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

An Archaic Concept / Fernando Damaso

Archived image

It’s worth noting that, in most of the programmatic documents of the Old and the New Left, the concept that “the workers and peasants constitute the principal movers of society, together with the participation of other of its leaders” remains unalterable. This concept that, perhaps, in the epoch of utopian socialism might be valid, owing to its being a simple, theoretical proposal without any basis in experience, today and for much time, has been totally absurd.

The nascent French bourgeoisie used the malaise of the masses to unleash and guide the French Revolution, using them as a shock force for violent confrontations, but reserving for itself the role of leading. The Russian political agitators, nominating themselves as “professional revolutionaries,” did the same thing with the workers, peasants and soldiers, unleashing the October Revolution, but reserving for themselves the exercise of power. Neither Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Desmoulins and others in the first case, nor Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin in the second, were workers or peasants. In the Cuban Revolution something else happened: None of the principal leaders was a worker or peasant; rather they belonged to the middle class and the petit bourgeoisie, being principally professionals and students. The workers and peasants simply constituted masses to be used.

If we are realists, we must accept that, in the end, Leonardo da Vinci, Pasteur, Ford, Edison, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates and many others, to mention only a few in the field of science, have brought more to human development and society than all the workers and peasants put together in their respective countries as well as in the world. From the appropriation of fire up to the invention of the wheel, printing, the steam engine, the internal combustion motor, electricity, the use of the atom, computers, the Internet and everything that amazes us today, it’s been the talent of brilliant people who with their work and tenacity have played the role of being the true moving forces of society. The principal merit of bringing development to society belongs to them and not to generic workers and peasants. This has been repeated in medicine, the arts, architecture, transport, communications and in many other spheres of human activity.

To pretend to eternally bestow this honor on workers and peasants, without taking into account the process of continual change, in addition to being dogmatic is unreal, and forms part of the archaic concepts that still prevail in part of the thinking of the current Left. It’s about time that the hammer and sickle were replaced with the combine and programmable robotic lathes.

Translated by Regina Anavy

15 June 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.

CUBA DOESN’T MATTER

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.

THE DISEASE OF THE PRESS AND THE POLITICIANS

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.

CAUDILLISMO: THIS NATIONAL ILLNESS

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.

OPPOSITION OR CHAOS?

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 CHALLENGES

First:

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.

Second:

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

How Amir Valle Came to be a Writer Who Was Read / Angel Santiesteban

Amir Valle en una foto de Anna Weisse, publicada en la página web del escritor.Amir Valle in a photo by Anna Weisse published on the writer’s web page.

After being denied the Casa de las Americas award by the irreverence of his work, Habana Babilonia, the Dark Side of Prostitution, Amir Valle received an award that made up for any censorship: more than 5,000 messages from underground readers celebrating his book in testimonials.

“Someone from the Casa of the Americas stole a copy and evidently posted it on the Internet. I never put a copy of it anywhere. From then on, people I had never met began to write me, and they started to read me backwards, because I was like a kind of myth,” Valle remembers, on the program 1800 Online, of Radio Marti. continue reading

“That pleased me a lot,” revealed the author, “because all the censorship I got with the book was compensated for, the fact that people thanked me and sent signs that they were with me and that it was a necessary book.” From that moment, the fact that they had wanted to silence him converted him into a “writer who was read.”

As if predestined to live a nomadic life, Amir was born in Guantanamo and remained until he was 11 years old in Central Antonio Maceo, in Holguin. Later he moved with his family to Santiago de Cuba, where he took his first two years of Journalism, finishing his degree in Havana. Later, he moved to Cienfuegos to do his social service.

For many years his narratives, which had an intimate edge, were accepted and celebrated, in such a way that he won the most important literary prizes in Cuba, but when he took a step toward more critical literature, the “encounters” began, including with writer-friends in power, charged with ensuring political correctness.

He realized that “liberty has its limits, above all when I started to use the word ’liberty’,” and his rebellion ended in exile. In 2004 he visited Spain for professional reasons, and never again was he permitted to return to Cuba.

Again circumstances obliged him to change his home. In 2006, a German foundation, which protected persecuted writers, awarded him a scholarship and a residence. His wife and son joined him in exile, but not before the government withheld permission from them to leave for two years.

“Living in exile has allowed me to exercise this liberty with more ease, to say what i think, to ally myself with none of the extremes and to continue being a citizen of any place in the world,” observes the author of 20-some titles, in the fields of narrative, journalism, essay and literary criticism.

