Prison Diary XXVII: Iroel Sanchez, Militant in his Interests / Angel Santiesteban

Iroel Sanchez. Photo by Tracey Eaton
Iroel Sanchez. Photo by Tracey Eaton

The then-president of the Cuban Book Institute could have been one of my witnesses in the trial that was set up against me, but our political differences and his official functions did not permit him to put himself on the side of justice; which I never understood, because on the day that I might be a witness to any arbitrariness, I will come out in defense of the abused without caring for the ideals or religion he might profess. I like to say that I belong to the party of my feelings.

In the days of the 2009 Book Fair, barely five months before my ex-wife began her accusations against me, when I was talking with Iroel Sanchez at a corner of the fort concerning my attendance at the presentation of a book by the writer and dissident Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, outside the Fair, which Sanchez considered a “provocation” that the CIA was behind, we were interrupted by my ex, who was upset, her breathing labored and her posture hostile, and who asked me for explanations for having gone to the event in company of a lady, because “she could not stand it.”

Iroel, on seeing himself involved in that situation, excused himself, though not without first asking me to continue the conversation at another more opportune moment.

It is worth mentioning that I had separated from my ex two years before and was in a relationship, already public, with my current partner.

After Iroel Sanchez walked off, I asked her for respect and distance, but paying no attention she searched for the sales booth of the woman I was with, with whom I am still friends and whom I do not name out of respect, and rebuked her in front of her co-workers and her partner.

A friend who was impressed by the attitude of my ex, of whom she retains a violent image.

Iroel Sanchez himself, after we resumed the interrupted conversation, asked me to be careful of her because of her aggressiveness, because she seemed to be “in love.”

Nevertheless, in spite of having been present at that scene, Iroel Sanchez signed the letter headed by 8 women who began a campaign against me based on violence against a woman with the purpose of serving as a smoke screen to hide the regime’s abuses.

I have searched in my memory for personal experiences while we met on the cultural level, I as a writer and he as a State functionary, in order to analyze his behavior, without trying to judge him, only trying to understand.

Our disagreements began in 2001, the year in which I won the Alejo Carpentier prize for the book Los hijos que nadie quiso [“The Children Nobody Wanted”], when as a result of its publication the “Association of Cuban Combatants” sent a letter where they classified the book as ”counterrevolutionary.” Later, Iroel Sanchez himself confessed to me that his companions from the war in Angola criticized him for having permitted its publication, thinking that he should have censored me.

Months later, at the Book Fair of Guadalajara, Mexico, he told me that the scene of the old woman with the little plate, from the story Lobos en la noche [“Wolves in the night”], for him was unendurable, that of many parts, it was the part that he could least bear.

Our big disagreement was with that posting where I made public the economic needs and shame suffered by the Cuban delegation to the Book Fair of Mazatlan, Mexico, which motivated the order that he gave to an unknown official to respond to me. This posting was also the reason why they cancelled the email service that I had been granted by the Ministry of Culture, with the objective of isolating me.

Another reason against me arose from post that I published on my blog, on the totally unfounded accusation that he made to a pair of young people with a baby that was passing by the training field at G and Malecón, saying that they did not want to return to him the portfolio which I had lost while walking there and which, according to him, they had found.

I also never shared his high-sounding speeches of honesty and austerity, which did not correspond with his lifestyle, using the resources of the Institution that he presided over for his personal benefit, such as when he put the car which had been assigned to him as an official at the disposal of his family, including fuel costs.

For me, I never knew what happened between him and Felipe Pérez Roque, after which they ousted the latter, whom he considered his great friend and with whom he had been a classmate at CUJAE [Instituto Superior Politécnico José Antonio Echeverría], professing to him his delusions of student brotherhood and ideals.

His animosity towards Alpidio Alonso was no secret, when Alonso ceased to be president of the Saíz Brothers Association and went to the Institute as “Vice President without Portfolio” he offered the criticism that on the day on which he was not needed in the culture sector he would not sit and wait to be reassigned but would practice engineering, which was what he had studied.

At the end of his days in the Segundo Cabo Palace he did not comply with his rule, refusing to leave his position as president.

By those ups and downs of life, here in the prison I run into an inmate who had fought in Angola and overlapped with him in those days of “war.”

He tells how Iroel Sánchez and Juan Carlos Robinson (today also ousted after having been in senior positions of political power), were nicknamed “the runners” because when they felt the sound of the enemy shells firing, they were the first to arrive at the trenches. He also tells me, sadly, how they distributed the medals Robinson nominated.

Even more coincidentally, I also know another prisoner here who worked with him in the Juventud Comunista [Communist Youth], and who says that they identified him a ”frustrated guard” because he was outstanding in doling out beatings, back in August 5, 1994, when some of the people in Havana, unhappy people, launched a protest in the streets*. Among them always there was the suspicion that Iroel sometimes was beating dissidents for pure pleasure, because he struck without necessity, just to prove that he had a better attitude than the others in “defense of the revolution.”

I have wanted to share here a series of experiences and facts, actions and feelings, to help me understand the human being, the greater ambition that, as an artist, haunts me.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats. Prison 1580. June, 2013.

*Translator’s note: This came to be called the “Maleconazo.”

Translated by mlk

9 June 2013