Open Letter from the Writer Ángel Santiesteban-Prats to the New President of Spain / Ángel Santiesteban

Havana, 20 December 2011

President Mariano Rajoy, I turn to you on the day my daughter celebrates her birthday. Just thinking of the Cuban young people, I decided to write you these humble and sincere words without standing on ceremony other than to offer you well-deserved congratulations, and to cry for the young of my country whose only horizon is the Straits of Florida which cause so many deaths. But not before giving you a small account of the last two governments of my country and the impact they have had on us.

Since the absence in power of Spain’s People’s Party, three elections back, the freedom of Cubans has been banished. We quickly received a half-communist minister representing the PSOE (Socialist Workers Party), who came to negotiate with the Castro brothers. Since then, the silence and Spanish president Zapatero’s complicity threw its dark mantle over the Cuban archipelago. The days when the freedom of the people was more important to Spain than relations with a tyrant, were long gone.

That complicity with which the Cultural Attache welcomed those of us with the intention to participate in some literary contest in Spain, and the envelopes full of stories and hopes, ended. From that time on we no longer received the latest published books from the Iberian peninsula, nor the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana which had provided us with the latest cultural events in the world and, especially, in the culture of our diaspora forbidden on Cuban soil.

The literary, essay and photography contest thought up by the Spanish embassy, which was juried and where I was told there was no pressure because they would award the prize to some irreverent text despite the political system that scorns us and exists in this country, only got as far as a call for entries. The official policy of support for marginalized artists vanished. We also lost the profound and hard work of the Hispanic-American Center because the dictatorship closed it, not wanting there to be a space for the cultural freedom it supported.

Then, the meeting with the ungainly ambassador of whom I only remember his name “Lazarus,” and who joked about a Bible passage, “Lazarus, arise and walk,” because the Lazarus sent to us only came to lie down at the feet of the dictator. And the following meeting for Columbus Day, which we had celebrated in the ambassador’s residence for many years, and Lazarus just read our group what his work plan was going to be, which was “nothing,” making him the second Government of the Island. Since then we haven’t gone back despite continuing to receive an invitation.

Months later the Ambassadors of the European Union wanted a meeting-dialogue with Cuban writers in the residence of the Ambassador of Austria, which chaired the EU at the time. Attending were Leonardo Padura, Amado del Pino, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Reinaldo Montero and me. Each gave his vision of the social reality.

Some Ambassadors wondered about the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, and thought that perhaps, as expressed by the Spanish Ambassador, that starting with a substantion improvement in the economy, there would arise an improvement in individual freedoms. He was hoping for better times for Cuba, the raising of the national economy and social freedoms.

When I intervened I said that with reference to the possibility of “economic improvement”, I found myself pessimistic, given that the years of dictatorship had demonstrated gross mismanagement of the assets of the People, and that in the unlikely event that Venezuela became what the Union Soviet and the rest of the socialist camp had been for Cuba, it would be disastrous for individual liberties, as rather than being strengthened, repression would also increase.

That the Ruler (at the time it was Fidel Castro, now it is his brother, but it has always been the same last name), had ceded his harsh dictatorship from the Special Period, when he lost credibility and followers, but there was a return to economic consolidation, which I doubted we could say for certain that it would sharpen the repression, censorship and imprisonment of opponents of the government.

After the meeting ended, while having refreshments, I was approached by Ambassador Lazaro, who told me light-heartedly, “Don’t be so pessimistic.” I gave him a look as impotence threatened to overcome me. “Sir,” I said, “how is it possible that you dare to ask for optimism from one of the members of the third generation that this process has consumed without any benefit. Fidel Castro is a human crushing machine.”

The ambassador wanted to escape but I stopped him: “Never,” I pronounced, “have I seen the Cuban State prosper, not in economic matters nor in individual liberties, and unfortunately we two are going to be alive to see it.”

The Ambassador raised his arms and walked away. We never met again. I did not accept his invitations. Wherever he finds himself today, he should remember the words that without being an expert in political and social matters, were offered to him, a career diplomat, most disadvantaged by our forecasts, with his failure as Ambassador and his role in a boring and submissive political party, so much so, that his own workers in the Spanish embassy in Havana let us know that they had a room full of the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, which they couldn’t distribute because the government had forbidden it in secret negotiations.

In those two governments of Zapatero, we have suffered the shamelessness of both presidencies (Zapatero-Fidel and Raul Castro) and their minions. Supposed achievements in the matter of the prisoners of conscience have only served them to be accomplices in helping to take the lid off the pot and relieve the pressure and thus avoid a social explosion on the island, to procure some respite for a process that is asphyxiating at times, an that resorts to strategies intended to improve its international image, award accomplices, and ultimately ultimately extend a system which the population does not believe in, such as releasing the prisoners of conscience to Spain which agreed to receive them as political refugees, but which disengaged from them after their arrival and haphazardly left them in the hands of God. The Master of Ceremonies of this sizable circus was Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.

In the end they demonstrated that releasing the prisoners was not done for humanitarian but for political reasons.I also pray for them and I urge you to provide them the place they deserve after suffering persecution, torture and imprisonment, it would be very kind of you to stop this escalation of agony, and end something that started ill. Ii is in your hands to do it.

Of course, we know that while the Popular Party has won, it doesn’t mean it will resolve the immense problems that have shaken Spain, much less solve the dilemma of the Cubans. What we are sure of is that at least you, President Mariano Rajoy, have extended a hand in solidarity and know how to take the measure of a dictatorship that is dying, but that even in its death throes, keeps kicking and is willing to take the lives of those who confront it.

Recently Cubans have lost a friend, intellectual and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, but God has provided us with you. Having called the Czech writer to His side, he is right to leave this task in your hands.

With humility we simply ask you, President Rajoy, for an ambassador who respects us and offers a place to the thoughtful opposition, dedicated and determined to achieve the freedoms inherent in being human.



Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translator’s note: Slight changes have been made in this letter for English-speaking readers who may not know what positions those named hold or held in Spain and Cuba — they have been added.

December 26 2011