Author Archives: Auto Post

Are Anguish, Bitterness and Loneliness Only Names of Havana Streets; / Angel Santiesteban

A voyage to the end of all things.

By Antonio Correa Iglesias, June 6, 2014

Angustia (Anguish), Amargura (Bitterness) and Soledad (Loneliness) are not only names of Havana streets. They also are discovered feelings that seize and condition that which we call Cuba, the infinite island, which Abilion Estevez and Virgilio Pinera call the fate of being cursed, a portion of earth that floats in the sea, a sea that is the beginning and end of everything, where weightlessness and drifting are forms of keeping afloat.

But the island is also longing and folly, desire and debauchery, hatred for those who have made Cuba a prison of 111,111 square kilometers, as Reinaldo Arenas reminds us in his Leprosorio. The island and its agony accompany us each morning when we prepare coffee, a coffee which reminds us where we came from, and by those smoky silhouettes of a woman we remembered the amazing knitting grandmother who  helped the homesick and the spoiled greet the dawn. How Cuba hurts, and hurts much more when we find in a literary exercise a daily reality like that which Angel Santiesteban Prats describes for us in a clear and visceral voice.

The Summer When God Slept (Neo Club Editions), by Santiesteban Prats, isn’t just one more novel that adds to the already extensive and archetypical denomination of “Cuban literature,” from which many — including the author himself — have been excluded.

The Summer When God Slept coexists in a very special place, once it encounters an unexploitable reality not only from the sociological and political order, but also the esthetic and experiential. A reality that by its “everydayness” passes to being assisted history — many times loaded with “comicality” — but that the author handles with the rigor that he always brings rigged to the traumatic act.

That’s to say that Angel Santiesteban’s novel isn’t only a stark x-ray picture of the Cuban context: It’s above all a blog where hidden desires and frustrations, longings and deceptions exist, trying to expunge the feeling of guilt that gravitates — consciously or unconsciously — over our heads.

The voyage is the driving thread of the narration, a voyage like going and returning, like a Nietzchean return, with an eternal return of the same, an endless spiral like those hallucinations that wake us up in the somersault of dawn and tighten our chests.

The voyage that Angel Santiesteban proposes results in a crossing marked by the curse of incertitude, a voyage like a traumatic passage associated with death, a voyage without the guarantee of a destination. A voyage in which death waits patiently and heteromorphically, cross-dressed in hallucinations, decomposition and the deterioration of the human being.

The decision to escape — the foundation of the voyage — the conviction to leave, a transcendental and definitive action of life, is the plot-line of the novel. However, this voyage drags with itself calamities and dangers narrated as extraordinary experiences, once the characters in the novel embody others who have met death on the trip. The desperation of the traveler brings them to grasp themselves “with their fingers, their fingernails …until they bite the wood, the wind or even my own skin….” Yes, it’s precise.

The author manages to construct the drama of the text, and the exercise is of such magnitude that the reader feels himself teletransported; you are no longer only the one who reads; you appear with them, you are one of them, and like an argonaut (that’s to say, like a hero), you search for the Golden Fleece — in our case, Liberty.

Because the sensation of fleeing has to be earned, the voyage is a process of tearing into shreds your awareness of what you leave and where you are going, although you know nothing of your final destination. The sensation is of abandoning weight like a ballast, like a stone infinitely weighing on your shoulders, since what you leave is who you are. So the sensation of abandon in the characters of the novel confuses itself with the coldness of the night, which always reminds you of death.

Because the flight comes associated with the anguish of saying goodbye, a goodbye that is in the voice that resonates in the depths of your being, the doom of a delirious echo that torments. Because the goodbye is accompanied by a sensation of eternity that weighs down and clouds the consciousness of whoever – mumbling his lyrics — knows that he has no guarantee of return.

So the dream of fleeing the island — a laboratory island of politics, a laboratory where the consequences of the experiment and the human cost aren’t registered (the cost in terms of a future isn’t considered in the statistics) — begins to be a reminiscence until it’s converted, as the author says, into a virus, a virus that has inoculated a whole society and that corrodes, in a slow but at the same time delicate and emphatic form, every portion of you, dawning one day, confused by the continuous evaporation of desires and illusions — now that all the illusions have died, like the song about the Matamoros* — and some other unknown end.

Antonio Correa and Carlos Alberto Montaner during the presentation of the book (photo by Ulises Regueiro).

In The Summer When God Slept, nostalgia for the past is a recurring theme, fictional, never political; however, the longing for the past not only invalidates the present for us but also makes the future impossible. For the characters in the novel, to be anchored in the past safeguards the possibility of existence, a life that no longer belongs to them because it lacks a fate, once it’s marked by the calamities and sufferings of a people.

