were attending the gatherings of Heredia House in the Student House, or other gatherings to improvise, for example, at Cafe La Isabelica in a corner square Dolores, or Chess Park, or in the case of our group, in the house of Torralbas in the Sueño neighborhood, which we called “the loft of Torralbas”, because being built on a hill, from the doorway we could enjoy a beautiful view of the city.

If to this you add that as writers we received really special pampering as human beings and the great Jose Soler Puig, the unforgettable Jorge Luis Hernandez, Jose M. Fernandez Small, Aida Bahr, Daysi Cué, Luis Carlos Suarez or Lino Verdecia, these three latter who became guide-friends who were studying at the University of Oriente, you will understand that none of these other discomforts mattered a lot.

We wanted to write and, in all honesty, many good people had conspired for us to do. I remember more than that harassment that they actually began receiving, we felt uncomfortable with the missteps that some “provincial sacred cows” of the older generations attributed to us then, jealous of our success at the provincial and national level.

From that time I keep, to give just one example, the treasure of the most faithful brotherhood that binds me from the love and admiration for one of the greatest poets that  Cuba has today: Odette Alonso Yodú.

None of our group was thinking about anything else but becoming a great writer. It was crazy and beautiful. But Torralbas was always ahead of us; I would dare to say that for family reasons or disagreements he had at a very young age, he was the only one among us that showed a fairly open defiance against the Revolution. And it was he who was pushing us towards a less compliant literature, but more critical one instead.

The other disagreement was that evening, right after receiving a visit from one of those “collegues” who said they were concerned that the “enemy not divert us from the right path”, my father told me, and forgive me for answering you with the same curse he used, but I believe it is necessary: “We’ll see what the fuck you do, but I do not want a ’worm’* in this house: My children have to be revolutionary and if I find out that you’ve become a ’worm,’ I’ll kill you myself.”

That day, I must confess, something snapped inside me, and for years I struggled to understand how the same being that gave me so much love could turn so blind, forgetting that I was only doing what he had advised me when I turn 14, when he said: “Son, lying is the biggest shortcoming that a man can have. Never lie, even if you annoy someone. I fought for this Revolution, I made this Revolution so that everyone could speak their minds without any fear of ending up in a ditch with their mouth full of ants.”

Angel Santiesteban: 2. You distanced yourself from your Santiago de Cuba and left for Havana, changing universities to continue your studies in the career of Journalism; was this because in some way you were being stalked by State Security? I remember that, once settled in Havana, I witnessed your return from classes, upset with those State Security agents , because they interrupted class schedules and in front of other students, they took you out into the hallway of the department for questioning, to force you to answer questions about expressions you and others said in cultural or private places.

AMIR VALLE: Actually that did not have much to do with it, but certainly, it bothered me the harassment of that mustachioed guy whose name I never knew. He showed up everywhere (I later learned that he did the same with each of us) and proposed to us to become agents, who would informed him of everything that was said in our meetings and in our encounters with other people from the cultural field.

I’ll tell you something funny: one of the not so young writers who excelled at that time in Santiago de Cuba was Eliades Acosta Matos, who later became Director of the National Library, and then the Head of the Department of Culture of the Central Committee of the (Communist) Party; meaning, he would have the role of Great Censor.

I was very good friends with Eliades, back then when I was still in Santiago and, when he was just a minor official of culture, whose greatest interest as he said was to become a writer. I used to visit him at work and at home, where we read our stories to each other and we talked a lot about universal culture, because he really had such opinions that really fascinated me. What I have never said is that I decided to break up that friendship and stop visiting him, when that mustachioed security agent  told me Eliades was in trouble, and I, in order to help save him from falling into enemy hands, should tell State Security everything he said.

Those close to me know that I worship friendship fanatically, so that instead of approaching Eliades and becoming a spy myself, I walked away from Eliades and, weeks later, when the mustachioed agent showed up at my house to talk for the third or fourth time with my father, I told him I had a big argument with Eliades and our friendship was broken. That is why it hurt me so much that, in 2006, when he was still the great censor of the Communist Party, in an interview with Granma International he discredited me and called me a mercenary, a traitor and other insults.

However, the real reason of my departure from Santiago was my ambition, back then I had such a huge ego that even I could not stand myself. I had outgrown Santiago: I had won all the awards, my name came up in all literary studies, from Santiago I had started to sneak into the muddy ground of national literature and several disappointments in the cultural scene made me realize that I should go to Havana if I wanted to be more important.

