Monthly Archives: November 2011

Santiesteban, Padura, Milanes and the Repression of Intellectuals in Cuba

Angel Santiesteban

From Havana, Cuba, where he lives and is subjected to systematic police and legal abuse by the island’s military regime, because of his determination to be a free writer, especially in his blog “The Children Nobody Wanted,” Angel Santiesteban answered, bravely it must be said, the following interview questions from Armando de Armas for Marti Noticias.

The author faces accusations of domestic abuse, bodily injury, rape, forcible robbery, manipulation of witnesses, and in a trial without procedural guarantees, faces with the indifference of the complicity of artists and intellectuals who, lately, seem to support positions critical of the regime on the island.

What is the alleged crime the Prosecutor is accusing you of?

Several: “The Prosecutor says that in conformity with the provisions established in Articles 278 and 279 of the Law of Criminal Procedure, and with respect to EFP No. 15-709/09, of the Organ of Instruction of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR), followed by a crime for TRESPASSING INJURIES, RAPE, ROBBERY, AND DAMAGES.”

Tell me about the nature of the witness the Prosecutor has found.

The alleged “witness” is a neighbor of my ex with obvious mental retardation. He has multiple convictions for robbery, theft, fraud, among others, for which he’s been sentenced to several years in prison on different occasions as stated in the record: two full sheets of continuous sentences.

What are some of the most obvious manipulations in the process against you?

In the video the “witness” recorded, we learn that he has been given gifts of clothes and promised other things including a wristwatch, and invitations to lunch and swimming pools. I have evidence that, with respect to the first version of the report that was given to my ex-lawyer, and that I photocopied, and in this new version there are changes in the statements.

They didn’t imagine that I would keep a copy of the first version. Now they have added to it, edited it and distorted it, etc. in the most cynical way possible. In my last interview on August 4, in front of my former lawyer, they gave me a statement that, before signing it, I asked him to scratch the space so it couldn’t be added to.

But even so, you can see that, after the final period someone put a comma, which they didn’t even take the care to write on top of the period, and added, “I refuse to face in court people who attest to the contrary of my statement.” This apparent single line gives the idea that I am afraid, that I don’t want to face those who say the “truth.”

On one opportunity my son said something to the Principal of his school to lessen her affection toward me, for my constant attachment to the school, and when a little while later I, like all days, passed by the school, she put him in front of me to repeat what he had said. And he told us that his mother had asked him to say it. Then the Principal offered to serve as my witness.

But later they went to see her and asked her how it was possible that she would defend a counterrevolutionary. And now she refuses to attend the trial. But there are so many injustices committed against me, that I could fill several notebooks.

Is this to say that your former lawyer betrayed you, was paid for her chicanery?

No, so far the lawyer has been faithful to me, what happens is that they frightened her, she’s over sixty, and could even be a witness for me if my new lawyer thinks she should. The one who falsified the record is Captain Amauri who, as I already explained, when he gave it to my attorney more than a year ago, that was another thing, luckily I took photos, and of the latest version as well.

I have both of them and can see that the latter one has been changed. In the interview they called me to, my attorney attended and I made my statement in front of her. At the end when I had to sign it, after reading what had been written I asked the Captain to scratch out the white space, then I signed it.

Now, blatantly, after the final period (…) something like this, they add a sentence where I say, according to what they added, that I refuse to face in court the people who think differently than me, that is, that I’ve declared myself a coward. Look, if they offer me a confrontation with Fidel or Raul I accept it, I am not afraid to talk even with God when I know I am right.

Do you think your case is of personal interest to the Minister of the Interior, Furry Colomé Ibarra?

I don’t know how that detail got out. On a sheet in the file it says, in italics, signed, sealed and stamped: This is a priority, and in typed letters: Case of Interest to the Minister, followed by a signature and the stamp of the Interior Ministry. The Minister is Colomé Ibarra.