Neo Club Press

*”Matamoras Banks” is a song by Bruce Springsteen about an illegal immigrant who drowns while crossing the Rio Grande River.

Translated by Regina Anavy

20 June 2014

Historical Remnants: Julio Sanguily, the Great Traitor / Angel Santiesteban

Men and women make history, later, it is collected by historians, based on documents that serve as evidence of those events.

For which Cuban is it not a point of pride, the rescue carried out by General Ignacio Agramonte he snatched the imprisoned official Julio Sanguily from the Spanish troops, which came to be one of the epic battles — – comparable to those of Ulysses and recorded in The Odyssey — for the waste of courage, noble sentiments, and generosity that could only cause that possible suicide, given the superiority in numbers of the enemy troops?

Nonetheless, it has been approximately 10 years since payments by the Spanish government to their spy, Julio Sanguily have been discovered. It is certain that he was also a spy for the American government and received his price in gold. It is a fact that in various occasions, Julio Sanguily received money and used it for his own personal purposes.

The most hurtful — to my understanding, because I am no historian, only one constant consumer of the investigations of those who are authorized in this subject — was that the money sent by José Martí for the start of the war in 1895, strategized and arranged by the Apostle (as Cubans call Martí), and which Sanguily received, was poorly wasted without helping the revolt. His brother Manuel maintained himself in an upright and consistent position with the fight for the good Cubans.

Despite the great wounds received in combat for Julio, the money was his weakness, or, seeing his body so sacrificed, he decided to exchange sacrifice for pleasure, something that was repeatedly done by a certain type of Cuban throughout history. This reality has also been dealt with with secrecy, although it has already been recorded by some historian, precisely the one who found the documents of the payments in the archives of the peninsula.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Prison settlement of Lawton. June, 2014.

Please follow the link so Amnesty International may declare Angel Santiesteban, a Cuban political prisoner

Translated by: Bianca Martinez

11 July 2014

The Tribal Unity of the Dissenters / Angel Santiesteban

I want to mention the appearance of laziness inside the Cuban opposition, because — in my opinion — this is what most corrodes our political force and does the lamentable work of the common enemy.

And I’m not even referring to those who must be sprinkled among us doing the terrible and cowardly work of the satraps, but also to that partitioning of ideas and movements, where each one thinks he’s better and more important, and that his work will be most recognized.

I have listened to those who talk about themselves and their work, and — even recognizing their merits — later I have seen how they end up lowering themselves, diminishing themselves as human beings. They leave much to be desired from those feelings that — I take for granted — all fighters for human rights should have.

Comprehension and respect are important to co-exist with others and above all, you know what, not thinking you’re better than anyone else… Just as there are a lot of people who don’t like me… it makes sense to assume that I can’t like a ton of imbeciles… no?

Sometimes, the daring of confronting a regime isn’t sufficient when we ignore common sense and let them impose that mechanism educated in misery that they have imposed on us since birth.

We will always fail when we show that we are isolated tribes, those on the Island as well as those in exile, and on that subject, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) has taken a laudable step, uniting people in the whole national territory; today, together with the Ladies in White, it’s one of the most constant and effective coalitions against the dictatorship.

To attack each other, to envy and criticize any initiative, work, and recognition of others, and to not support and make known the sacrifice of others, turns us away from that dialogue with the regime that — in some moment — we will have to have by sitting down at the table of political negotiations for a better and democratic Cuba.

When we understand and assume that all of us are no more than grains of sand dissolved on that beautiful beach of our dreams, then we will understand that only if we remain joined and united will we be capable of constructing the wall that can support the calamities that totalitarianism still strikes us with and makes us suffer.

A political conscience, a soul like José Martí, and a respective dose of humility will be the only formula that makes us visible and respectable before the Regime of the Castro dynasty. Otherwise, let’s prepare to continue with the tyranny for half a century more.

We pray to God that He grants us the wisdom to form a national conscience that summons us to political unity, while we maintain and respect individual paths and objectives to accomplish the CHANGE that we all yearn for.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. May 2014.

Please follow the link and sign the petition to have Amnesty International declare the Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

30 June 2014

I Would Not Accept Trading My Freedom For That of the Spies / Angel Santiesteban

I hope that President Obama does not have the card up his sleeve to exchange Alan Gross for the three spies who are fulfilling their sentences in the United States. The dictatorship is aiming for that to happen. We all know – by the actions of more than a half-century of totalitarianism – that the régime survives on media circuses, the most remembered of them being the one that concerned the child Elian.