I remember Aida Bahr told me, “Why are you leaving? Beware, here you are the “head of a lion” and there, if ever, you are going to be “a mouse tail.” But, wielding all the ego I had in those years, I replied to her, “I’ll eat Havana, Aida, and there, you can be sure, I will be one of the most visible matted hairs in the mane of the lion.”

Today, although I spent years asking God to give me the humility that a Christian should have, when I look back, I realize I have accomplished my goals: despite all the obstacles, all the graft of the power groups and all the pressures because of my desire to write freely, I managed to impose myself, to win prizes, to publish and to be considered an author who deserved to be named in the national literary studies, and all that from my position of lone wolf.

That’s something you know well, only a few of us know: I was a loner, and I imposed myself back in Cuba because of stubbornness, writing, sending off to hundreds of contests, writing, writing, writing, to the extent that Anton Arrufat once said, and I don’t know if it was good natured kidding or it was one of his usual elitist criticisms, that, “if Guillermo Vidal writes a novel per month, Amir Valle writes one a week.”

And as you well remember, Guille Vidal said at an event to praise my diligence, “Do not be fooled, Amir is not a single person; It is an army of Amirs: One Amir writes stories, one Amir writes novels, another Amir works for newspapers and makes essays for magazines, another Amir gives workshops, another lectures, another writes scripts for television, three other Amirs read more than ten manuscripts each month that writers across the island send to his home in Havana for him to advise them, another Amir advises and prepares publishing anthologies of the young talents of the Cuban narrative … That’s why he can be everywhere and do so many things.”

All that, I repeat, alone, without the support of any of the three groups of power that existed at the time at national level: the group was sponsored by Eduardo Heras León, called “el Chino” Heras (who was joined by many of the “realistic” writers later called “the violent ones”).

The group that was sponsored by Anton Arrufat (which was joined by to those who later would be called “the gay lobby”).

And the group of writers close to the official cultural power, most loyal members or friends of the generation of writers in the ’80s. Although some of them who were my friends, I never joined boys who would found the interesting Diaspora(s) project and just attended, as a silent listener, the literature clubs on Reina Maria Rodriguez’s roof, where writers from all these groups and trends came together, but where a space was being opened up for other less rigid ways of understanding creation and literature.

Many people believe that I was sponsored by Eduardo Heras León, but that, as you know, just happened from 1984 to 1988. I arrived in Havana in July 1986 and by the end of 1987 a personal disagreement with “El Chino” Heras made me feel isolated, disappointed, so I had to fight so as not to be crushed by those dark powers who spoke out against me from the chapels and literary cliques that existed then.

I like to give honor to whom honor is due, and therefore I must say in those years, I was saved from loneliness by two people, and can even say that most of my literary achievements were possible thanks to the love and support I always received from the unforgettable Salvador Redonet — a university professor— and a teacher and writer, almost a mother to me, Mercedes Melo, called Chachi.

Angel Santiesteban:  3. What effect have  left in yourself those personal experiences? You always had  Literature as a must dream. You wrote, and still write, with that enviable discipline, and I do not remember meeting anyone with such work ability as yours, so that you have under your belt almost three dozen books, before the astonished eyes of all of us who have accompanied you in this literary adventure. Once you admitted your “fear of dying young”; if I remember correctly, someone had told you that prophecy, luckily, and although I think that somehow we are still young, it did not happen. Was it something that you made up to justify tons of typewritten sheets of paper or it actually happened and you got scared back then,in your early teens?

AMIR VALLE: Such blatant pressures on me during my years as student of journalism at the University of Havana affected me, I think, as favorably as such impact can: it deepened my disappointment, I was terrified. I had decided until that very moment to write critically, but just after the last of those harassing encounters with the State Security agent, which coincided with a historic event in Cuban journalism that happened at the Faculty of Journalism, I decided to openly speak my mind, and do it also through journalism, even if it would not be published in Cuba.

As you must remember, in the first of those meetings, in 1986, I came home very afraid. I was in the classroom and the secretary of the dean came to get me, he asked permission from the teacher and told me to go to her office. It was the secretary who then told me to go upstairs by way of a round staircase to another room that was locked up. There I met two men who introduced themselves as officers of the State Security and I confess that the tactic of good-cop bad-cop they used made me feel afraid: It was the first time I faced something like that.

