The Dictatorship’s Annoying Writer / Lilianne Ruiz

Writer Angel Santiesteban in prison -- photo Luz Escobar courtesy of Lilianne Ruiz
Writer Angel Santiesteban in prison — photo Luz Escobar courtesy of Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba.  This past February 28, Reporters without Borders issued a statement attaching the second Open Letter from Angel Santiesteban to General-President of Cuba, Raul Castro, on exactly the day that the writer finished a year in jail.  Santiesteban published the first letter, addressed to the same leader, on his blog a few days before being taken to jail for a crime of which he declares he is innocent.

The place where he is currently held is a military settlement in Lawton, Havana, with the appearance of a housing construction company.  It houses 19 prisoners. His companions have committed crimes of theft, drug trafficking and murder. They are required to stay in a regimen of forced labor. We went there to visit him, a group of friends and this reporter, who could obtain his statements.

Previously he was in La Lima, a prison establishment located in Guanabacoa, and afterwards in the prison known as the “1580,” situated in San Miguel del Padron.

The writer’s people skills guarantee respectful relationships with the inmates. While they are going to work at the ironworks or carpenter’s shop, he stays writing all day. But this he has gotten by force of protest.

Compared with the other jails where he has been, the place is less severe:

“The only explanation that I give you for the fact that they have brought me here is that I publish complaints.  Within the jails there are beatings constantly on the part of the authorities.  In the ’1580’ I made 70 complaints in four and half months,” explains the writer who receives us in the penal enclosure.

This is the second time he has been a prisoner. The first was when he was 17 years of age. He spent nine months awaiting trial in the La Cabana jail.  He had gone to the coast to say goodbye to a part of his family that was leaving Cuba clandestinely. They were caught, and all were taken to jail. From the memories of those nine months, which for him were interminable, came the book that won him the Casa de las Americas Prize in 2006: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn.

He has lost a lot of weight. He accepts no food except that supplied by his family. He came to have a diet as strict as milk with cookies at mid-day and a soup of dehydrated substances, made with boiling water, at the end of the afternoon.

Twice, in the “1580” prison during a hunger strike, he was shackled at his feet and hands. Then the jailers took him by the throat opening his mouth to make him swallow some foul liquid.

He is about to finish a novel:

“It will be an homage to Cirilo Villaverde, for his Cecilia Valdes,” he comments.  But he has another in the editing stage of the detective genre in order to entertain, which breaks with his usual style:

“I wanted to have fun,” he explains.

He has also written a book of stories about prison.

“I wanted to tell how riots occur. I condensed the stories that prisoners have told me.”

He was able to get the manuscripts out of jail, and now the texts are saved on a computer. In the “1580” he began writing at eight in the morning and only stopped when the guards turned off the light at ten at night.

“I wrote as if I were going to die. In spite of everything, this is going to be a time that I am going to miss for the rest of my life.”

The case against Santiesteban started weaving itself one afternoon in July 2009 when he was in the company of three people who can attest to his presence. On the other side of the city, his ex-wife, Kenia Diley Rodriguez, presented herself at the police station at the same time in order to accuse him of having forced entry into her home and attacked her. After three days, Rodriguez added the accusation of the crime of “theft; after almost two months following the supposed assault, added “rape” and “attempted murder.”

None of these accusations had the least physical evidence, as the accused himself has demonstrated.

The background is a soap opera, except that it ended in tragedy for the main character:

Santiesteban had abandoned his relationship with Diley Rodriguez. By then, he already had a romantic relationship with a well-known Cuban actress.

Meanwhile, there was someone else interested in damaging him: State Security.

Lilianne Ruiz and Angel Santiesteban, 2012
Lilianne Ruiz and Angel Santiesteban, 2012

Little time passed between the publication of Santiesteban’s blog and the day and time of his trial.

Without guarantees in this country for respect for the presumption of innocence (the law is not dealt out equally, and courts are not independent), the ill will of the woman against her ex-spouse, an intellectual dissident, got him put in jail.

Recently, the Motion for Review of the judgment was received, which his lawyer presented to the Ministry of Justice last year. Now the Court needs to send the trial record to the Review Department. In the motion, it is expressed that the sanction against Angel Santiesteban is an enormous injustice because “he has been the victim of a vulgar hoax originated in the express lies of his ex-wife.” At the end of the document, the nullification of the judgment is requested; acquittal for the charged crimes.

The writer’s family managed to find out that the document was filed for a long time in the Ministry of Justice. They told them informally that the case was famous there and that all the authorities had met.

“It’s one thing for the Ministry of Justice to accept the review and another for them to be able to be honest,” says the writer.

The video in which the most important prosecution witness appears confessing to having lied in favor of Kenia Diley Rodriguez, because of the financial benefits she offered, was not received by the Court as proof of exoneration. But it served to erode the body of charges that was initially brought.

In spite of all logic, he was sentenced for “breaking into the residence” and “injuries.”

The person of good will who managed to turn on the camera at the right moment saved Santiesteban from the prosecutor’s request for 54 years in jail.

“The guy did not know that they were recording him. When he found out he went to the police unit with my son’s mother to accuse me of ’assault.’”

The video was analyzed by the Central Crime Laboratory which assessed it as perfect. The court simply dismissed the material “as not contributing elements of interest to the process.”

The question that his lawyer asks in the document is the following: If the authorities came to the conclusion that the greater part of the accusations of Kenia Diley Rodriguez against Santiesteban were false, what degree of credibility can be acknowledged in those that still stand?

Cubanet, March 8, 2014,

Translated by mlk.