The latest theme that they have chosen was that of the “ZunZuneo”, which sought to raise dust in front of the calamities and the strict censorship in a country that is sinking but — incredibly — without even touching bottom, precisely, thanks to those life with those who manipulate the media of the Fourth Estate.

Fidel Castro, Champion of Disinformation

The Castro brothers, wise in foreign policy in terms of deception, blackmail and economic vampirism, understood – ever since the trial against began in Miami of the agents of Cuban Security – that they would have a cause, a slogan and entertainment for a while. Fidel Castro, invariably, has been the champion of disinformation, always making a defeat seem like a victory; that is what he has been doing since he failed in the attack on the Moncada Barracks.

Since his last lights and years in Government, he planned this blackmail of the United States. He tried also with the imprisonment of 75 dissidents, which later was called the “Black Spring” and paid a high price for it with the attitude taken by the European Community and its “Common Position”.

Alan Gross, hunted rabbit

Cuban State Security waited a long time for an opportunity to seize an American spy who had no diplomatic rank, and seeing that it was not going to happen, manufactured one, as suits its political ability.

The Obama government has not recognized the contractor Alan Gross as a spy for his country, although, on humanitarian grounds such as his age and state of health, it has asked Havana to release him.

Of course, Cuba has played all the cards, because if their prey were to die for whatever reasons, it would create a conflict of major proportions. But the Castros needed a victory to result, especially if it concerns their historic enemy, and so, winding the watch of their power and extending it for a while longer.

To top it off, as if it had to do with cattle, and seeing that a single hostage is not enough incentive, the political police has seen fit to apprehend four residents of Miami on serious allegations of terrorism, as a desperate gesture to undermine influences and press for the exchange.

Media campaigns that are bleeding us dry

One day it will be known the economic amount the media campaigns of Fidel Castro cost, but only the campaigns of the child Elian and the Five Spies have deeply bled the Cuban economy.

To maintain committees in dozens of countries, and elderly people paid at the service of the political police of the Island, they constitute an army that not even a prosperous state would be able to afford.

The paid publications in newspapers of great importance, the billboards along the highways — even in Miami itself — the payment for lawyers and constant travel of relatives around the globe, are only some of the costs of the infinite list that the Cuban citizen pays.

An exchange would be a setback for the United States

If President Obama, in the two years remaining to him, exchanges the spies for a maligned civilian, it would harm the Cuban vote, so important in Florida, and would lose that place for the candidate of his party.

In addition, Hillary Clinton just acknowledged — in her book of memoirs — that “she advised Obama to ease the embargo”, by which it can be inferred that she is willing to exchange them, which would be a major setback for the United States in terms of its position in defense of human rights in the Island, even more so, because these spies are related to bloody deeds — such as the shooting down of the small plane of the “Brothers to the Rescue” (Hermanos al Rescate) — and it would be a Pyrrhic victory with regard to policy, for their inhuman actions.

They should be incarcerated and with long sentences – the three who are left — should it be exclusively pride of Fidel Castro, who did not hesitate to expose his men in “enemy” territory. It was he who slaughtered and betrayed them.

An exchange would stain Gross

If the U.S. Government has maintained until today that Gross is not an agent, exchanging him would be a deadly act, first, because it would be recognizing him as such, after several years of ordeal as a hostage; second, it would be to accept that they have sacrificed it for nothing, because they could have exchanged him from the beginning; by the way, it would strengthen the Cuban dictatorship, and would weaken the effort for human rights that the American administrations have pursued for decades.

And lastly, by carrying out an exchange, it would pass into history as an act of cowardice by, a high cost that perhaps he is not willing to pay. To exchange a civilian for spies sentenced because of acts of blood, is to muddy Alan Gross, As the US President, maybe he is willing to pay that price, not exactly as a fighter for liberty, which does not at all have to do with the exchange of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo, as a result of the war against Taliban extremists.

In my case in particular, as a civilian, artist and civil rights activist, I would prefer to die in Cuban jails before being so stained by history, by the simple and reasonable fact that I am innocent, as corroborated by my evidence, as should be Alan Gross, as has government has said so far.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement. June 2014.

7 July 2014

Being In Prison is Worth It / Angel Santiesteban

Cartoon by Garrincha: 

“Excuse me, but we have a writer who they say beat his wife. Of course there is talk about him.”

“Dude, do I look like a marriage counselor or something?”

“It’s just that this writer is a dissident, you know?”