It was right there, where I confirmed all the suspicions that we had in Santiago: the two men confirmed to me that an alleged young writer who hung out with us was in fact sent by them, that the yacht ride another co-worker offered us was also planned by them and, even worse, three of my best friends in the journalism classroom in Santiago de Cuba, were reporting to them every week on every single of my “ideologically opposed” comments. That feeling of knowing that I was watched and betrayed crushed me. I could not understand how those who should be concerned about more dangerous issues against national security, were after an innocent asshole like me.

But right there a curious thing happened: I started writing with more anger about our reality, and keeping those things in places where I thought no one would ever find them, and I started reading a lot of banned literature taking advantage of my friendship back then with an old historian who lived a few blocks from the house of my aunt in Luyanó, where I lived all those years.

That old man, Samuel, had an impressive library and, since his daughter was a Cuban diplomat, she brought him books he lent me. I  am still happy to recall that when my presence became common in his library (because for months he would not let me take the books home), one day he told his wife, “when they define the term in the dictionary Library Mouse it will show a picture of this kid.”

Returning to the appointments they forced me to attend: the last one was after a meeting in which we journalism students demonstrated, first against Carlos Aldana, who was then the head of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and then against Fidel Castro himself, who, taking advantage of a meeting in the Palace of the Revolution which he “accidentally” snuck into, questioned many of the flaws of the media and the revolutionary process.

Some believe that I had role in what happened there, but the truth is that when I discovered it was a setup, I threw out the last question, yes, preventing Fidel from continuing to crush others, who were naive and had not realized that it all was a farce.

My question, I did ask with the sole intention of getting him to run his mouth, knowing that he would not stop, as indeed happened. After that, a real witch hunt began at the Faculty of Journalism against all those who had dared to confront the power.

Many were intimidated so that ended up becoming government bootlickers, the most embarrassing case being Alexis Triana, who was in fact the organizer and one of the masterminds of this “revolt.” I still remember it in our brief but intense meetings in the park opposite the department, where we coordinated what to ask, what issues we couldn’t miss, and even who should ask and how to fight back against the predictable responses.

In those days they came to see me again — bad Policeman and good Policeman — and they said they already had met with other colleagues of mine who were willing to cooperate to finish crushing the revolt: in front of those colleagues who cooperated they mentioned my classmate Rosa Miriam Elizalde, someone to whom I devoted a special affection.

At this point I do not know if he was lying, but then, seeing the sudden leadership role she got, and seeing her meteoric career rise up to power, I have come to think that maybe they told the truth.

At that meeting (always the same method: secretary approaches the door of the classroom, asking for permission for me to leave and ordering me to go to her office) they wanted to communicate that in return for my question and the way I cut off what they called “a string of stupid insults to the Commander” they could promote me to one of the positions on the Faculty and even to being a member of a select group of students who would work directly with the President of the Union of Journalists on the ideological work with freshman journalism students.

I told them that the only time I held a leader position I was a mess, I lost friends in the student world because the leaders were always looked down upon by others, and to me the only thing that mattered was to graduate. Good Policeman said, “Sorry, you could have been very helpful,” and bad policeman muttered: “You’re gross, kid, you are about to fuck up your life.” And the fact is that from that day on, things narrowed so much for me in college that I began to focus only on my studies, and the clandestine readings at my old friend Samuel’s house, and in writing, day and night, like a man possessed.

Dying young is something that always worried me, until I met Cristo and knew that he would wait for me in that eternity that all Christians dream off. We were doing field work in journalism and I and a colleague, a great friend, Jorge Baxter from Holguin, we were assigned the subject of African-Cuban religion.

When we got the saint room of one of the babalaos (holy people of African-Cuban religion) we interviewed, the old man stared at me and said: “I see the mark of a genius upon you,” and I liked that, it fed my ego, but what followed afterward felt quite bad, “you are going to die young,” he said, “geniuses always die young.”

And the truth is that if I lived until today it is because I don’t think I am the genius that he saw in me, but I also wonder if there was something that happened there that confused the spiritual diviner of the old man, because the one who died young of a heart attack, was Baxter my colleague, a tough loss for those who knew him.

Angel Santiesteban: 4. You were always daring, and that has defined your life, perhaps like fate. This natural rebellion that began, as we already said in 1980, and then was kept in perpetual conspiracy between your ideas, dreams and feelings reflected, of course, in your most mundane or transcendental acts.

