When The Intellectuals Supported “The Terror Of Castrismo.” Seventeen Years After The “Message From Havana.”

Some of the intellectuals who signed the “Message from Havana for friends who are far away,” 2003.

Yolanda Huerga (Radio Televisión Martí), April, 19, 2020 — It’s been 17 years since that April 19 when a group of Cuban artists and writers signed a letter supporting the imprisonment of 75 dissidents, the execution of three young men and life sentences for the other four, after they hijacked a boat with the intention of going to the United States.

The letter disclosed how “Message from Havana for friends who are far away” responded to the other document signed by dozens of intellectuals around the world, including traditional friends of the Revolution, in which they condemned the repression for crimes of opinion in Cuba and challenged the legality of “revolutionary justice.”

Radio Television Martí interviewed people about the gloomy atmosphere during those days of the Black Spring and the execution of the three boys who had been in prison only 10 days.

“The year 2003 was a definitive year, not only for policy but also for Cuban culture and society. It was the year of that shameful repressive act known as the Black Spring, which would initiate the most important social resistance movements of the opposition and the Ladies in White, and it was the year when three young men, who tried to flee Cuba in a boat, were deceived by being promised a fair trial and, finally, in an absolutely illegal and inhuman procedure, were executed,” noted Amir Valle, from Berlin, Germany. continue reading

Already in 1961, Fidel Castro had summed up his cultural policy in one sentence: “Inside the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing.” There were no alternatives. Creative people had to bend to that mandate because their survival depended on it.

“Everybody I knew, from all strata of Cuban culture, everybody, thought that this was an aberration. They talked about it in small groups but never raised their voices, and many accepted this afront—the letter—in which personalities like Alicia Alonso, Silvio Rodríguez, Miguel Barnet, among others, not only defended the executions but also had the indecency to try to get thinkers from other countries to add themselves to this shameful support,” said Valle, the author of Los Denudos de Dios [The Naked of God].

The initial letter, signed by 27 noted figures of national culture and published in the official newspaper Granma, was followed by a call to all the members of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the Hermanos Saiz Association, cultural institutions and universities throughout the country to follow the decision taken by Fidel Castro.

In the following weeks, Granma regularly published a list of those who added their signatures throughout the country.

In this respect, the writer and activist, Ángel Santiesteban said from the Cuban capital: “When the convocation opened, as my apartment was very close to the headquarters of UNEAC, many people came by my house to say hello, and I can say that even the most ardent defenders of the Regime confessed to me at that time that they didn’t agree with the imprisonment of the 75, and, above all, they were outraged at the execution of those boys.”

The Cuban Government stated that there was “budding aggression” and that the U.S. intended to invade Cuba.

“The majority justified signing the ‘Message’ by saying they didn’t agree with the invasion,” lamented Santiesteban, who already in 1995 had received the UNEAC prize for his book of short stories, Sueño de un día de verano [Dream of a Summer Day].”

The essayist, Carlos Aguilera, located in the German city of Frankfurt, emphasized that “this letter was a disgrace. On one side, the despotic State was imprisoning, assassinating, repressing. And on the other, a group of sycophants was encouraging all the terror of Castro’s policy. When, one day, they can ask questions and bring the guilty to justice, they will have to ask the Cuban intellectual claque why they not only signed the proclamation but also contributed to the crime and favored the dismantling of all critical positions, all spaces of reflection and discrepancy.”

However, more than the strong declarations by figures like Günter Grass, Mario Vargas Llosa and Jorge Edwards, it had a much bigger impact on national intellectuals, artists and writers. Some, openly on the left, like Pedro Almodóvar, Joan Manuel Serrat, Fernando Trueba, Joaquín Sabina, Caetano Veloso, José Saramago and Eduardo Galeano, harshly criticized the Regime. Even Noam Chomsky, in 2008, requested freedom for those detained in the Black Spring.

“Suddenly there was an apparent unity among colleagues of the Left and the Right on the world level,” said Valle. “It was a small seed that was sowed in the heads of many of us and that flourished some years later in the intellectual rebellion known as ‘Pavongate, or the Little War of Emails in 2007’. For this reason I think that 2003 marks a before and after, because not only did the events occur and not only was society moved but it also made very profound changes in the cultural and social policy in Cuba,” he added.