“Where is that abuser?!”

Seated in the door of my cabaña, many people ask me if it’s worth being a prisoner, and without doubt I say yes.

Here inside I see the internal and profound face of a society submerged in the horror of survival. Furthermore, it permits me to do a unique sociological study; it’s an exceptional experience. Seen in this way the suffering of confinement doesn’t hurt. To this I add the use of time spent in reading and writing.

I am sure that with my imprisonment the government, and particularly the Castro brothers, are the ones who have been harmed the most, because they left in evidence the credibility of the “reforms” that they wish to sell. They showed how they try to deceive the world in order to obtain financing for the ruined Cuban economy.

My truth and my rights are my armor, and with that I feel invincible before the dictatorship; I also add my illusion that one day I’ll know who planned to silence and humble me, which, no doubt was thought up by Raul Castro and his son, Alejandro, after my first “Open letter to Raul Castro,” which I wrote in November 2012. Also I’ll know who covered up the order, and those who have been willing accomplices in the cultural milieu, and even those who – inside the same opposition – made a pact of silence in exchange for some privilege.

What will be infallible is that sooner or later, all the truth that today we can’t even imagine will be known. Then it will be like opening a book and seeing peoples’ souls. That is my awesome tranquility, and like the Arab, I sit in the door of my cabaña hoping to see the cadaver of my enemies pass by. If before this I have to pay with my life, I shall equally hope for it, because they will purge my death.

What’s certain is that – in one way or another – they won’t escape paying for their injustice to me and to the hundreds of activists who they have beaten, imprisoned and assassinated. The Castros know that this moment is inevitable, and for that reason they are working now. They are pretending to make a transition that apparently satisfies “everybody” when Raul Castro leaves power, but they are leaving secure the threads that move the country, in politics and economics, to avoid being judged for crimes against humanity.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. May 2014.

Follow the link to ask Amnesty International to declare Angel a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

9 June 2014

Carolos Alberto Montaner: Someday God Will Awaken / Angel Santiesteban

I thank Neo Club Editions, Armando Anel and Idabell, his wife; Barcardi House of the University of Miami and the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, and the Alexandria Library for the opportunity to present this excellent novel by Angel Santiesteban Prats, The Summer that God Slept, winner of the Franz Kafka literary prize, Novels Genre 2013.

I want to especially mention the writer Amir Valle who, at the time, called to my attention Santiesteban’s human and professional quality revealing to me an exceptional writer.  Amir’s devotion to Santiesteban and his generous solidarity is good proof that communism has not been able to destroy the ties of friendship, although it has tried to control the emotional life of Cubans.

Repression as general punishment and intimidation

Santiesteban is a magnificent Cuban narrator, born in 1966.  He was incarcerated by the dictatorship and condemned to five years in prison, supposedly for a crime of domestic violence that was never proved. In reality, what they punished were his criticisms of the system and his confrontation with the regime. The accusation was only the formal alibi to hide political repression.

Naturally, the Cuban regime hides its repressive hand behind the supposed independence of a judicial power that in Cuba is only another feared expression of the apparatus of terror.

If the Castro regime, really, felt that it should pursue those guilty of great atrocities, and if it did not use the tribunals selectively in order to harass its adversaries, it would have severely punished commander Universo Sanchez when he shot to death an inconvenient neighbor. Or it would have initiated a responsible investigation into the assassination of dozens of innocents on the tug boat March 13th. Or it would have delved seriously into the accusation made by Angel Carromero about the probable execution of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in July 2012, to mention only three cases among the hundreds of unpunished crimes and abuses that Cubans have had to endure.

I have seen, lived and suffered enough to know that the dictatorship invariably lies about the nature of its adversaries. It accuses them of being terrorists, CIA agents, alcoholics, traitors, or, as in this case, even of domestic violence, in order not to have to assume an unpleasant truth: they use defamation, acts of repudiation, beatings, jail and, sometimes, the firing squad, to reign in critical people who have the audacity of saying what they think.

At the same time, those maltreated by word or deed sow terror with the objective of making an example that will not be spread. It is preventive punishment. They strike so that others will lower their heads.

Repression in Cuba, well, it has two clear purposes that Lenin was already recommending at the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution: punish those guilty of deviating from the official line and intimidate the rest of the population. They are, of course, the same mafia methods converted into government measures.

That process of destruction of the reputation of the dissident or of the simply disaffected, especially if dealing with a famed intellectual, is always the prelude to jail or physical aggression. It begins with the insult and evolves into a savage kicking, ostensible and public, aimed at “giving him a lesson” so that he does not dare to contradict the sacred gospels of the tribe of thugs who occupy power.