I remember, somehow, you tried for young writers to get to be part of the board of the UNEAC (Writers and Artist Union of Cuba), you campaigned among us for a while, not to promote yourself, but for someone of our generation might also decide, and I even remember a young writer, Alberto Guerra Naranjo, told a gathering of writers that “my generation also wants to cut cod” [’call the shots’] and, as he said it, some ruling dinosaurs understood that “cut” to mean that the young people wanted to “cut off the heads” of the slate of nominees submitted without Abel Prieto’s consent, as you and I know, since we know him well, he pointed his finger at his friends of his generation to fill the vacancies, as still happens in those useless Congresses.

It is undeniable is that the UNEAC board was offended by our transgressions and created a real lobby to nullify us, as eventually happened.

AMIR VALLE: Look, there is a reality that few comment on: in the years when we started to grow, in literary terms, and even now, the domain of culture in the country was in the hands of the Generation of ’80s. I myself remember being in some gathering of friends where some of them, Abel, Sacha, Arturo Arango, Norberto Codina, bragged that they had taken the monopoly of culture from Armando Hart and his court of mediocre ones.

They were sneaking into magazines, into publishing houses, into the offices where cultural directives for the country were decided. And I hope you remember because you were present, the party where we all celebrate that Abel Prieto was appointed Minister of Culture. We saw the heavens open up and I still clearly remember his words: “I know that among all these mayimbes (powerful ones) I’m just a piece, but at least I hope it serves to help our pals and that culture takes freer paths.”

And certainly it is honest to say, that strategy produced a real change in the culture of the country, it was like a breath of air, moments of certain controlled openings, compared with the period of Hart, whom I remember in an event in Cienfuegos saying to us, the young people: “You are artists, so you play with the rules of art, but if you get into the field of politics you have to face the political consequences of your actions, because at least us, who made this revolution, we’re going to respond to you politically.”

That generation, from the’ 80s, as one them put it to us in a discussion in the last Book Fair held in PABEXPO, could be proud of having taken power from the cultural commissars of the early years and having closed their path, those were his words, “to the mediocrity of previous generations who intended to continue living on stories because once, one of their little books was outrageously censored.”

For me, as you did, I felt very near the traumas that that censorship in the ’70s caused a writer as great as Eduardo Heras León could have been, whom I consider was the frustrated by force, could not understand that this generation, consolidated itself when we took our first steps, I mean, many of them our friends, suddenly became censors, strategists of culture that from their offices do the dirty work of the political power.

Therefore, in the mid-90s, I started along with the writer Alberto Guerra Naranjo a conspiracy with the intent to remind them our generation was as strong as theirs and, although it sounds ugly and generational, quality wise ours was superior.

But they were our judges, who decided who will rise and who will not, and it was even customary that Sacha gave military degrees ranks to writers, according to our “literary level.” So we were captains, when all of them, according to Sacha, were generals, and one day, years later, when we were no longer that young, she almost gave us a heart attack, when she said we had been promoted to colonels.

It was a game, but a game that defined very well the state of opinion they had about themselves and about us. And today I say with no regret from that generation, if indeed any could be considered a general, those were: Leonardo Padura, Miguel Mejides, Reinaldo Montero, Luis Manuel Garcia Mendez, Abilio Estevez and Aida Bahr, among the storytellers.

The others, kept living on stories or, even more literally, living on having written once a good story. By the time of that anecdote you refered to, Alberto Guerra and I, with the support of Mercedes Melo, we celebrated the Colloquium of Current Cuban Narrative: “Open the beat of criticism,” on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July 1996 in the Provincial Center for Cultural Improvement and House of Writers in the 10 de Octubre district, an event that, like that of the voting you talked about, was completely boycotted, and, of course, no one from that generation attended.

Angel Santiesteban: 5. What did you try to achieve by what officialdom understood as a “cultural coup d’etat”?

AMIR VALLE: The idea I had then is the same I defended afterward, until today: culture can not be the fiefdom of anyone, neither politicians nor chapels nor literary groups. It has to be a land of freedom where all trends, generations, schools and powers converge.

I remember a joke Anton Arrufat told Guillermo Vidal and me on an occasion when a typesetter, ex-military, is horrified at a book by Guillermo Vidal and decided, without consulting anyone, to  stop its printing: “Dear Guillermo, in your case it is clear that in this country Culture is not managed by the poor Abel Prieto, it is managed from the building of the Armed Forces, in the Plaza of the Revolution.”