“No one should be in favor of the death penalty; human life is sacred in my opinion,” said the writer Gabriel Barrenechea, a native of Encrucijada, Villa Clara. “And it seems to me totally incongruent that a writer or an artist would support trials against freedom of expression. To deny this is to deny our essence as creators.”

Through the blog, Segunda Cita, Radio Televisión Martí contacted Silvio Rodríguez, and asked: “In April 2003, you signed the ‘Message from Havana for friends who are far away.’ Seventeen years later, do you continue supporting the executions?”

“I never supported those executions,” answered the singer. “I’m sure that none of the signers of that letter did. We signed the letter to close ranks with Cuba’s right to be sovereign. It was 2003, and when Bush launched an attack against Iraq, Colin Powell, inspired by the worst of Florida, said: ‘First Iraq and then Cuba’. Later he had to say it was a joke. I never quit defending my country from bullies and their friends,” said Silvio Rodríguez.

In an interview given to the Spanish newspaper, El Periódico, in 2008, the trova singer Pablo Milanés said that, unlike others, he refused “to sign a letter of support for the executions decreed in April 2003 and the penalties of long prison sentences for the 75 dissidents.” To the question of whether it was a matter of “pure opportunism” on the part of those intellectuals who signed the letter, Milanés responded, “Yes, and pure cowardice.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


An Open Letter on the Situation in Venezuela

Protesters in Venezuela support of Juan Guaidó on January 23. (jguaido)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  Ernesto Hernández Busto, 15 March 2019 —  Poor Venezuela! After having undertaken what it announced as a radical process of social transformation, a process intended to mark a turning point in Latin American ideology and guarantee a project of social equality baptized as “21st century socialism,” today the country has ended up becoming a despotic compound, where not only are the most basic political rights violated, but one in which a person can barely survive with a minimum of dignity. From the promised emancipation to compulsory destitution; from the dream of the continental left to the prototype of failure, despair and exodus: such is the sad journey of the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Given the serious political and humanitarian situation that Venezuela is going through today, we the undersigned, Cuban intellectuals who reside inside and outside the island, demand that the Cuban Government ackknowlege the evidence of the social and humanitarian disaster, refrain from intervening by any means in the political conflict of that nation, and withdraw its numerous “cooperators,” both civilian and military, who are working in that country. After six decades of a failed revolution, after the collapse of that “Cubazuela” celebrated for years by the Castrochavism, it is time for Cuba to stop exporting or stirring up conflicts in other countries under the pretext of ideological solidarity, and to ensure they can subsist with their own resources, without exploitation or interference of any kind.

Signers of this open letter

Ernesto Hernández Busto, writer; Ladislao Aguado, writer and editor; Carlos A. Aguilera, writer; Janet Batet, curator and art critic; Yoandy Cabrera, academic; María A. Cabrera Arús, academic; Pablo de Cuba Soria, writer and editor; Enrique del Risco, writer and academic; Armando Chaguaceda, political scientist; Paquito D’Rivera, musician, composer and writer; Néstor Díaz de Villegas, writer; Manuel Díaz Martínez, writer; Jorge I. Domínguez-López, writer and journalist; Vicente Echerri, writer; Abilio Estévez, writer; Gerardo Fernández Fe, writer; Alejandro González Acosta, writer and academic; Ginés Gorriz, producer; Kelly M. Grandal, writer; Natacha Herrera, journalist; José Kozer, poet; Boris Larramendi, musician; Felipe Lázaro, writer and editor; Rafael López-Ramos, visual artist; Jacobo Machover, writer and academic; Roberto Madrigal, writer; María Matienzo Puerto, writer and journalist; L. Santiago Méndez Alpízar, writer; Michael H. Miranda, writer and academic; Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer and journalist; Adrián Monzón, artist and producer; Lilliam Moro, writer; Luis Manuel Otero, artist and activist; Amaury Pacheco del Monte, writer and artivist; Geandy Pavón, photographer and visual artist; Gustavo Pérez-Firmat, writer and academic; José Prats Sariol, writer; Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, writer; Alexis Romay, writer; Rolando Sánchez Mejías, writer; Manuel Sosa, writer; Armando Valdés-Zamora, writer and academic; Amir Valle, writer; and Camilo Venegas Yero, writer and journalist.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Ángel Santiesteban: "Europe has left us alone to confront the dictators" / Amir Valle, Ángel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban

