Three Memories of Angel Santiesteban
Miguel Iturria Savon
On September 2, 2011, I published on Cubanet the article SOS for Angel Santiesteban, then beset by the political police of the Cuban government in spite of being a writer who had been awarded multiple prizes by the regime’s own institutions. At the end of 2012 Angel was sentenced to five years in prison after a rigged trial in which they used his ex-wife as the spear point against him. I will not refer to the details of the case because they still circulate in various writings and on Santiesteban’s blog, but to my personal impressions about this artist of the word.
Before personally meeting the author of Dreams on a Summer Day, The Children That Nobody Wanted, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn and South: Latitude 13, I read his books and heard several anectdotes that reflect his temperament and satirize the Cuban political situation. It is hard to forget some characters from his stories about the jail and the Cuban intervention in the African wars. Maybe the magisterial design of those alien beings that gallop on the pages of his works are the true cause of the humiliating judicial proecess that is trying to override his rebelliousness and the voice of this bold man without masks.
As my son was a lawyer for Angel Santiesteban I had the privilege of receiving him in my Havana home and talking with him frequently over a glass of water — Angel does not drink rum or coffee. We talked of literature and of his family experience. Only on one occasion, on asking him about one of his characters, did he reveal to me the traumatic trace of his brief stay in prison before reaching age 20, after being arrested on the north coast while saying goodbye to a relative who tried to flee the island on a raft.
I met several times with Santiesteban in the home of blogger Yoani Sanchez and in the cultural gatherings organized in the residence of physician Antonio Rodiles, leader of the program Estado de Sats. I remember that Angel hardly intervened in the debates and always sat at the end of the room, distant from posturing and prominence but cordial with whoever approached him. Finally he would leave in his car with four or five people whom he dropped off at their homes.
The last time we met was opposite the Infanta and Manglar police station next to the building “Fame and Applause,” where half a hundred opponents were demanding the liberation of Antonio Rodiles, detained after the funeral of Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, dead in a suspicious accident. We spoke there while Wilfredo Vallin and Reinaldo Escobar tried to negotiate with the Chief of the Station, surrounded also by a gang of delinquents who awaited orders from Security officials to kick and drag the opponents.
The judicial farce against Angel Santiesteban reminds me of the celebrated narrotor Reinaldo Arenas and the poets Heberto Padilla — incarcerated in 1971 — and Raul Rivero — sentenced in 2003, victims of a dictatorship that punishes liberty of expression and promotes the quietism and complicit silence of the intellectuals.
Published in Island Anchor
Translated by mlk.
9 June 2013