At present he manages the Hispanic Culture Review, Otro Lunes,(Another Monday) and is putting the final touches on a novel about his exile, entitled No hay hormigas en la nieve (There are no ants in snow). “After the big trauma I experienced upon leaving Cuba, when they banned me from returning, for a long time I couldn’t write one line about it; I tried and couldn’t do it. I had a very strong inner block, but after a couple of years I felt I could do it, and a complete chapter came out.”

The plot of the novel tells the stories of five Cubans who emigrate to Germany at distinct times. In addition to his own story, he tells that of a black violinist in Germany, Brindis de Salas, in the second half of the nineteenth century, and that of a young man who tries to cross the German border and is imprisoned by the STASI, who today works as a tourist guide in the then prison of this organ of German intelligence.

Having lived it in his own skin, and by way of thanking those authors both read and unknown who opened his eyes to thinking differently, Valle is a defender of writers who are persecuted in Cuba.

His most recent cause is freedom for the writer Angel Santiesteban, who he defines as “a great writer of my generation on the island,” in addition to being “a good friend, a brother,” with whom he shared adventures when they were both 16 years old. In his blog, loyal to the truth and free to tell it, he gives a strong criticism of those who know about the innocence of Santiesteban and remain silent.

Published in Martí Noticias .

Translated by Regina Anavy

February 14 2013

Angel Santiesteban: The Round of Silence / Angel Santiesteban

Photo taken from: correodiplomatico.com

By Leopoldo Luis

I wrote cultural notes for the e-zine cultural weekly Esquife. They were extremely simple texts, barely forty lines, for which I was paid, I swear — forty pesos in national currency (around 15 cents U.S.); that is agro-pesos, CUP (since the Cuban Convertible Currency continues to be very national too).

Then someone suggested: “On Friday March 28th (I’m going back to March 28, 2008) there’s going to be the closing ceremonies for the First International Festival of Young Storytellers of Havana, at 1:00 pm at Casa de las Americas, why don’t you prepare something?” And they added: “In the morning Blessed are those who mourn is going to be presented, the book that won Ángel Santiesteban the Casa de las Americas prize in 2006,” which at that point was still missing from the bookstores in Havana.

I arrived in the afternoon. No sign of any writers (young or old), and no indication of any festival, meeting, conference, colloquium…which I knew had been planned. However, behind the little counter where editions of the Fondo Editorial Casa were exhibited, a girl smiled.

“It’s a book that is controversial,” she said, without going into detail. “There are no copies left in the warehouse. They are printed abroad, and we hope that they will arrive any moment now…. “ continue reading

I forgot about the “festival of storytellers,” but curiosity about the fate of the volume, which was awarded a prize two years ago, prodded me with renewed spirit. A couple of days later, I sent an email to its author, who I didn’t know personally. His response confirmed the saying, “It would seem the boat that brings the books went astray,” he wrote. I thought I perceived in his tone a respectable dose of irony. He promised to get it for me, and then I didn’t hear from him.

One afternoon, visiting the Manero Workshop, located in the capital district of La Ceiba — and where not just painters but also writers and artists of all stripes hang out — Ernesto Pérez Castillo had the kindness to give me an unusual anthology:The Ones Who Count, published by Editorial Cajachina del Centro de Formación Literaria Onelio Jorge Cardoso. Among the short stories was one from Ángel:”The Round Night,” which, by the recurring theme of the presidio, I suppose was taken from the phantom book.

The following link in the chain was to search on the Internet for the story entitled “Hunger”. I accidentally discovered it on some blog, I don’t remember which one. It was a short story, without excessive stylistic pretensions, an “easy” read.

In effect, “Hunger” is an anecdote that impacts by its simplicity. A convict complains when they turn off the lights. He is hungry. “I’m not a trouble-maker or anything,” he alleges. Or something in that style. “Can someone find me a yam, a few scraps? That would be enough for me,” he continues, while the guards insist on making him shut up. The argument gets louder, and the convict ends up gagged in a punishment cell. The rest of the night passes in silence. Until dawn, when they find him and take him back to the cell block.

It’s amazing that such a simple story flows with a level of suggestion that doesn’t detract from its spontaneity and power. The hunger of “Hunger” starts stifling the reader as he continues to read. The protagonist feels an atrocious appetite that impels him to defy the rules, no matter how rigid. He is just a prisoner, a common man deprived of liberty, whose hunger they cannot silence. Nothing more.