Deutsche Welle, Amir Valle with Angel Santiesteban, 18 September 2018 — Invited to the International Festival of Literature in Berlin, the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban speaks with Deutsche Welle (“DW”) and criticizes the passivity of the European Union and international public opinion in the face of the tragic situations in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Considered one of the most important Latin American writers at present, the Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban was condemned to five years in prison for opening his blog in 2007, “The Children that Nobody Wanted” to give his opinion about the political and social disaster imposed by Castroism in Cuba. continue reading

Beginning from that moment, his life became a struggle against governmental censorship and for democracy on the island. In 2014, Reporters without Borders elected him among its 100 Information Heroes in the world. The Cuban Government prevented him from traveling outside the island for 10 years, but he finally was able to visit Berlin, in order to present the German edition of his book of short stories, Lobos en la noche (Wolves in the Night), published by the prestigious publisher, Fischer.

DW spoke with him, in his role as intellectual and dissident, about matters of relevance that mark his life and that of Cubans.

DW: “Europe has legitimatized the Cuban dictatorship” is a recurring phrase in your interviews. 

The Cuban writer Ángel Santiesteban, creator of the blog “The Children that Nobody Wanted.”

Ángel Santiesteban: Talking with a Regime that has shown for decades that it does not believe in dialogue legitimizes it. That’s undeniable. There have always been businessmen flirting with Castroism, but it’s understandable, since the only thing that matters to them is making a profit by being in Cuba. But to have a business based in a region that is struggling to establish what they call “the State of Wellbeing and Rights” is an enormous contradiction and, in many ways, shameless.

Since the European Union decided to sit down and talk with Cuba, the only thing we’ve seen is that it has had to cede time and time again to Havana’s demands, and that the dictatorship has repressed the opposition with more force, since it has seen that no one questions its violations. The same thing is happening in Venezuela, in Nicaragua. Europe has left us alone to confront the dictators. And that makes it responsible for our suffering and our dead.

As an opponent, in your blog, you were one of the most concerned with denouncing the responsibility of the Cuban Government for those social disasters that we see in Venezuela and Nicaragua. 

I believe that what’s called the “Free World” should once and for all condemn the Regime openly, and not just with timid sentences, for the moral support and advice in many areas that the Castros give to Maduro in Venezuela and to Ortega in Nicaragua.

Castroism has always been a parasitic government: first, the Russians and the socialist camp, then Venezuela. It’s a parasitism disguised as “the struggle for the rights of the poor in Latin America,” and now we know how many dead were the result of Fidel Castro’s promotion of the guerrillas in the region, not to mention that those guerrillas ended up being terrorists and narcotraffickers supported by the Cuban dicatorship.

Later, Fidel Castro and Chávez invented the poorly named Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), supposedly to defeat the neoliberalism and impose 21st-century socialism: another failure encouraged only by Castroism. And now, with their plan of extending socialism throughout Latin America, they behave like what they are: dictators, because they know that the “Free World” will criticize them only with politically correct words.

As a protagonist of Cuban culture, you have demonstrated against the most recent Cultural Law, Decree No. 349. Is it really dangerous?

From the time he came to power in 1959, Fidel Castro knew that he had to keep a lid on freedom of creation and expression. But with the exception of Law 88 directed at journalism, which we opponents call the “Gag Law”, all artistic censorship has been based on the application that the cultural commissars made from those famous words of Fidel: “Inside the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

But now the censorship is law: among many other obstacles, it limits the freedom of creative expression, then criminalizes and punishes those who try to show their work in public without the approval of governmental institutions. But the intellectuals are gagged by fear, and very few have raised their voices against it. Only the independent cultural opposition movement is protesting against this legalization of censorship.

Many people don’t understand that a large part of the Cuban opposition supports the North American president who is the most controversial of the last 100 years: Donald Trump.

Although there were some timid openings in economic matters, increasingly, as far as achievements in human rights go, we know what a failure Obama’s politics were for opening a supposed “new era” between Cuba and the United States. We can today question Trump’s other measures, but his pragmatism makes him understand that you can’t have a conversation with someone who doesn’t want to listen.