Are we looking at the fact that you now find yourself practically defenseless before a court with no procedural guarantees of any kind?

This seems obvious, the results of punishing me for confronting them, for having a critical opinion of their management as leaders of the State. Here we know that the Police (Ministry of the Interior), Prosecutor and Court are the same thing, they are repressive tools of the State. In my case they haven’t done things because I am somewhat well know internationally and have received support.

Many who don’t have this impact are imprisoned with no one to defend them because they are unknown. An example of a violation of the Penal Code is that it says that after a case is accepted by the court, it can’t be returned to the police, except in the oral proceedings, if some variation occurs and the Court orders an inquiry. However, the Court has returned the case to the police twice. They know this is a violation, but they don’t even respect their own laws.

Do you think that your blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, is the fundamental cause of aggression against you by the military regime?

All my dilemmas have started after I opened the blog. I never had any trouble with the law, except that unjust imprisonment for accompanying my brothers to the coast when they left the country, and a traffic accident. But now I am rapist, thief, abuser, a criminal of the worst imaginable kind. I am ashamed of all these charges. Although my conscience is quiet I can not help blushing.

It all started from the blog. They beat me in the street after threatening me, and as it was not enough then made up this story about me me, but they’ve never been able to prove it, and it’s still without rhyme or reason.

Because they are accustomed to undertaking these processes without anyone questioning them, in my case, they should have known better, they have done the impossible trying to make it look legal, relating me in some way, for example, with this false witness I already told you about, but they know it’s not enough, they themselves find it hard to believe.

Then, this image that the military and its cultural apparatus want to sell through the figure and work of Leonardo Padura and others, about, let’s say, that nobody is repressed on the island for what they write, is absolutely false?

Here several writers, chosen for their international relevance, are allowed to published, but all through literature. They allow that in some interviews they are critical of social problems, the repressive organs pretend to be tolerant; but never very direct. They have never accepted criticism of Fidel Castro. Nor have they ever done so. There is a very well known phrase among Cubans that explains it better: “Play with the chain but never with the monkey.” Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, who never openly takes on the State, only in his literature is there an in-depth description of the social problems, they don’t publish his best known and controversial novels like The Dirty Trilogy of Havana or The King of Havana.

What is your situation on the island now, how do you feel?

My situation is ambiguous, I’ve spent two years of citation after citation to come to the police station. They detain me every time they don’t like a post. Last year I was arrested for hitting a child with my car in the public street, coincidentally it was July 25, the day before Raul Castro’s speech for July 26, his most important historic day and his greatest failure, it is the only thing Fidel Castro has ever done: pulled victory from the jaws of defeat; because he never knew how to lose, never knew how to listen when he was wrong. But fine, this isn’t the issue. The truth is I was detained at the police station until the following day when the official discourse was done, then two State Security agents showed up at the police station and released me with no explanation. They just told me to leave.

Do you think, for example, that a figure like Pablo Milanes or Padura would be capable of collecting signatures on your behalf?

I wouldn’t put them in that predicament, nor those who would like to sign but couldn’t do it for fear of reprisals. I’m satisfied with the signatures of those who are already free. In any event, I leave it to their conscience. In the case of Padure, we were going to the “Festival of the Word” in Puerto Rico, in those days, after seven months dealing with their allegations, an official who worked directly for the Ministry of the Interior showed up at the police station to impose a fine on me. So with that they prevented my going to the festival. The organizers of the festival had the idea to make a statement to demand justice and let their support for me personally, as an intellectual, be known, and Padura made them change their minds. He told them it would be better to wait. Maybe he has another version of the story, although I explained it to him on the phone beforehand.

With regards to Pablo Milanes, I remember when he sang at the “Anti-imperialist Bandstand,” some artists and bloggers demanded justice for Gorki Aguila, for which they were beaten and arrested, and, as far as I know, he never said anything about it, despite the impact it had on the independent media and international press. So I don’t know what to say about their positions. What I can assure you is that for them or other artists who have their rights trampled, or who are physically attacked, my signature will be among the first to support them.