More exactly, it has a leisurely prose that appears to distance itself from the tormented stories in South: Latitude 13 (UNEAC short story prize 1995) and The Children Nobody Wanted (Alejo Carpentier Short Story Prize 2001). And there is no spiritual calm in “Hunger”; nor is there in the rest of the stories that complete the tome (which I finally obtained – autographed by the author – during its “official” launch in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, the former seat of the Cuban Institute of the Book).

I say “leisurely prose” thinking about the gulf between narrator and historian. In “Hunger” the writer doesn’t express the drama with the intensity of South.There isn’t the same experiential load; the story isn’t painful. The chance of being estranged (that I cannot explain) admonishes us to perceive the emotions from a passive angle. Even with humor. And with a certain cunning.

Before “Hunger” I had read Santiesteban with some apprehension. Not for his lack of gifts as a narrator, but precisely because of the stories he preferred to tell. Were they excessively stitched from the Cuban reality? I’m not sure. But we are so saturated after a decade of balseros (rafters), prostitutes and predators of high rank. In these years there was nothing that was different. The now-young writers — I wouldn’t know what adjective to foist on them after having worn out the term “newest” — declined categorically to maintain the rhythm. The new narrative, no less iconoclast, doesn’t go to war now, nor does it abandon the country in a rustic boat. The generation of the 90s, with its “the last will be the first,” remains on the margins.

Naturally, a book like South: Latitude 13 saves itself under any circumstance. For many reasons, beyond literary quality. The craft of story-telling and intuition abound in these desolate texts, profoundly human, insomuch as the subject of war and the bellicose Cuban campaigns in Africa function in two ways: as a pretext for settling any moral doubt accumulated during 30 years and as a comprehensive view, a global look, at a living tragedy. No other story-teller of his quality managed to scale that height. Not even the mutilated version of Dream of a Summer Day (Ediciones UNION, 1998) can undermine the profound anti-epic quality that breathes there.

In The Children Nobody Wanted, he presents us with the question of prison, the other grand obsession of the artist. The characters are caricatures, disoriented, sometimes ridiculous. Always torn apart. Santiesteban chooses a subject little visited before by Cuban literature (except perhaps for the narrations of Eladio Bertot and Carlos Montenegro). The condemned (the children?) of The Children… serve their time in inexact latitudes, in imprecise times. Scarce reference points are given to situate the plot: King Kong, the Morro lighthouse, a song of Julio Iglesias….The writer evades descriptions, by profession. Perhaps he judges them unnecessary. By definition, aren’t they?

Blessed are Those Who Mourn would then come to constitute a lucky saga of those first stories about jail. Speaking of that “hard and excellent” book, I am not going to repeat myself: At that moment I conceived of a review (“Writing with the voice of crying”), published in Isliada.com.

In the same way that “Hunger,” with its apparent argumentative laziness — although full of vivid insinuations, realistic as its own title — I received the news of the prison sentence. The Cuban narrator,one of those who attained national and international recognition during the last two decades, has merited, not a prize, but the sanction of five years of privation of liberty, as an author, not from a literary text, but from the crimes of house-breaking and assault.

In a recent post (of the few I’ve had the chance of reading), the writer declares himself innocent and attributes the persecution to his political activism. The sentence, handed down by the Peoples’ Provincial Criminal Court, was first given to him on December 6, 2012, and as authorized under the law, his defense attorney filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.

In summary, if our highest jurisdictional organ doesn’t overturn the decision, Angel Santiesteban’s days of freedom are numbered. I’m amazed that such a complex story has gone on with a level of suggestion that borders on apathy and muteness.

In fact, information comes to my in-basket (courtesy of some of my contacts) and tells a strikingly crude tale. A writer complains, not when they turn out the lights, not because he is hungry. Estrangement fades and rallies us to perceive emotions from an active angle. Without any humor. “I’m not a trouble-maker or anything,” perhaps the accused character alleges. I don’t know. I can’t make him responsible for the infractions that they say he has committed. I can’t absolve him. I can’t swear to anything: Nothing has been said in the press (of course not — some smart-ass will surely make fun of him — nor did they say anything about the trial of Augustin Bejarano in Miami).

I can only say that I knew Angel Santiesteban, not with the necessary depth to call him a friend; that the bonds of brotherhood brought us close, without bothering to mention now that my Masonic affections don’t show sign of any recuperation. I can also say that I’ve read his work and that, since then, I’ve been a better human being, much more open and sensitive to someone else’s pain. Lastly, I can say that an artist of his stature does not deserve — although crushed by the worst misfortune — that the rest of the night pass in silence, until at dawn (as with the protagonist in “Hunger”) they look for him to reintegrate him into the cell-block.