People who criticize our support of Trump should go to Cuba and suffer  all the repression that has fallen on us since Raúl Castro saw that his eternal enemy, the United States, was ready to sit down and negotiate, and placed human rights last in the list of demands of the Cuban dictatorship. Trump, whatever you say about him, has leapt into first place in resepct to demanding that Castroism should grant human rights to Cubans.

Author: Amir Valle (CP)

Reproduced on Angel Santiesteban’s Blog

Deutsche Welle is the international network of Germany and produces independent journalism in 30 languages. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


1959 – The Triumph of the Revolution

The rebels, led by Fidel Castro, come to power after expelling the dictator Fulgencio Batista in January. The United States recognizes the new government. Soon “revolutionary laws” (such as agrarian reform) affect U.S. businesses. In December, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves a CIA plan to overthrow Castro in one year and substitute “a junta friendly to the U.S.”

Recent coverage of Cuba from DW


One of the first decrees signed by the new Cuban President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, penalizes independent art on the island and denounces artists and activists. Their protests have been repressed by the authorities. (August 29, 2018)


While Cuba and Venezuela announce “A terrorist has died without paying for his crimes,” intellectuals and Latin American political exiles hope to one day know the true face of this man. (May 24, 2018)


Although thousands of Cubans attend the book fair, Cuban writers and intellectuals say that the International Book Fair is no longer as important for Cuban letters as it was in the ’90s. (February 10, 2018)


Almost no one in Cuba can remember life without the Castros. Since April 19, there hasn’t been a Castro at the front of the State. For almost 60 years, the brothers Fidel and Raúl have governed the country with an iron hand. (April 18, 2018).

Translated by Regina Anavy

Embracing a Brother After 12 Years / Ángel Santiesteban, Amir Valle

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats with Amir Valle in Berlin. Photo by Anna Weise.

Amir Valle, September 16, 2018 — Embracing a brother after 12 years of separation imposed by a dictatorship is a special, unforgettable moment. We both have advanced in our literary and civlc careers: Ángel from Cuba, as an intellectual opponent, and I from the exile into which I was forced in 2005. But nothing has managed to destroy all the things that unite us like brothers since we knew each other from the time we were kids and had the luck to read each other’s first stories. More than half our lives together, in good times and bad, and now we rediscover each other in Berlin. Here we are together, in a photo taken by a friend, the German photographer Anna Weise.

Amir Valle

Translated by Regina Anavy

Gagged Words / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

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

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

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

Amir Valle, one of the most important Cuban intellectuals of all time, describes certain keys to this veiled censorship or repression that goes unnoticed by many strangers to the Cuban island. This censorship or repression in many cases is considered by the new Mr. Magoo as a hoax invented by enemies to discredit the “greatest example of human dignity and social justice in the world today”: The Cuba of Fidel. For example, the complex mechanisms which prevents foreign publishers at our Book Fairs from breaking the “ideological firmness” of our people by giving them access to controversial literature.

The foreword of the book is by another great of our literature and a person with an intellectual commitment to truth and freedom: Angel Santiesteban. Thanks to this prologue, the reader from other cultures (what Cuban does not know who we are talking about?) can learn the essential aspects of Amir’s life from the mouth of someone who has known him intensely for almost three decades, and who addresses the worth of information that one is about to receive, in very direct language, with which a master of the language aims to reach the widest possible audience.

It is not by chance, but by ineluctable statistical necessity (here surveillance and harassment never sleep), that this book came to me from the hands of another intellectual who is often quoted in the pages of Gagged Words, whom the police arrested Friday in my and my wife’s presence at one of the busiest intersections in Santa Clara. As the captain of the secret police informed us, on suddenly materializing next to us out of nowhere (what a shock to me, an atheist!) they took him to talk “a little while” with them: “Because, compadre, with Vilches we couldn’t have done better, check it out, we’ve even resolved (they = the secret police, it is understood) to put him on the jury in a contest there in Varadero.”

Gagged Words is a book with which, if you are still one of the clueless of good faith who remain out there, you should do two things: the first is to read it. The second is to go to Cuba with it in your suitcase so that you can, with total sincerity, declare it at Customs, and share it with any Cuban with the face of a reader you run into in the street. Only then will the reality of the “Raulist opening” be known first hand with regards to intellectual creativity, thinking and the free discussion of the ideas. Keeping in mind, if you are one of those anti-Yankee global-phobics who come and go in the world today, that Amir Valle, even though they invited him, never stepped foot in what was then the United States Interest Section in Cuba.