Angel Santiestebal has gone through all this. They have beaten him, defamed him, they have tried futilely to silence him, but what they have managed is to convert his case into what is called “a cause celebre” that has awakened the attention of half the world.

Something similar to what, in the past, happened to Heberto Padilla, Jose Mario, Armando Valladares, Jorge Valls, Angel Cuadra, Reinaldo Arenas, Rene Ariza, Hector Santiago, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Juan Manuel Cao, or Raul Rivero, and to so many other writers and artists who suffered various forms of the same ordeal.

The novel and the escape

The Summer That God Slept tells of the flight of a group of Cubans on board a raft. The narrator relates, almost always in the first person, the ups and downs of the trip, and describes the characters who accompany him from the time they embark on the Cuban coast, full of dreams, until they return to the island, on board a ship of the US Navy which takes them to the Guantanamo camps where an uncertain destiny awaits them.

In this case, the eventful journey is less important that the author’s disquisitions on Cuban history and the failed communist government.  It is interesting to note a frequent presence in the novelist’s reflections: Jose Marti. Santiesteban, like so many Cubans, rightly, venerates Marti and uses his life and work as ideal and measure by which to judge what is happening on the Island.

The story is strong and dramatic for two reasons. The first, because thousands of Cubans have died of drowning or being devoured by sharks and barracudas in the seas near Cuba trying to escape from the communist system. That is to say, Santiesteban, in his fiction, which has so much of reality, gives a powerful voice to those thousand of victims. His novel, although the author has not proposed it, has a very important historical component.

How many Cubans have died in the attempt?  They are dozens of thousands.  It is not known exactly, but they are many.  Some speak of 75,000, others double that. Without doubt, many more than those who have died in combat in all the wars fought on the Island since Colombus set foot at the end of the 15th century.  And if they are not more, it is because Jose Basulto conceived and put in the air Brothers to the Rescue in order to help the rafters, until the dictatorship destroyed two of the unarmed airplanes that flew above international waters, killing four people who were just trying to help their fellow countrymen in danger of death.

The second reason that this novel is of notable importance is the theme of the relentless exodus of Cubans.  Why or rather from what do they flee, if since the 18th, 19th and very particularly the 20th centuries, until the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the Island had been a net receiver of hundreds of thousand of immigrants, to the point of being the American nation that received the most foreigners in relation to its population?  (More, proportionally, than Argentina and the United States).

They flee the lack of freedom, translated into lack of opportunity.  Successive generations of Cuban residents always perceived the promising experience of living better than their parents and grandparents, something that they routinely achieved.

Until the Comandantes arrived, mandated that the dreams of prosperity stop and imposed on Cubans a system of government that impedes the creation of wealth, is incapable of maintaining infrastructure, and destroys accumulated fiscal capital, as is observed in those cities devastated by the unmitigated stupidity of Castro-ism.

When you are born in Cuba, you know that, as much as you may study or try, you will not be able to improve your quality of life because the system prevents it. That is why Cuba is the only country in the world from which engineers, doctors, writers and all those who yearn to do something constructive with their lives and undertake a lucrative activity to achieve their own well being and that of their families escape on rafts, risking death.

They flee also the lying and tiresome discourse that tries to justify more than half a century of social failures with heroic references to violent activities that lost all connection with the young generation.

What the hell does the remote battle of Uvero — a shootout elevated to the category of epic combat — or Che’s disastrous adventure in Bolivia mean for some young kids who want to have fun and normal lives that permit them to spread their wings and pursue their individual dreams?

And when they achieve it, when finally, they have managed to emigrate, they experience another facet of the horror:  The State, that rancorous communist dictatorship bent on harming those who have fled and harassing and mortifying those who have stayed, denies them access to the academic titles that they legitimately acquired, sells them documents at exorbitant prices, describes them as scum or worms, treats them as enemies, and intends that the host country keep them in a legal limbo so that they cannot make their way.

While the rest of the nations of Latin America ask the United States to protect their undocumented citizens with such legal measures as the Law of Adjustment that protects Cubans when they touch US soil, the miserable State forged by the Castros tries to repeal such legislation.  Not satisfied with the damage inflicted on Cubans when they live on the Island, it tries to prolong their suffering in exile, creating for them difficulties so that they cannot adequately develop.

Nothing of what is said here is different from what is quietly muttered by Cuban intellectuals who have not been able to or desired to seek exile, including many of those miserable ones who sign letters in UNEAC to support the tyranny or to applaud executions, pressured by the political police.