Throwing a writer in jail is the lowest form of tragedy.

And tragedies never have a happy ending.

Published in: VerCuba

Translated by Regina Anavy

Translator’s note: Between the original writing of this text and its translation the Supreme Court upheld Angel’s sentence.

January 19 2013

Dignity cannot be killed nor can it be caged / Angel Santiesteban #Cuba

León enfrenta cocodriloThe majority of human beings share with the animal kingdom a love of liberty and respect for our neighbors. But not everyone, evidently. Because if it were so, dictators wouldn’t exist, nor would other inferior spirits that – reincarnated into despicable henchmen and bullies – execute, literally, human dignity on a daily basis. But dignity is unbeatable, and as many times as they assassinate it, it continues to live.

Cuba under the Castros is part of a lamentable list of states whose governments represent everything they shouldn’t be. continue reading

Fortunately those countries also count on intellectuals who are ready to struggle with all their being to end the system that oppresses them.

To be a persecuted politico in Cuba because of defending liberty and dignity, and joining the list of other brothers in the world who also do it, even knowing what they are exposed to, fills me with pride. Dignity cannot be killed nor caged.

My attitude is that of the lion that faces a terrible crocodile.

Let the tyrant know we exist!

Ángel Santistesteban-Prats
Cuban writer

WE COULDN’T GIVE A DAMN, AND IT’S SERIOUS, by Edouard Launet
(Translated from the French)

In Qatar, a trial in Doha has just condemned the poet Ibn al-Dhib to prison for life for having written a poem in which he compares all the Arab countries to Tunisia in the struggle against a despotic elite.

But let’s tell it like it is: This doesn’t mean a thing to anyone.

In Hungary, the writer Peter Esterhazy has been censored by public radio because he criticized the cultural politics of the government of the very conservative prime minister, Viktor Orban, who controls the media.

Let’s be clear: We couldn’t care less.

In Moscow, the writer Edouard Limonov was interrogated on December 31 for trying to participate in a non-authorized gathering: It’s a matter of defending, 24/7, Article 31 of the Constitution, which guarantees free assembly.

Please note: Nobody did a fucking thing.

In China, the Uighur poet, Nurmemet Yasin was tortured and condemned in 2004 to 10 years in prison for having published a story entitled “The Wild Pigeon”, considered a disguised indictment against the authorities.

Let him die! Wait, they did: We just learned that he died in prison in December 2011.

In China again, the dissident poet Li Bifeng, imprisoned since 2011, has just been condemned to 12 years in prison for fraud.

Let this dog rot like the other one, good riddance!

Gérard Depardieu, the talented French actor, is in a tiff with the French government, which wishes to fleece him of his money.

This time the line of scandal has been crossed, and it’s unacceptable.

Because this strongly resembles a political persecution on top of a man-hunt: Gérard simply wanted to profit from his millions, fart in his silk underwear and burp his wine without being bugged by the collective. But they track him, they impose a tax of 75 percent, they force him to flee to Belgium, perhaps even into the Ural Mountains.

One wants to break out into an argued defense of the tyrannized comedian, but the rage is too strong, the hands tremble, words rush onto the writing paper, and all we manage to write is: “It’s really disgusting.”

But what good does it do to get indignant? Everyone makes fun of him, and Depardieu, like everyone else without a voice, is condemned to undergo the onslaught of insults that a despotic regime has concocted against him.

Let’s have a moving moment of silence for this great reader of Saint Augustin.

Meanwhile, what’s next? The Cuban writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban Prats, who, last month, was condemned by a court in Havana to five years in prison for….house-breaking.

It’s useless to point out that, to us, this is a joke.

With the Saudi writer Turki al-hamad, arrested on December 24 for having spread on Twitter supposed offensive comments about Islam.

We turn a blind eye.

With the journalist and blogger Hamza Kashgari, delivered last year by Malaysia to the Saudi kingdom so he can be tried for blasphemy, following his comments on Twitter that are regarded as insults to the prophet.

We don’t give a shit.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 24 2013

You can continue reading all the articles of the dossier, “Le cahier Livres de Libé“. Published by Libération.