And he was right: I witnessed how Omar González, then president of the Cuban Book Institute, and several officials from the Ministry of Culture, including a vice minister, had to negotiate with the military for Guillermo Vidal’s book to finally be printed.

In the end, I confess, I gave up. Our fellow writers, all of them, regardless of generation, were full of fear. Trying to mask that fear by saying that their hesitations were due to: politics was not their thing or, the more honest ones, because they did not want to risk losing the little they had, but the undeniable fact is the disgrace of other generations in assuming certain responsibilities and the strategy of that generation of taking those responsibilities as their own, paved their way to stay in power, to monopolize the national and international promotion of culture in their favor and, unfortunately, to obstruct the air of freedom that brought the new generations that have arisen up to today, in many cases, annihilating them with the speech about the fidelity owed to the Revolution.

Traps, entanglements and schemes against other colleagues staged by some of them are material for an encyclopedia on human misery. Or does someone want to convince me that Abel Prieto is now a personal adviser to the dictator simply because Raul Castro is fascinated with his mane?**

Angel Santiesteban: 6. What did you expect from the young writers and which cultural policy were you betting on? Returning to those votes, I remember they elected me to the ballot selection committee, where writers wrote the names of delegates who were supposed to represent them in the Congress of the UNEAC. I made sure Guillermo Vidal, rest in peace, obtained the necessary ballots to be there. At the end of the ballot count he was the most voted, which necessarily, according to the supposed democracy they wanted to show with that circus act, “Guille” would be The Delegate; however, he was not invited.

AMIR VALLE: I thought we all wanted the same thing: more windows for promotion; more freedom to publish our literature without many of our stories or books being subjected to censorship; less paternalism, as we had already discovered that this alleged way of protecting us had turned us into “eternal frozen promises”, even though many of our works were considered by some leading critics (Margarita Mateo, Madeline House, Salvador Redonet) better than others of previous generations.

But it was right there in those preparatory meetings of the Congress (since I was fortunate to participate in some meetings in other provinces), when I discovered the narcissism than sickens Cuban intellectuals and writers: as long as one is not touched by the evils affecting others, nobody cares. And the cultural strategy of the Revolution has been to make them believe that they are nothing without the support of the institutions, they are nothing without the cultural support of the Revolution or without the support of a the country.

Beside,s the typical selfishness of us, who are in this field, of arts and culture, and the way things are, makes them cling to any minor promotion or publication opportunity they believe they have won, even if it means having to sacrifice their principles.

And finally, as you might remember, one of our colleagues told us in those days, “What is the point in opposing, and proposing something new, if from the power elite they will manage to keep things the same, so that nothing changes?”

That’s what happened with Guillermo Vidal: since he was such a beloved and respected guy, even by his enemies, he got that overwhelming vote, but the power elite decided they could not afford a big mouth like him disrupting the sheepish docility they had planned for that Congress, which, as we already know, was an Ode to Submission.

End of first part.

On the second section they will talk about friendship, loneliness, honesty, betrayal colleagues and the independence.

Note from the Editor: The interview was so long and deep I had to split it up in sections to publish it.

Translator’s note*:
Gusano,” meaning “worm” or “maggot” was a common insult applied to counterrevolutionaries, and used by Fidel Castro in speeches.
**Abel Prieto has notably long curly hair and a lot of it.

Padura and the Face of Cultural Context / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 18 November 2015 — On October 31, in the Museo Napoleónico de La Habana, the book, “The Faces of Padura: Work and Life of a Writer, ” a compilation of texts about Leonardo Padura, was presented. Padura was recently awarded the Princesa de Asturias de las Letras Prize.

At the event, Padura shared the thank-you speech that was read in Oviedo before Spain’s royal family; words that should have been published by the Cuban press. But not only did they not publish them, but also in the official media it was completely ignored that for the first time a Cuban writer was given credit for such a prestigious award. continue reading

This attitude of the Castro press is one more mockery of the Cuban people’s intellect, caused by that “cult of secrecy” so many were talking about in the last Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC), where it was treated as something from the past, blaming the journalists themselves for unnecessary self-censorship, now that politics is not interfering in the news and its opinions.

Which is to say that suddenly we had overcome the dictatorship and that we found ourselves in a State where there is free thought.

But returning to the question at hand: the book about Padura could have been one more release for the world of the many that the distinguished Cuban writer completed; only this one was special because it happened on his terrain, surrounded by family, friends and his natural readers, and it was delightful because it was presented by colleagues from his generation, among them the writer Francisco López Sacha.