And it is my good friend, who then returned to the plane, expelled from the island as a persona non grata, as Amir summarizes in an epilogue: (In Cuba) “independence, creative freedom, free expression of creativity are elements as palpable as galaxy EGS-ZS8-I, the most distant, 13,000 million light years from earth.”

A pdf of Gagged Words is available here.

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.

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

New Violations of Ángel Santiesteban’s Rights

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

When they violated his right to the two-month reduction, we denounced it here, and correctly explained that they did it to avoid granting him freedom. And we assumed, incorrectly, that they would release him on June 28; if they did not, it would be a public and obvious violation of their own laws. continue reading

On that occasion, we also reiterated the complaint about another blatant breach of the law: the silence they have maintained about his appeal for revision of judgment, filed on July 4, 2013, and approved in the final months of last year when, under pressure from international agencies, they had to stop postponing it.

But because the dictatorship does not act if it will not benefit, even though the appeal was approved, to date they have not undertaken the review. If the regime had any proof about the guilt of Angel Santiesteban, would they fear having to review the trial with all of the guarantees violated the first time?

Ángel was charged and convicted of a common crime for which they never provided a shred of evidence. They convicted him only on the basis of graphoanalysis—the height and angle of his handwriting. Ever since he entered prison he has been treated as a political prisoner.

They have subjected him to physical and psychological torture by officers of the political police, who constantly tried to intimidate him; they located violent prisoners next to him to provoke him; and they placed other inmates to spy on him in exchange for certain benefits. They have violated all of his prisoner rights (family passes, visits), they have threatened him . . . In short, he has had to suffer these and all the other atrocities that, as we well know, he and all political prisoners are victims of.

Three weeks ago, as we also reported, he was transferred twice to the barracks at Villa Marista in the span of four days. These “rides” as we learned later, had no purpose other than intimidating him and making him listen, ad nauseum, to threats from two Interior Ministry officers.

They told him: “Why should we free you if you’re going to meet some Sunday with the Ladies in White and then we’ll bring you right back to prison.” At this point, we believe that they prefer to save themselves a ride in a patrol car to take him back to prison.

Angel remains the only “common criminal” who, on repeated occasions, the political police officers have offered freedom in exchange for renouncing his political position, demanding that he give that renunciation in videotaped testimony.

He is also the only “common criminal” they have threatened to return to jail if he attended the marches of the Ladies in White. He is also the only “common criminal” that a known government official (while pointing a gun at his head) predicted would be sentenced to five years, one month before the Tribunal delivered the sentence.

Knowing these circumstances, and believing that all the facts clearly indicate that Angel is a political prisoner, we have received messages of concern and astonishment from hundreds of readers of this blog, who ask us one question:

If Ángel is one of the most internationally recognized Cuban prisoners, is one of the “100 Heroes of Communication” of the Reporters Without Borders, and is supported by intellectual institutions around the world, including parliamentarians from the European Union, why is it that the relevant organizations of the Cuban opposition, charged with making such allegations internationally, have never included him in their lists of political prisoners?

Many of these messages have been referred directly to the monthly reports on political prisoners sent from the island by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, headed by Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz-Pacheco.

Their concern is logical: although the circumstances of Ángel’s imprisonment are well known internationally, with across-the-board recognition that he was convicted for his political position, he is not included in those lists because the opposition’s lists rely on the version of Raul Castro’s dictatorship (which pretends to consider Ángel a common prisoner).

But at the same time this prevents Ángel from benefiting from any amnesty, as promoted in the talks between Cuba and the United States since December 17, 2014, and as already rumored may be possible before the visit of Pope Francis.

As we cannot give an answer, we hereby officially put that question to Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz-Pacheco and the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Amir Valle
Literary representative of Ángel Santiesteban

Elisa Tabakman
Editor ofÁngel’s blog, The Children Nobody Wanted

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

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

By Amir Valle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lie is lame

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

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

A brief introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Translated by Regina Anavy 

Spanish post
9 March 2013

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

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

By Amir Valle

Part Two

II. The Judicial Web of Outrage

False Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Judicial Irregularities

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

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

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

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

III. – Embarrassing evidence of the Infamy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 March 2013

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

By Amir Valle

Part 1

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

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

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

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

1. The preparation of the outrage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 March 2013

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

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

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

By Amir Valle

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

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

I’ve learned that well. And I know that taking these steps that the world catalogues as “changes,” although they have been forced by some circumstances, already the masterminds of power in Havana must have established their national strategies, elaborated their connections with other similar powers in the rest of the world, and positioned their soldiers in the new game that they have already planned as well as possible and future plays.