My “inclined” writing of “suspicious size” published in France / Angel Santiesteban #Cuba

as2imagesCuba stopped being the subject of good news in the world press many decades ago. Day by day, the violations of human rights, the repression and violence of the State, the secretism around the health of the dictators — the retired Fidel Castro and the “active” Hugo Chávez — the political persecutions, arbitrary detentions, religious persecution, the political prisoners and the concentration camps where they keep them in squalor, the epidemics of cholera and dengue, the miserable conditions of life and health are, among other things, many of the misfortunes that those of us who are trapped on the island suffer, the “leit motif” in the newspapers and foreign media. Of course there are always some who are full of flattery for the cruel regime, because business is business. And the truth doesn’t matter to them either, because they live on the outside.

The dictator should have taken note by now that he is his own worst enemy. No one in his right mind and in possession of all his faculties can think — or try to make himself believe — that the problem with Cuba is the embargo and the “imperialism” of the enemy. And it should be assumed that being a dictator makes for bad press everywhere in the world.

He can try to lie and silence the Cubans, but he can’t do it to the rest of the world. continue reading

And while I wait for the response to the call to shame about the judicial ruling on a case invented with the purpose of sending me to a concentration camp for five years, alleging that I write with a “certain” inclination, and I design my letters with a “very suspicious size,” in France they praise my literary work; they publish it and they promote it.

IN CUBA, THE WRITER AND BLOGGER ANGEL SANTIESTEBAN IS CONDEMNED TO FIVE YEARS IN PRISON

[Note: this section of the post is from the French newspaper Le Monde, and is translated from the French.]

Laura in Havana, Stories

The harassment of Cuban dissidents by repetitive political interrogations and short-term arrests has increased since Fidel Castro has been replaced by Raul Castro: The writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban Prats, 46, has just been condemned by a court in Havana to five years in prison, for aggravated assault.

Ángel Santiesteban Prats is a recognized author, awarded prizes by Cuban institutions, like the prestigiousCasa de las Américas, and foreign ones, like Radio France Internationale.

The writer has created a blog critical of the Cuban government, “The Children Nobody Wanted.”

For the last three years he has been the object of diverse threats and assaults by State security agents, the last one taking place on November 8, in front of a police station in Havana, when he requested information about an independent lawyer detained the night before.

On this occasion he was brutally interrogated, then released after his relatives posted a photo of his bloody shirt on the Internet.

Santiesteban Prats was judged by the Diez de Octubre neighborhood court, in Havana, on October 29, but the sentence was not known until this week-end, when it reverberated throughout the Cuban blogosphere. Unable to charge him for his dissident activity, the authorities invoked common law charges, most of which were dismissed by the court. The writer expected to be absolved, before his brutal interrogation of November 8. He announced his intention to appeal the ruling.

Angel Santiesteban Prats (born in Havana, 1966), had been awarded the Juan Rulfo Prize by Radio France Internationale in 1989, the prize given by the National Union of Writers and Artists in Cuba (UNEAC) in 1995 (for his work “Dream of a Summer Day,” about the dramatic experiences of Cubans in the war in Angola), the Alejo Carpentier Prize from the Cuban Institute of the Book in 2001, and the Casa de las Americas Prize in 2006 for his collection of short stores, “Happy are Those who Mourn.”

L’atinoir is publishing the French translation of the stories of “Laura in Havana” (134 pages, 14 euros), available in bookstores beginning December 17.

Published by Le Monde, December 9, 2012

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 24 2013

A Kafkaesque Tale / Esperanza Rodriguez Bernal #Cuba

21-kafkiano

espeby Esperanza Rodríguez Bernal, Attorney at Law

Many people come to see us about the fines imposed on them by the Port Captain.

The great majority of them have been notified after more than two months have passed from the time they committed the act, making the judicial process ineffective by not fulfilling the established formalities, in this case, the term for the application of the law. continue reading

This violates Decree-Law 99/87, which provides the following in Chapter V.:

Article 39: Violations shall be punished immediately, as soon as they are known at the moment of commission, or when their effects have continued to survive at the moment of verification.

In this way the Port Captain, protected by Decree Law No. 194/99, has imposed the aforementioned fines in violation of Decree Law 99, “Personal Contraventions” of December 25, 1987.

People who in one form or another have been affected, have requested our advice, among other things because the same Decree Law 194 in Chapter II, Article 2.1, Subsections a, b and c establishes fines from 500 to 2,000 pesos.

These people, for the most part, have tried to leave the country on flimsy rafts, risking their lives, indicating that they do it because of fundamentally economic problems.