But they couldn’t stop mentioning some irregularities around this event, like the rejection of eight cultural institutions which didn’t celebrate Padura, which is very alarming; of course, behind that was the sinister hairy hand of the Government, which has exhausted without success all its misleading strategies, praising him moderately in order to buy his silence and stop him from telling his truths and offering his critical evaluations about the reality of the Cuban people.

That Leonardo Padura — actually the most distinguished Cuban writer on the international scene — shares his books with readers at home is a deference that makes us grateful; however, that the Regime tries to make him pay the price for not being a writer who kneels before the manipulations of those who direct the cultural politics on the archipelago is an immense immorality, a brutal insensitivity, characteristics that are endemic to Caribbean totalitarianism.

That his books, awards and presentations aren’t promoted as they should be with a National Prize of Literature shows a lack of delicacy and transparency of the cultural politics and the Government, which discredits itself even more (if that’s possible, given the shameful and repeated practice of this and other dirty tricks), ignoring and trying to “invisiblize” a writer who, in spite of not coming out directly against the system, still doesn’t accept gifts or pampering, as do most of the intellectuals and artists on the island.

They at first tried to manipulate him with an open cynicism, through publications, national fairs, a homage in the Casa del las Américas, or with that final power of cultural officials, accepting that a jury award him the National Literature Prize, the greatest award for the work of a Cuban writer residing on the island. But, since Padura didn’t react before such “magnanimous” tokens — because here it’s only important that you have won, not that they decide whether or not you win — now the same cultural officials, who once called themselves his friends, are cold and distant in response.

I also know that the filming of the movies based on his detective novels that have his character Mario Conde as the protagonist, has received negative responses to official requests from foreign filmmakers to use some sets, the same that are used daily to film short police programs for national television.

The dictatorship thus holds a grudge against those who don’t bow their heads, against those who don’t permit the humiliation of being treated like objects, against those who refuse to be manipulated in order to abide by the designs of government power; all because they still try to ignore an irrefutable truth: art expands, endures and always wins against political power.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, November 16, under conditional “liberty” [on parole]

Note from Angel’s editor: The compilation, in the charge of Agustín García, includes his texts, those of Francisco López Sacha, María del Carmen Muzio, Dulce María Sotolongo, Lorenzo Lunar, Rafael Grillo, Michel Encinosa, Enrique Saínz, Rafael Acosta, Rebeca Murga, Elizabeth Mirabal and Gustavo Vega, the filmmaker Lucía López, Leonardo’s wife and one from Padura himself.

Translated by Regina Anavy

“Being in Prison is like walking through the guts of the country”/ Cubanet, Jorge Angel Perez, Angel Santiesteban

The writer Angel Santiesteban Prats (photo: Jorge Angel Perez)
The writer Angel Santiesteban Prats (photo: Jorge Angel Perez)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Jorge Angel Perez, Havana, 23 November 2015 – Angel Santiesteban is the author of one of the most singular works in our literature. He has received multiple recognitions for this in Cuba and abroad. When he was very young he won the UNEAC Prize (from the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba) for his book, “Dream of a Summer Night,” and later the Alejo Carpentier Prize for “The Children Nobody Wanted.” This title also served as the name of his blog, where he has expressed himself in recent years. “Blessed are Those Who Mourn” was distinguished with the Casa de las Americas Prize.

After this brief summary, anyone unfamiliar with his work would say that he is “lucky,” but the larger truth is that he always earns what is most important: laurels from his readers. Life in prison is one of his recurring themes. Whomever starts reading his texts will discover this from the first line of many of his narrative pieces. It turns out that he was in prison twice, and in a ton of police stations. We talked for a long time about prison and his work, a few days ago at my house. And now, while transcribing our conversation, I learned why he was nominated by Reporters Without Borders to receive the Citizen Reporter prize that was just awarded to a group of Ethiopian bloggers.

Jorge Angel Perez (JAP): Angel, there are not many Cuban writers who lived through the hell of prison for two seasons. Did these two stays serve something in your writing?

Angel Santiesteban: Prison has been a rare source of nutrition; relating the events I lived, that I witnessed, has been my armor. Thanks to writing I didn’t lose my head. I think what I experienced intensely in those times gave my writing a great spontaneity. A writer with great imagination could write a great book without being imprisoned, but you can’t deny that someone who was there could tell it with more candor… continue reading

JAP: Is this reflected in your book, “Men without Woman,” of Montenegro…

Angel Santiesteban: I think so. Being in prison helped me to have the spontaneity and sincerity literature requires. That candor always remains. So while I passed those two times through that hell, I was thinking about the stories I could find, and how it might serve my work. Thinking about finding material for writing saved me, made those difficult stretches less so.