One of the most recurrent mistakes that we Cubans have made during these five decades is to gloat over supposed victories against the Castro totalitarianism, which, as history has already shown, this dictatorship has not delayed in molding, demonstrating how silly we were to believe ourselves victors.

And it’s under this impact that, since they announced a couple of years ago that they were modifying the migration law, I have been poking around in certain historical sources that show the strategies used by Leftist dictatorships against the political opposition; I have been digging into, with my questions, the experience of established political analysts of the Socialist block; I have been irked with some investigative encomiendas (system of tributary labor in colonial Spain) and journalist colleagues of several countries where the “Cuban issue” still appears in the news from time to time.

“Do we Cubans want a true democratic change on the island; are we prepared to face something like that”? I wondered when I read the annotations that I made in all this time of investigation.

And the dictatorship plays cards that I already knew but which it held only to throw down so thoroughly as, I’m sure, it did on January 14, 2013, when the new migration law went into effect.

Translated by Regina Anavy

February 18 2013

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

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

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

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

I’ve learned that well. And I know that taking these steps that the world catalogues as “changes,” although they have been forced by some circumstances, already the masterminds of power in Havana must have established their national strategies, elaborated their connections with other similar powers in the rest of the world, and positioned their soldiers in the new game that they have already planned as well as possible and future plays. continue reading

One of the most recurrent mistakes that we Cubans have made during these five decades is to gloat over supposed victories against the Castro totalitarianism, which, as history has already shown, this dictatorship has not delayed in molding, demonstrating how silly we were to believe ourselves victors.

And it’s under this impact that, since they announced a couple of years ago that they were modifying the migration law, I have been poking around in certain historical sources that show the strategies used by Leftist dictatorships against the political opposition; I have been digging into, with my questions, the experience of established political analysts of the Socialist block; I have been irked with some investigative encomiendas (system of tributary labor in colonial Spain) and journalist colleagues of several countries where the “Cuban issue” still appears in the news from time to time.

“Do we Cubans want a true democratic change on the island; are we prepared to face something like that”? I wondered when I read the annotations that I made in all this time of investigation.

And the dictatorship plays cards that I already knew but which it held only to throw down so thoroughly as, I’m sure, it did on January 14, 2013, when the new migration law went into effect.


1361249479_mapadelmundomapamundiglobo-300x202Let’s search for our country on this map of the world.

This is the first card in favor of the dictatorship. The immense majority of exiles or Cubans residing outside the island have barely stepped foot on “lands of liberty” than we discover that we are not the center of the world, as the “revolutionary” political propaganda would have us believe.

In reality, Cuba is only one little island more among hundreds of countries filled with terrible conflicts. The conflict in our country, although it’s also hard, terrible and has lasted more than 50 years, is only one more of the conflicts that happen in the world.

And because of that, even if it is logical that it be that way, our country is in the international news only on this that or the other occasion, and always scarcely for a few hours or a few days. We are not in any way, as Fidel Castro once said, the country where the destiny of humanity will be decided.

Raúl Castro’s dictatorship, like Fidel’s before him, knows very well how much blindness inoculates us, and we pretend we’re the center of the universe and that because of this the sacrifice of the people is vital for the human race.

A Soviet diplomat, now a well-known writer, commented to me some weeks ago that “in these 50 years Cuba was at the center of the international panorama uniquely on two occasions: when the Revolution triumphed in 1959 and during the Missile Crisis.” The other times, the feeling that all the eyes of the universe were watching Cubans, was a very contrived lie by Fidel (or that Fidel came to believe in his grandiose delirium, as another Polish colleague told me).

The dissidents who go out into the world must face this truth: Cuba doesn’t matter, or, to not wound our national ego, it matters very little. So the dictatorship counts on this to impede the impact that opponents who leave the island can have outside the island: “The new opposition will have their moments of media glory and later no one will remember them. We don’t have to worry about the old or the ones in exile, nobody now believes them,” said a Cuban State Security analyst recently in an event at the University of Computer Sciences.