This begs the question: How can a person who lives in Cuba, where the average salary is approximately 340 pesos in national money, pay such a high fine?

The migratory accords signed by Cuba and the United States establish among other things that Cubans apprehended leaving the country in rafts should be returned with the condition that no reprisals will be taken against them.

Furthermore, the concept of “embarkation” used by the Port Captain is absurd. For them, anything that floats constitutes an embarkation, whether it’s a surf board or a camera truck. In addition, the fact that the sanction has to be appealed before the same people who apply it converts this into a kind of Kafkaesque tale and not into a serious and responsible resolution of a state entity that legislates on such an important problem for the citizens.

 Translated by Regina Anavy

January 23 2013

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

End of Service! / Regina Coyula

On Monday, my son is thinking about enrolling as a university student. These are his first two weeks as a “civvie” after one year of military service. This was a year wasted, because except for the roughly six initial weeks of service known as “The Trial”, during which he ran, jumped, fired guns, pushed paperwork and, above all, marched a lot, he spent the rest of his time earning money by working with the private transport trucks around San Antonio de los Baños and becoming an expert at clearing scrubland with his bare hands.

According to the stories I’ve heard about the dismal experiences people have had on their military service, my son had a pretty good time of it, made loads of new friends with whom he spends his brief holidays at the beach, or at concerts or playing pool. They all bring up anecdotes and, smiling, remember the brutes they had for superiors. This is probably the memory that most sticks out for them during that time.

Translated by Christopher Andrew Smith

August 24 2012

Letter From a Young Man Who Has Left / Ivan Lopez Monreal

Pomerie, Blugaria. Source: landisbg.com

Site manager’s note: This letter is not from one of our regular bloggers. It is from a young Cuban who has emigrated to Bulgaria, and was written in response to a post on (the now “paused”) blog “La Joven Cuba,” detailing why young people should not emigrate from Cuba. The letter is “going viral” on Cuba-related websites and we thought our readers would want to read it.

Dear Rafael Hernández:

I have read with great interest your “Letter to a young man who is leaving.” I feel it applies to me, because two years ago I left Cuba, I’m 28 years old and I live in Pomorie, a spa city situated in the east of Bulgaria. The reason why I write to you is to try to explain to you my stance as a young Cuban emigrant. Without solemnities nor absolute truths, because if leaving my country has taught me anything, it’s discovering that such truths do not exist.

Maybe some of those who have left in the last few years (there are thousands of us) are clear about the moment they decided to do it. Not me. Mine was progressive, almost without my realizing it. It began with that oh-so-Cuban resource that is the complaint. Trifling, perhaps. About what isn’t available, about what has not come, about what happens, about what doesn’t happen, about not knowing. Or not being able to.

The complaining is not serious, what’s serious is that it becomes chronic, like an illness, when nothing seems to resolve itself. And one can accept that that’s how it is, and that it’s your country for better or for worse, or move on to the next category, which is frustration. Or discover that the solution to the majority of the problems is out of your hands. Or they won’t let you do it. Or even sadder: they don’t seem to matter.

To abandon or to remain in your country is a very personal decision that should never be judged in moral terms. I chose this route because I wanted a different future from the one that I foresaw in Cuba, and I left to look for it knowing that it could go badly, but I wanted to run that risk. I’m not going to lie and say it was painful. I did not cry in the airport. On the contrary, I was happy. In fact, I freed myself.

You are right to say that my generation lacks those emotional ties that generate experiences such as the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis or the Angola war. But make no mistake, I have also had my epics. At best not as epic, but certainly equally devastating. In these twenty-two years mentioned, I have watched the country for which my parents fought degrade itself. I have seen my elementary and secondary school teachers leave. I have seen families argue for the right to eat bread.

I have seen the Malecon full of nervous people screaming against the government, and even more nervous people screaming in its favor. I have seen young people building rafts to flee to who knows where, and a mob throwing cat shit against the house of a “traitor.” Rafael, I have even seen a dog eating another dog on the corner of 27 and F in Havana.

And I have also seen my father, who was in Angola, his face pale, without answers, the day a hotel custodian told him that he could not keep walking along the Jibacoa beach (across from the international camping area) because he was Cuban. I was with him. I saw it. I was ten years old, and a ten-year-old boy does not forget how his father’s dignity goes to shit. Even though he had returned from a war with three medals.