JAP: Finding those stories …

Angel Santiesteban: I found them there and they were what saved me. Going to prison is like going to war. The prisoner and the soldier have a lot in common. Both are far from home. Both are incommunicado. Both have unmet sexual desires. Both are under a military command that can be abusive and can impose, many times, in a humiliating way. Every day you are in danger of losing your life; in prison at the hands of a criminal and in war you can be killed by the enemy.

JAP: It is there that you will find stories that will serve you later, but the truth is you didn’t go voluntarily to rummage through the prison and the behavior of the prisoners.

Angel Santiesteban: I went because they took me, forced me. The last time I went to prison because I believed, and I still believe, that I could do something to make my country better, to make it democratic. Fidel once said that a better world is possible, and I went to find this better world, to find this better Cuba. That cost me prison. Because I wanted to get this world, I started in my house, for this country I love. My literary teachers told me what was important was to write, that it was my work I should pay attention to, the first thing was to write, to publish, to get readers. Write, write and write. Many friends, and those teachers, thought that a writer doesn’t need to do anything else.

JAP: And do you believe it?

Angel Santiesteban: No, I do not believe it. That is a lie, but I believed it for many years. For a long time I devoted myself only to writing. I built a body of work, I published books and I remained silent… out of fear.

JAP: And where did you leave that fear?

Angel Santiesteban: It is still with me. It never left, but I learned to accommodate it. I never lost the fear of going to prison. There you could die in an instant, and this is terrible. Fear comes to me when I think I won’t be able to be with my children, with my family at the moment when they most need me. Imagining this moment makes a strong impression on me. It scares me to think about the possibility of their getting sick and not being able to help them. My daughter was at university when they arrested me the last time and that made me feel responsible

JAP: And who was responsible?

Angel Santiesteban: Viewed simply it should be me, but the real blame lies with those who arrested me. It was an unjust arrest and that was distressing. It was the possibility that her father was in prison again that made her sad, and so she decided not to go to school, so she missed class, so she had to justify her absence. I imagine how many times she thought she would have to go to the prison again to be with her father in his incarceration. Who really is to blame for her anguish. Me?

It makes me very happy that she is studying. I want her to graduate, and nourish her desires to study, but a young student will not feel very comfortable in the classroom knowing that her father is unjustly imprisoned. I’m also distressed when I see them come to the prison. To see boys of 17 or 18 visiting a prisoner is not comforting. My first incarceration had to do with accompanying my family to the coast when they wanted to leave the country forever. I ended up in prison but I didn’t have children. The last time they were grown and studying. The father of both of them was in prison for seeking democracy. And they knew what this could cost me.

JAP: What is democracy for you?

Angel Santiesteban: Saying what I think out loud and nobody is bothered. Saying what I like and everyone understands that this right exists and everyone joins us, and everyone understand that there are ideas different from the ideas of those in charge. Is it so difficult to understand this? I think it is good to converse, and the differences you have with those in power should not send you to prison. For me, that is democracy.

JAP: And are you prepared to converse to get this democracy?

Angel Santiesteban: Of course, that is what it’s about. I can converse with a Communist if he is able to listen to me with respect, if he allows me to act according to my assumptions. I have that right, although they have taken it from me I know I have it. I can also converse with a liberal. I can converse with those in power and those who oppose it even though we may not agree on everything. I just refuse to converse with those who foster terrorism. At this table I want to defend my right to express myself. If now I engage in political activity it is because I intend to find that democracy where everyone can coexist, even with their differences. I would love it if in the future it is said about me, if I am mentioned in a line, that is what it says.

JAP: And your writing?

Angel Santiesteban: I prefer to talk before the effort of engaging in the dialogue, about my dreams of democracy, that it be said that I confronted those who did not let me express myself. I want this, and it can be said very briefly, in just one line.

JAP: Just recently you were detained in a police station. Why?

Angel Santiesteban: Anything I could tell you would be conjecture, everything would be a supposition. I don’t have the truth. I think it was more than a threat, that they were trying to revoke my parole, to send me back to prison.

JAP: Why do you think so?