Hurry, it's losing a lot of information.
Hurry, it’s losing a lot of information.

The Cuban novelist Justo Vasco told me in 2004, in Gijón, a truth that struck me: “We Cubans are important to the international press and the politicians as long as we feed their disease and their pockets. They love martyrs, not survivors.”

And that’s almost the whole truth: While you are a prisoner in Cuba, while the political police are beating you and throwing you in their prisons, while the paramilitary mobs pull at you and kick you, while you are stripped of all fear and confront the dictatorship of the island, the journalists of the world quote you from time to time, the politicians of other countries mention you in their beautiful speeches about universal democracy and human rights.

When you are already off the island, you serve them only while the media impact of your case lasts.

There are thousands of examples that demonstrate this truth: Cuban dissidents who political parties and powerful international institutions support by word and for whom they brandish the flag while they are suffering in Cuba, were (and still are) forgotten nobodies, even humiliated when they travel to those countries where they were spoken of so well. Their names are only rescued from that embarrassing oblivion when it’s convenient for some little battle of the politicians.

This is the other card that the dictatorship holds in its hands. And worse, because now the old opponents “have the liberty” of leaving for the world to denounce the repression, but they also carry in their suitcases an explosive cargo: “A system that permits its opponents to mount a political campaign outside and return to the country cleans up its image in such a way that whatever repression really happens on the island will be less credible.”

“Now, on the international scene we will no doubt witness a rebound of the idea that it’s false or partially uncertain that in Cuba a dictatorship exits.” These words were spoken to me by a very worried German friend, a member of the European Union parliament, just when I was interviewing him for an article that I published the past month of January on this theme in the German press.

This strategic loosening makes understandable the applause of the International Left for this type of dictatorship to permit the exit of its most notable opponents, just like the other “changes” that have happened lately on the island.

In one of my articles a few years ago I wrote how several of the intellectuals who historically, by cape and sword, defend the regime had confessed to me that the stubbornness of the Cuban government in not relaxing some rules tied their hands and legs because, these are their words, “You have to perform magic to defend the indefensible.”

And I am reminded of something that in this case is important: Although the Cuban government and its international acolytes crow the opposite, in the most important countries of the world (and above all in those where Cuba continues being of interest), a good part of the press is in the hands of a false Left that leans toward totalitarianism by using the same dirty strategies of manipulation and lies that the “enemy” press uses.

And for that reason we can’t hope that what the Cuban opposition says or does outside the island will have a true impact: for the Right (and other political tendencies with a certain power over the media), these opponents already don’t mean much because they have lost the “news disease,” and the Left will do everything possible to ignore them or, if it’s strictly necessary to talk about them, they will always attack them with defamation.

It’s a perfect game that favors of the dictatorship.


1361249481_a-titulo-personal1-garrincha-300x218Lech Walesa recently launched what I believe is the most serious and profound criticism against the Cuban opposition when he said, “There are too many leaders in the Cuban opposition.”

This, the disunity derived from the caudillismo inside the ranks of the Cuban opposition, is another of the cards that the dictatorship has masterfully played in all these years.

But now there is a new nuance: “These mercenary dissidents, fabricated and financed by the United States, will start to preen before the international press, will give homage to their falsely heartbreaking political careers, and surely some stupid journalist or another will believe their lies. And that suits us.”

That phrase “That suits us” draws my attention because it was said by a Cuban diplomat in Europe at one of those so-many activities that Europeans encourage who continue looking at Cuba with the nostalgia of the ‘60s.

What the illustrious diplomat said made me remember that one of the papers by an official blogger in another event in Havana (celebrated in the Ministry of Exterior Commerce) says the following: “The opposition is full of cardboard caudillos….they look only at their navels, at the dollars that they receive, and the spaces of power that they are creating….That prevents them from occupying themselves with what, if they could accomplish it, would be the real work of the opposition, working with the masses, mobilizing the masses.”

And I emphasize this for a simple reason: In one of those press articles of the Left that supports the Cuban dictatorship (the radical press in Mexico that, scandalously everyone knows, is financed from Havana), I read in a reader’s comment the following:

“Erected by their own glory as heads of the opposition, a miniscule and ridiculous opposition, upon confronting the journalists of the monopolistic media, always avid about saying bad things about the Revolution, these bogus dissidents open their wings like peacocks and destroy themselves, already by speaking through the media they lose the credibility of their people who know very well who’s behind that press.”