You talk to me about the social conquests of the Revolution. About education and medicine. I am going to talk to you about my education. I had good teachers, and when they left they were substituted for others less prepared who, in turn, were replaced by social workers who wrote “experience” with an S and who were incapable of pointing on a map to five capitals of Latin America (they didn’t tell me this, I lived it). My parents had to hire private tutors so that I could truly learn. My parents did not pay them; my aunt based in Toronto did.

To be honest, I owe a good part of my education to the clients of the Greek restaurant where my aunt worked. But there is more. In my older sister’s time it was extremely rare that a student receive a grade of 100%. In my time a 100% came to be something common, not because we students had become more brilliant, but because the professors lowered their requirements to cover up the school’s failure. And you know what? I was lucky, because those who came after me had a television instead of a teacher.

I have very little to say about medicine, because you live in Cuba. And except for remaining free, which I admit is still commendable, the state of the hospitals, the precariousness of badly-paid doctors and the growing corruption push the health system even more toward that third world you did so much to avoid. And the truth is that, today, a Cuban who has hard currency has more opportunities to receive better treatment (giving gifts or even paying) than one who doesn’t, even though it’s illegal. And even though the constitution says otherwise. As sad as it is to admit, Rafael, the education and medicine available to today’s Cubans are worse than those which my parents enjoyed.

You say that the country exerts a great effort, that there is an embargo. And I respond to you that there is also a government that takes fifty years to make decisions on behalf of all Cubans. And if we have reached this point, it would be healthiest to admit that it has failed, or was unable, or didn’t want to do things differently. For whatever reason. Because its failure is also full of reasons. And instead of digging in with its historical figures in the Council of State, it should give way to those who come after.

Rafael, it’s very frustrating for a young person of my age to see that 50 years have passed in Cuba without producing a generational change-over because the government has not allowed it. And I’m not talking about giving the power to me, as a 28-year-old. I am talking about those 40-, 50- or even 60-year-old Cubans who have never had the chance to decide.

Because today’s people who are of that age and who hold positions of responsibility in Cuba have not been trained to make decisions, but rather to approve them. They are not leaders, they are officials. And that includes everyone from ministers to the delegates of the national assembly. They are part of a vertical system that does not provide room so that they can exercise the autonomy that corresponds with their positions. Everything is a consultation. And contrary to the old the saying: instead of asking for pardon, everyone would rather ask for permission.

You say that in my country one can vote and be elected to a position from age 16. And that the presence of young delegates has diminished from the 80s until now. You even warn me that if we continue on like this, there will be fewer young people who vote and therefore fewer who are eligible. And I ask you: what purpose does my vote serve? What can I change? What have the delegates of the national assembly done to spark my interest in them?

Let’s be honest, Rafael, and I believe that you are in your letter, so I also want to be honest in mine, we both know that the national assembly, as it is conceived, only serves to pass laws unanimously. It is ironic to call an institution that meets one week a year an “assembly.” Three or four days in the summer and three or four days in December. And during those days it limits itself to approving the mandates from the Council of State and of its President, who is the one who decides what happens and what doesn’t happen in the country. Sadly, I cannot vote for  this president. And I’m not sure I would want to do so.

A few days ago I heard Ricardo Alarcón confess to a Spanish reporter that he doesn’t believe in Western democracy “because the citizens are only free the day they vote, the rest of the time the parties do what they want…” Even if that were the case, which it is not (at least not all the time, and not in every democracy), he would recognize that since I was born, in 1984, voters in the United States, for instance, have had seven days of freedom (one every four years) to change their president.

A few times they have done this for the better, and others for the worse. But that’s another story. A young person my age from New Jersey has already had two days of freedom to, for example, throw out Bush’s Republicans and elect Obama. Cubans have not been able to make a decision like that since 1948 (not including Batista’s elections, of course). And if you tell me that the capacity to elect a president is not relevant for a country, I insist that it is. And more relevant for a young person who needs to feel like he’s being taken into account. Even though it may be only for one day.

You probably think that we who left chose the easier route, that the more difficult one was to stay in order to solve problems. But I have to tell you that my grandparents and my parents stayed in Cuba to wrestle with those problems. To give me a country that would be more advanced, equitable, progressive. And the one they have given me is one in which the people celebrate being able to buy a car and sell a house as if it were a conquest. But that is not a conquest, it’s recovering a right that we already had before the Revolution. Is this what we’ve come to? Celebrating as a victory something so simple? How many other basic things have we lost over the years?