That’s why a voice like that of Angel Santiesteban Prats is so uncomfortable.  Each time that a writer on the Island — and I think of Padilla, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Antonio Jose Ponte, Raul Rivero, Yoani Sanchez, Ivan Garcia, and so many others — dares to describe reality without fear or swallowing the fear, their cowardly colleagues are victims of the disagreeable phenomenon of moral dissonance.  They think one thing but say another, while they applaud what, really, deep in their hearts, repels them.  The regime has managed to domesticate them, they know it, and they live with that annoying imprint that shackles always leave.

In the end, it must be very sad to live always masked officiating in the temple of the double standard.  Angel Santiesteban Prats freed himself from that ignominy and wrote, in order to test it, a splendid book.  Someday God will awaken, and he will come out of his cell.  Thousands of readers await him thankful to give him the embrace that he deserves.

Published in NeoClubPress.

Translated by mlk.

4 June 2014

Answer To Those Who Don’t Accept the Embargo / Angel Santiesteban

A public letter addressed to President Obama with the intention of lifting the embargo or, at least, lessening it, has been signed by figures who demonstrate that Human Rights on the Island do not matter to them at all.

For some, shame means a check with several zeros. I cannot hide that it fills me with consternation that there exist people in this world who defend the dictatorship although I suspect that those who do it do not think of anything more than economic gain, perks or future payments for political “lobbying” services. One way or another, it means the same thing for ethics and humanity. Their shameless acts rival each other for the championship of the most cynical.

No one with honor can raise his voice to strengthen the tyranny of the Castro brothers, which — for more than a half a century — has sunk our country into misery. They cannot hide behind the apparent good intention of “helping the Cuban people” when we know that absolutely nothing will improve in our reality; to the contrary, as the totalitarian regime is strengthened, the same will occur with the iron yoke that they exert over the people, repression and assassinations of dissident leaders will increase. That is the only thing that they will achieve if they raise or lessen the embargo on the Castro family.

To those to whom it does not matter then, sign and protect the Cuban dictatorship.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement.  May 2014

Follow the link to sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by: Michaela Klicnikova and mlk.

29 May 2014

A Light on My Path / Angel Santiesteban

I Raise My Glass to Freedom Day

I must confess that when they seized Raul Rivero in the Black Spring, and he was part of “The Group of 75″ that was seeking political change in Cuba, at that time I had no political conscience, or maybe I did not want to have one.  My thinking protected me and I needed to believe my literary teachers who insisted that the work was primary and that from writing we should fight for change, that books were our rifles and words our bullets.

I do not doubt that is true, but there was a moment in which it was not enough for me, and so I have recognized on many occasions, and when I ripped off the mask that covered my face — stuck there since my birth, weathered and clinging to my skin throughout the time of my education — then I felt for the first time the cool, clean air caressing my skin.

My shame obliged me to start the blog. I felt that I had a double debt:  to all the national readership — where I perceived the need for the fight — and to my contemporaries, in particular and especially to the great Cuban poet Raul Rivero, who abandoned the life of a passive writer with which he collected great achievements in order to become one of the fiercest critics of totalitarianism. There was an instant where it all began, and his face, poetry and attitude towards life were made present, and I wanted to continue in his footsteps.  The bar is very high, like his poetry.

Maybe you will not believe it, but at this moment, while I write this post, I was interrupted by Officer Abat — one of the many bosses of this prison — and he tried to assert his authority over me, he wanted me to notice that he was prohibiting my family from coming to see me.

When I ignored him, he asserted that he was going to win — I suppose he was referring to a dose of suffering for me — then I assured him that he would never beat me because for me a cell was a badge of honor, but that I recognized that he could do it as a henchman, abuser, weak in manhood, and several other things that — in the heat of the moment — occurred to me.

He screamed at me to shut up, and I told him that they would never achieve it, certainly not on a day like today.  Finally, he left threatening, surely looking for help in the headquarters to make me pay for my rebelliousness.

Today is Free Press Day, and this is the best way I have to honor it.  And it is also the best day to express my gratitude to the great Raul Rivero, who lights the free path with his lantern of poetry, who in his turn inherited from the master of all, Jose Marti.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement.  May 2014.

To sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience follow this link.

Translated by mlk.