How do you see the game playing out on the island: agreement among friends or a social explosion?

I believe an “Agreement among friends,” although in my personal opinion I would prefer a social explosion.I know that would come at a high sacrifice, almost certainly, it could even cost human lives. And that is what Cubans are afraid of, which makes sense. But in any event, for a long time the silence has cost lives, maybe more, if we compare them. You have to count from the first opponents, like Pedro Luis Boitel, those who were killed in the UMAP concentration camps, I assure you it’s a long list.

Today people are dying of disease and we don’t even find out, and I can tell you that because I live next to a maternity hospital. Perhaps I would be one of the so-called “collateral damages,” or direct. Clearly, if they let me write the script I would certainly write it and it would be ideal, but in life this rarely happens, much less coincides in the events of taking down the powers-that-be.

That the Castros will retire from political life while they live is very unlikely, even if they themselves wanted to, because how could they control what would come after and that we would judge them for their bloody crimes, and for all the money they’ve taken out of the country and wasted.

Receive my embrace and thanks for your concern and solidarity against the injustice that the Cuban government is used to exercising against those who dare to confront them. In every way I am resolved to continue to resist and take their attacks and what I can guarantee is that I am not going to back off. Who speaks for me and guides my actions is my conscience and my feelings.

October 17 2011

The Fate of the Cuban Taliban

Reading Carlos Alberto Montaner’s book, Conversation at the funeral of the Comandante. What will happen after the death of Fidel Castro?, from the first pages I could recognize a reality that was predicted by the author several years before it happened.

Who could have predicted that Carlos Lage — the “majordomo” of the Palace who, from his youth, devoted his best efforts to comply meekly with every injustice and Machiavellian policy that occurred to Fidel Castro — would be ousted in such a humiliating and burlesque way? Only an expert on the psychology and ideology of a dictator, like Montaner, could almost prophesy so great a madness without having to wait for the burial of “leader.”

Just months after Raul Castro came to power, the prophecy of the author was fulfilled, and Lage was unceremoniously dismissed from the government elite. And weeks later, in the heat of the day, over 90 degrees, I saw this character — someone might say “thrown to the lions” — walking, almost choking, through Red Square in Vibora (notice the irony of the name of the place). He was just one of the crowd. His elegant and expensive brand-name shirt completely sweaty… I still can’t decide whether it was pity or satisfaction I felt at that evaporated “grain of salt.”

I’ve always wondered how Fidel Castro forgot some of the young people he himself conceived, and whom later he couldn’t stand. Some were children when they came into to his hands and, like a potter, he shaped them in his image and likeness. They turned out hideous, lacking decorum, lacking humanity, and, right before his eyes, they looked so much like him that they became dangerous to him. The twin brothers Tony and Patricio La Guardia, in 1959 they were young boys not even twenty. He made them what they were, efficient Generals of his elite corps. And then he shot one of them and sent the other to prison for years. What could the biological parents of Tony and Patricio think of Fidel Castro, in whom they confided their sons, healthy in mind and heart? How much pain have these parents survived to see the death of one and to face the humiliating imprisonment of the other?

That reminds me of the anecdote told by Comandante Benigno, of the young boy of 14 that a peasant couple entrusted to Fidel on a night when he visited their hut, there in the deepest forest of the Sierra Maestra. “We give him to you,” said this elderly couple, “because he is our only treasure, we conceived him in our old age and do not want Batista’s army to force him into service, it would kill us.” But perhaps better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Fidel entrusted the young man to Camilo Cienfuegos who had been with him that night with the elderly couple, and of course with the young man. Shortly afterward, the teenager stole a can of condensed milk one morning ]. When he discovered it, Camilo sent a message to Fidel asking advice on what punishment to impose. And Fidel replied emphatically: “Shoot him.” Camilo, surprised, sent another message back saying that it was the youngster offered up by the elderly couple who stole a can of condensed milk. And Fidel, with the icy impulse that characterizes him, again answered, “I already told you to shoot him.”