For my parents it’s painful to assume that failure, and they don’t want it for me. They don’t want me, at 55, to have a salary I cannot afford to live on, neither the salary nor the ration book. Because it’s not enough. And they don’t want me to survive only by turning to the black market, to corruption, to double standards, to pretending. They prefer that I be far away. At 28 years old I have become my parents’ social security — how else do you believe two people could survive on 650 pesos?

Yes, Rafael, hundreds of thousands of us Cubans have had to leave so that our country doesn’t collapse. What Cuba receives in our remittances is superior, in net value, to nearly all of its exports. Yes, the country has lost youth and talent, and instead of opening a realistic debate about how to stop the bleeding, it remains anchored to an ideological immobility that is nothing more than fear for the future. And what do I do in a country whose rulers are afraid of the future…? Wait until they die…? Wait until they change the laws out of generosity and not out of conviction? What do I do in a country that continues to reward unconditional political loyalty over talent? What do I aspire to if what I am and what I do is not enough? Do I become a cynic? Or do you motivate me to face the consequences and say what I think out loud? Some young people from my generation have already done so, and where are they?

Let’s remember Eliécer Ávila, a student of Eastern University who had the courage to ask Ricardo Alarcón why young Cubans could not travel like other people, and who was retaliated against by the system. He was not to blame for the presence of a BBC camera there, nor for the ridiculous response that Alarcón gave him (the barbarity that planes would fill the sky and crash into each other). Today Eliécer lives as an outcast for political reasons. And he is not a terrorist nor a mercenary nor an unpatriotic person, he is a humble young mullato man, an academic, who made the mistake of being honest. How sad to have a revolution that ends up condemning someone for being honest. You want me to stay for that, Rafael?

Leaving your country and your family is not an easy path. Nor is it the solution to anything, it is only a beginning. You go to another culture, you have to learn another language, you have some very bad moments. You feel alone. But at least you have the relief of knowing that with effort you can get things. My first winter in Bulgaria was very difficult, I found work as a driver and I spent four months loading and unloading washing machines to save money to be able to travel to Turkey. A dream I had when I was a young boy. And I went.

I did not have to ask permission to leave nor did my plane crash into another. I could complete Eliécer’s dream. And it made me happy to have done so. I’ve known other realities, I’ve been able to compare. I’ve discovered that the world is infinitely imperfect, and that we Cubans are not the center of anything. We are admired for some things just as we are hated for others.

I have also discovered that leaving has not changed my leftist convictions. Because the Cuban left is not the left, Rafael. Call it whatever you want, but it is not the left. I am part of those who search for social progress with equality of opportunity and without exclusions. Think what you want to think. Without sectarianism or trenches. Because that only serves to confront society and substitute dogmas for truths.

Finally, Rafael, chance wanted me to end up in a country that was also governed by one party and a single ideology. Here there was no Velvet Revolution like in Czechoslovakia, nor did they demolish a wall like in Berlin, nor did they shoot a president like in Romania. Here, as in Cuba, the people did not know their dissidents. Here there were no fissures, and nevertheless, in a week it went from being a socialist state to a parliamentary republic. And nobody protested. Nobody complained. I cannot help but ask myself: did they spend 40 years pretending?

Since then it hasn’t been a bed of roses; they have faced several crises, and the population has even come to live with poorer quality than what they had in the 80s, but curiously, the vast majority of Bulgarians do not want to go back. And the socialism they left behind was more prosperous than what we Cubans have today. But in this country they don’t think about the past, they think about the present. In bettering the economy, in resolving the inequalities (they exist here, as in Cuba), in fighting the double standard, the personalities and the corruption that the state generated for decades.

The day that this present matters in Cuba, no doubt, we will see each other in Havana.

Ivan López Monreal
Pomorie, Bulgaria

Translated by: Regina Anavy, Courtney Finkel

August 22 2012

Inventing at the Airport / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

People are preoccupied with how to pay the tariffs at the airport, especially on medicine and food.

The new restrictions for travelers increase the tension on the island. “With the tax on food, there is less coming into the country, especially to Cuban families,” said Jesús Reyes, a 42-year-old Cuban, recently arrived from Italy.

Medicines are very important, because when some medication is needed that can’t be found on the island, a family member is asked to send it from abroad. Everyone knows about the “development” of public health in Cuba, so they are limiting the amount that enters for Cuban families.

As for food, this tax already existed but was suspended in 2008 because of the emergency caused by hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma. Food was allowed to come in for free.

It seems the government now has the food supply guaranteed and can satisfy popular demand or simply that harder times are coming.

Translated by Regina Anavy

July 30 2012