15 May 2014

Cuban Talent Bound for the Cannes International Film Festival / Angel Santiesteban

Movie Magic

Finally, by means of my son’s cell phone, in his visit to me in past days where they keep me locked up, I could appreciate the short film, “Death of the cat,” from the Cuban director Lilo Vilaplana, living for more than a decade in Colombia, the place where he took — in addition to his talent, profession, some friends and his family — the resentment he suffered in his own body, consistent with totalitarian processes, and that now, as a mature creator, he feels the duty to expose, first as literature, and now in film.

The traumas Lilo lived, which he carried in his soul like a pregnant mother who travels, started to emerge in that second homeland — Colombia — which opened its arms to him before his blast of talent and work in movie production.

After a decade of successes, now he can give himself the luxury of producing these shorts; this one in particular. He based the screenplay on one of the tales from the compendium, “A Cuban account,” that would see light, also, after he emigrated.

Many viewers would be confused about its geography and would think that he shot the whole film in Havana, since at the beginning you see the character Armando walking through its streets, in the brilliant interpretation of Albertico Pujol, who was filmed by another colleague, at Lilo’s request, because of his impossibility of entering Cuba.

Later the brilliant editing would splice harmonically with the rest of what was filmed in Colombia, thanks to the plausible scenery of the excellent professionals who thought about the most minute detail, and who helped give the coloring of Cuban reality at the end of the decade of the ’80s of the past century — on the eve of announcing officially the so-called “Special Period,” which would uncover the worst hardships ever experienced by the Cuban people, and which, with one sudden pull, changed the perspective of a nation deceived and repressed for decades.

In the interest of putting the story in context, it’s worth remembering that Lilo chose the day after the execution of the Hero of the Republic of Cuba, Brigade General Arnaldo Ochoa, a circus spectacle of the Castro brothers to distract the people, make them forget their hardships and so they wouldn’t take to the streets in protest. It was also a lesson for the military high command – a message, no less important – to remove the danger of those who had feathered their nests, and who imitated the habits of the Castro brothers, their mentors, for whom “life was to enjoy as it would produce.”

Ultimately, once the officials were punished for “deviating from the ethical principles that the Revolution pursues,” as the official press said, that had to stop once with the denunciations of the U.S. government, which accused Fidel Castro of being part of the international narco-trafficking that introduced drugs in his country.

Those men who could testify about the Regime’s consent to participation — and with the most distinguished “capos” like Pablo Escobar himself — sealed an ignominious chapter, and, as if it were no small matter, exterminated those who could create a seditious plan against its government, and compete with his brother, Raul Castro, for military power.

In the middle of this national paralysis, the artist that grows inside Lilo takes care of little things, apparently unimportant to most people, in order to reflect on art, as on hunger, the need for a political transition, the loss of values in society, family separation and painful scars, exposed in this case, in the character of Armando, who doesn’t have news about the son who launched himself into the sea on a raft. Much time has gone by not knowing his whereabouts, and Armando supposes that he didn’t manage to reach the coast of Miami and lost his life.

The story crosses the thin line between social denunciation and artistic setting, between melodrama and sensitivity, achieving, happily, a graceful outcome that avoids the trap of trying to tell about suffering through each actress, actor and production team, excepting the young actor, Camilo Vilaplana, who, thanks to his parents, managed to grow up far from that social catastrophe. Finally he manages to banish, although he always suggests, the conviction of those guilty of the desperate reality; that indictment is left in the hands of the public, in particular the Cuban public.

Without making it obvious, either, he arouses that fine humor inevitable in Cubans although the worst happens. The cat is the trophy for their real salvation and their goal: to incorporate meat into their source of food proves vital, and, in this case, the black pussycat is converted into a symbol of evil, because, in addition, it’s a retaliation against the oppression he feels from his owner, the neighborhood informer.

The masterful performances of Jorge Parugorria as Raul, Alberto Pujol as Armando, Barbaro Marin and Coralita Veloz, as Camilo and Delfina, respectively, raise the setting, in a joint brilliance, to a dignified height, artistically speaking, which leaves a taste of sadness and at the same time of pleasure.

We appreciate the effort of the Vilaplana family and the artist friends who joined the project, because in the death of the Armando character, we kill part of the shadow that still follows us from those hardships, and we feel the suffering and tears of Raul and Camilo, in a full exercise of personal exorcism.

During these days, the short film has been invited to participate in the Cannes Festival, in spite of the pain of seeing our lives reflected on the screen, and knowing that the dictatorship that is guilty is still in power after more than half a century. Each time that Cubans wander through the world in search of freedom and opportunities, they overcome the fear of being oppressed. In any corner of the planet where Cubans try to hide, they triumph, above all with the weapon of art, the most powerful of all.