The questions are my great torture because I always want to understand others,  though I do not share their feelings or their actions. But was it not an act of cowardice for Camilo Cienfuegos to execute the order when he did not share the view, especially since we’re talking about the life of a teenager? And in contrast, Benigno says, Comandante Camilo hid in the toilet so as to not witness the shooting. Perhaps the place he found at that time was the most suitable to his feelings.

But back to the book of prophecies of Carlos Alberto Montaner. To be cautious, he predicted that once Fidel Castro was gone, the “Group Supporting the Comandante,” would have to make an alliance to survive, as their political weight would vanish because they were barely anchored in the institutions.

And what happened with the young “Taliban”?

Raul Castro, without delay in his brother’s absence, took steps against this political “alliance,” caught them one by one and unceremoniously deposed and expelled them like stones in his shoe: Felipe Pérez Roque, Otto Rivera, Hassan Pérez, Juan Contino Aslan and Carlos Manuel Valenciaga. And as he couldn’t ignore Abel Prieto, the Minister of Culture, he suppressed his political power but kept him on as a “lion tamer” to face up to the conflict-ridden and volatile intellectual sector, perhaps until he finds the right person to replace him. And if we look back, we understand that it has been a process of continual political defecation: José Luis Rodriguez, sentenced to several years in prison, Roberto Robaina, who came from the Federation of University Students (FEU) from before the Revolution and the Young Communist Union (UJC) after, and who was the former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Humberto Rodriguez, President of the Cuban Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER). General Abrantes, whose death in prison remains a mystery to be elucidated. And we mustn’t forget General Ochoa, “Hero of Cuba,” whom he also made bite the bullet in front of the firing squad in 1989.

In the end, their entourages have been no more than puppets who expose the image and sacrifice their bodies, their hands implementing the designs of the brain that drives them, the hand that really frames the policy and reaps the benefits.

It is so true that those names, for years, occupied the spaces of the official media, and now no one remembers them. This is the payment for being part of the Government, without making their opinions known, much less managing to prevail against any mistaken speculation of the Comandante, or other member of the sacred sphere of the Government, and whom the people would identify as defenders of their way of life. Just following orders, never achieving their political dreams, save to suck from the teat of power and accept one hundred percent the Maximum Leader’s every suggestion. History will gather up, at some point, this pack of Taliban as part of the diabolical mechanism of the prevailing system on the Island.

What is left of those old Comandantes?

As my neighbor would say, “Just their helmets and their bad ideas.” Or, as Carlos Alberto Montaner writes in his book, “Elderly and inform, tied to the ancient legend of the Sierra Maestra.” Some of them, those who are still breathing in this accepted death, resigned to consume the benefits of the Revolution, attend the official events to present a false image of unity. Instead, they continue to live like millionaires in a country plunged into the greatest poverty of its history. Before the eyes of the people they live in their sumptuous homes which, by the way, they didn’t even have the decency to build themselves, they sail on their recreational yachts, buy in the international market with the people’s money, or with money confiscated from the drug traffickers who entered Cuban waters. Many of these characters squander the resources of the nation to please ex-wives or former intimate partners.

The hands of Fidel Castro, of the potter he claimed to be, contaminated the clay with blood, and those young people he imagined shaping, in some way he deformed. Under his distorted and putrid aegis he never managed to become a teacher and role model for anyone. All he can expect in future years is to be used as a symbol of death and misery.

His egotism and his caudillo’s cunning made him forget the true history, not that which he has tried to distort and manipulate at will, but the voice of the people by whom he will ultimately be judged and who will write the pages of the books of the future, though, for now, the fear before the terror he imposes prevents these people from screaming TYRANT.

November 3 2011