Angel Santiesteban: They told me there was an accusation from my ex-wife, the mother of my son. They showed it to me and I recognized her signature, but she told our son that she hadn’t accused me. They could have forged her signature to intimidate me. I haven’t seen her for a long time, so there was no threat, but later the (independent journalist) Maria Marienzo was at the station investigating, interested in me, and they said I was a prisoner because I broke in and burgled someone, however they told (Antonio) Rodiles the same thing they had said to me, that I had violated the domicile of the mother of my son.

They never agreed among themselves the reason for my detention. I believe, and this is a supposition, that it all had to do with a text I wrote the previous day, before being arrested, where I denounced the imprisonment of Lamberto Hernandez Planas, where I commented on his hunger strikes, the risks to his health, and also demanded his immediate release. Everything has to do with my political activities, with my opposition. I do not threaten anyone, much less did I break in and burgle someone.

JAP: What happened then?

Angel Santiesteban: After my son announced to me that his mother had not accused me, what I knew for sure was that they had arrested me, they stopped showing the alleged accusation of my ex. The next day I was taken to the provincial court. When we arrived, the police officers accompanying me wanted to know in which room the trial be held, and someone said to take me to an office. There I waited for the president of the court and she told me my freedom had been revoked. There was a brief silence and then she continued. She said that despite the revocation I would be set free, and suggested that I behave myself, that I must behave very well.

JAP: And do you think you could go back to prison?

Angel Santiesteban: Maybe, but I hope the pretext would be less crude than the one they used to imprison me last time. If they were less heavy-handed they might send me, if there were a next time, on a fellowship to Paris or Berlin. Never to prison. That is the worst thing you can do with a writer. Can you imagine what you could write there?

JAP: I don’t want to imagine it, it frightens me.

Angel Santiesteban: A writer will write everything he sees, everything serves him. A criminal will listen to other people’s stories and maybe it serves him to plan his next wrongdoing, but a writer analyzes every detail, every gesture, every story, and then he isn’t going to resist it, he is going to write it, and people are going to read it, to find out what happens there.

Being in prison is like walking through the guts of the country. Imagine the reader when he reads these putrid descriptions. Everything I saw fed this desire to write, to publish on my blog, to write stories, to do what I think is better for my country. I wrote a lot there. I wrote stories, from this stay in prison a novel emerged. From the stories they told me during those hours I spent in the police station, many narrative pieces could come. And there is also my blog. From there, I will continue recounting, without stopping, without them making me stop.

#Cuba SOS: Angel Santiesteban Arrested Again (Updated)

Angel Santiesteban-Prats. Military Prison, Jaimanitas.

Just reported from Havana, that this afternoon Angel has called a relative and has said he was arrested for not having signed the Probation (order) last week and because there is a new accusation upon him.

As we do not have the details, we will wait until he can tell us himself, about his situation to not make room for speculations.

Angel’s Editor

Translated by: Rafael
4 November 2015

SOS: Angel Santiesteban Arrested

A few minutes ago I received a call from a relative of Angel Santiesteban-Prats to inform me that at noon Angel was arrested again. Upon contact with his family, they still did not know why he was arrested and what he is accused of.

He said he would call later in the afternoon and still they have no news of him.

We imagine that it is a reprisal from Castro’s regime for having denounced the life-threatening danger political prisoner Lamberto Hernández Planas is in, on hunger strike, for having been the victim of a new maneuver by the State Security to revoke his parole and prevent his work as an independent journalist.

Once again, as usual for almost three years now, we hold the dictator Raul Castro responsible for the life and integrity of Angel Santiesteban-Prats.

As soon I have news, I will keep updating.

Thanks for passing this on.

Angel’s Editor

Translated by: Rafael

4 November 2015

SOS: Angel Santiesteban Arrested

A few minutes ago I received a call from a relative of Angel Santiesteban-Prats to inform me that at noon Angel was arrested again. Upon contact with his family, they still did not know why he was arrested and what he is accused of.

He said he would call later in the afternoon and still they have no news of him.

We imagine that it is a reprisal from Castro’s regime for having denounced the life-threatening danger political prisoner Lamberto Hernández Planas is in, on hunger strike, for having been the victim of a new maneuver by the State Security to revoke his parole and prevent his work as an independent journalist.

Once again, as usual for almost three years now, we hold the dictator Raul Castro responsible for the life and integrity of Angel Santiesteban-Prats.

As soon I have news, I will keep updating.

Thanks for passing this on.

Angel’s Editor

Translated by: Rafael

4 November 2015