May they receive my hug and my gratitude for the unmerited dedication, from their brother Angel, from the prison settlement of Lawton.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. May 2014.

Editor’s note: Trailer of “The Death of the Cat”

This masterful short, that I had the immense privilege to see in a sneak preview and which I predict will have an absolute success, will be released in a few days at the International Film Festival in Cannes, France, which will take place between the 14th and the 25th of May. Its presentation will be in the Short Film Festival. Before being released, it has already received excellent critiques, like this one from the prize-winning writer and journalist, exiled in Berlin, Amir Valle:

The death of the cat is one of the most demolishing and most Cuban shorts in the history of Cuban cinematography. I can’t believe that it can say so much about the national drama of the island in such little space, since beyond the anecdote itself (which I’m not going to give away since the film hasn’t even been released), the psychological representation of each one of the characters is simply the essence of that human animal into which we Cubans were converted in the middle of that crisis, which now is becoming eternal. If you add to that the fact that the trauma occurs in 1989, just hours after the execution of General Ochoa, the keys to unraveling the story increase exponentially.

“The death of the cat is the first story of the book A Cuban tale, by Lilo Vilaplana, a book that Lilo himself knows to be imperfect: “I see it more as small screenplays, like stories for screenplays,” he told me upon giving me a copy. And although he’s right, it’s necessary to say that for any writer who is already a success (and Lilo should feel satisfied on this account) in this book of nine stories there exist three pieces that are first-rate on a literary level, like “The empty house,” “Gumara,” and “Cuban soap opera,” stories of effective forcefulness, well-narrated dramatically and with messages of a profound Cubanness.

“The atmosphere of marginal asphyxia created by Lilo in the short, The death of the cat, is reinforced by the excellent performances of four respected Cuban actors: Albertico Pujol, Jorge Perugorria, Barbaro Marin and Caralita Veloz. The tragi-comedy that hides under the skin of the characters they embody will make you believe the powerful message of that which, only in appearance, is one more of the human and heartbreaking stories that can happen in a tenement in Cuba.

“Lilo, I know fearfully, showed me a work still unfinished: ’I have to work on the colors, the light, set up the sound track,’ he told me, and although from the first moment I knew that I was seeing the skeleton of what The death of the cat would be, I felt profoundly impacted by the quality of the acting (with a thunderous applause for Albertico Pujol in the final scenes), by the accurate insight of the screenplay into the psychology of the characters, enjoying the counterpoint of the tragic and the comic of each one, but above all by the multiplicity of messages that are transmitted in so little time: something that, with apologies to other Cuban filmmakers, seems to be missing a lot in our cinema and our television, where every time (barring very rare exceptions) they impose more nonsense, sexuality for sexuality’s sake, as a hook, the censored Communist media, or simulation and deceit. The death of the cat is a short that is overwhelming by its criticism, funny but reflective. It makes you think. And we Cubans need to think to understand the causes of our misfortune.”

Have Amnesty International declare the dissident Cuban, Angel Santiesteban, a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

10 May 2014

Burn Your Neighbor’s Beard / Angel Santiesteban

The hypocritical “conversation” that Nicolas Maduro held with the opposition indicates the political temperature of what is happening in Venezuela.

Against his will, the dictator sat down at the table of dialogue.  Although he does not want to recognize it, he did it at the demand of his Cuban advisors, and of Raul Castro himself, who in frequent phone calls from the Island, advises him not to give up, or show weakness or that he is desperate because of social pressure.

It is true that in Cuba Raul Castro is far from recognizing his political adversaries; further away still is the possibility of a dialogue between both sides.  Many more Cubans will have to die before — at some point — we throw ourselves into the streets in order to demand what belongs to us by right and that they have stolen from us for more than half a century.

Circumstances, dictators and tyrannies are different, but on perceiving that the process imposed by the deceased Hugo Chavez is extinguished, and in spite of the power and abuses they make a disillusioned people suffer, they have also make them pay for their rebellion with more than 40 lives.

In order to avoid guarimbas (street clashes) in Cuba, the Castros have maintained their iron command, which has cost many lives of those who have opposed them. Here, if one breathes at a different rhythm than that stipulated by the leadership, the political police open a file and begin their constant persecution, waiting for you to breathe deeply to “bring you” your shares of anguish.

No fire is needed in the archipelago; the smoke of a lit match barely suffices to sound the alarm.  Nevertheless, we keep dreaming of our guarimbas.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement.  April 2014.

To sign the petition for Amnesty International to declare dissident Cuban Angel Santesteban a prisoner of conscience, follow the link.

Translated by mlk.

25 April 2014