It’s enough to tie together the coincidental ends to understand the strategy: The dictatorship bets that wrapped up in their leadership, these “caudillos” (as they call them) will miss the center of the target where they must aim if they want to foment change: working with the people, with the simple folk, taking their ideas every time to more people…and it bets also that, as a result of entire decades of manipulation, a good part of the people will increase the distrust they feel today for the dissidents, now that the government can present evidence that these “dissidents” attack the Cuban Revolution through a press that, they will say, has historically been on the side of imperialism.


Divide and conquer
Divide and conquer

“With the quantity of Cuban parties, Cuban political groups, and pro-democracy institutions that Cubans have outside and inside the island, and with the quantity of money that the Cuban opposition has received during decades of exile, it’s inconceivable that none of the changes that occurred inside the dictatorship are due to the work of all this support,” a Republican politician in the United States said in 2010, one whose name I prefer not to remember, announced as a “Cubanologist” at the event we were attending.

For him we Cubans were one of two things: either silly or stupid, and I would need to write a book to summarize the almost two hours of our discussion in which, among other things, I remember having said to him that a good part of the Cuban problem lay in the silliness or stupidity with which successive North American governments had assumed relations with the dictatorship.

But essentially his words, quoted earlier, were right. And it sickens me to verify that, in spite of counting on an ample platform of political tendencies that would guarantee a real democracy in a future Cuba, in spite of counting on an economically powerful exile community, and in spite of being certain that the struggle for democracy in Cuba receives some millions of dollars annually (to speak only of the monetary resources coming from the United States), we Cubans have not known how to put aside our differences, our interests (including some that are really dirty, perverse and opportunistic) in order to unite ourselves in a common mission: defeating the dictatorship which, whether or not we deny it, by our fault and only ours, is the longest dictatorship In history.

I am, in this sense, pessimistic: The actual state of disunion will continue. And I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think that the Cuban opposition (neither on the island nor in exile) can confront disunited the repositioning strategy of the dictatorship. The opposition should also renew its strategies, should reposition itself in unity, if it doesn’t want to continue losing before the thrusts of a dictatorship that reinvents itself before our eyes every day.



The leaders of the opposition (on the island and in exile) should place their bets on one word: unity, unity, unity. After accomplishing the goal of being united: rout out the dictatorship. There will be time to spare in a democratic field for returning to the differences that separate us.


An opposition without a press platform with concerted interests on the island, in exile and in the international environment, will continue being, as it is today, a silent opposition that won’t be able to have real impact on its people nor on the rest of the world. It’s no longer enough to have news groups in Miami, Madrid and some other capital.

I’m speaking about combined interests in the sphere of the media, as the powerful press media that today we consider monopolies did first, and how, most recently they have reunited nations around the ALBA project (governed by Caracas and Havana).

While the present state of news dispersal continues, we will continue to hear only this chirp of frail, lost chicks that today is “the Cuban press in exile.” (And note: This isn’t anything offensive against the excellent work that, on their own account, many of these press organs have done. It’s only a call, once more, for unity.)

And third:

As much for the opposition leaders on the island as those in exile, I think it’s important to not forget that, yes, it’s good that the world knows the truth about what is happening in Cuba, but it’s our people on the island who have to open their eyes, rid themselves of the fear sowed during years of dictatorship, make themselves see that among everyone, those there and us in exile, by uniting forces, interests, within the framework of plurality and respect for dialogue, we can accomplish that true change that Cuba, our common native land, needs.

That, lamentably according to what I see, is the only card that can give us success faced with the macabre and power-hungry strategy of the dictatorship. If we don’t do it, in 20 years we will be remembering, sadly, that one day they let the dissidents leave for the free world, that one day the government put blusher on its hairy mummy’s face, that the new Yoanis and the new Eliecers and the new Rodiles protested and are protesting from the island….but above all we will remember that, through our own fault, we Cubans continue to mourn, looking with nostalgia and pain at a past that we didn’t know how to change.

Translated by Regina Anavy

For Shame! / Angel Santiesteban #Cuba

By Amir Valle

Ángel Santiesteban is a writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berlin, November 9, 2012

Translated by Regina Anavy