Monthly Archives: November 2013

Prison Diary LXX: Maturing Maduro in the Raul Castro Version

Now that the President of Venezuela has assaulted the stores in his freeform version of “Robin Hood,” with the mistaken and desperate idea of getting the poor on his side, while others stage a faithful version of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” the Cuban leader Raul Castro should imitate him and assault and lower the inaccessible prices that he sets for his impoverished people.

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The “hard currency collection stores*” can only be visited by those Cubans who receive remittances from friends and family abroad, or by those nationals who survive through the black market, the majority of them by taking whatever possible from their workplaces. The average salary of an ordinary worker is 450 Cuban pesos (also called “National Money”), which converts to 18 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). A Chinese Panda brand TV is sold in the national network of hard currency stores for 300 CUC, meaning that this average worker would have to work seventeen months to acquire it, when the cost of the TV, according to what a functionary told me secretly, doesn’t exceed 8 dollars each, which converts into a net profit of nearly 38 times the cost.

Of course, this whole “happy dream” for the exploited Cuban worker, could be realized if he can survive for almost a year and a half without eating or grooming or dressing himself, without electricity or water, and God help him if he has a wife and child. Therefore, a common joke among workers is “they pretend to pay you, we pretend to work.”

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Photo: Pablo Morales Marchán/ Hablemos Press

Years ago I talked with a foreigner who had been interested in importing food to Cuba. The first thing he discovered was that the government did not care to offer a better price to the people, they are only concerned with adding up their profits.

He was alarmed by the 2.40 cents on the dollar for which a bottle of the lowest quality of oil was sold to the people. He would offer the country a business it couldn’t refuse, for example: a bottle of sunflower oil for between 9 and 11 cents per unit, including transportation to the port of entry, less than the 12 to 14 cents they were paying at the moment, without adding on the cost of the functionary who traveled abroad, his costs for food, air transportation, lodging, expenses, etc.

Despite his good offer, it was rejected. After gaining the functionaries’ trust, they explained, between invitations to restaurants and whiskey, that leaving the country was their benefit, because they received commissions from the capitalists they agreed to buy from.

A country led by a wolf, can only turn itself into a pack of wolves. “A madhouse would never be able to organize itself,” the foreigner told me and he never was interested in returning.

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The worst part is that he was right.

Ángel Santesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison settlement. November 2013

*Translator’s note: A literal translation of what the government itself calls its stores that sell goods only in Cuban Convertible pesos.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy
28 November 2013

Prison Diary LXIX: Camilo, Henchman of a Regime That is a Member of the United Nations Human Rights Council / Angel Santiesteban

Camilo, the dictator’s henchman

November 8 marked a year since our peaceful demonstration in front of the Acosta Police Station (Unit 1), demanding the release of Antonio Rodiles, Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent.

After the corresponding beating and arrest, while they led us to our respective cells, distributing us around the city (divide and conquer?), the henchman Camilo, a State Security official, assured me that I would be sentenced to five years in prison.

Eugenio Leal, who was with me in the patrol car, heard him from inside the car, and everything that happened a month earlier at the Provincial Court determined this same sentence, of course, everything would have been understandable if we restrict ourselves to saying that the trial was in Courtroom 1 at State Security at their special site at Carmen and Juan Delgado.

I assured the official Camilo that from my part I wasn’t scared, but when the moment came to pay for his abuses and atrocities, I hopes he would behave with dignity, as I did. Then he smiled with characteristic cynicism. “When I’m touched, you will already have been touched,” he said, brimming with sarcasm.

While the wait for my imprisonment wore on, I had the opportunity to leave the country and avoid the agony, but my need is to continue, and I preferred to be imprisoned here rather than free in Miami.

Shortly I will have served nine months in prison, I corroborate my decision, and I will continue to try to be helpful in prisons where I have been locked up. Never before had I felt that I could help safeguard the integrity of persons, in this case the prisoners who are in the barracks with me, I have maintained the level of denouncing the injustices the guards have been committing.

What the official Camilo did not know is that with his response he accepted that the dictatorship will pay for its excesses, except that, like the human beasts that they are, they are unable to act with decency, that’s impossible for them given the job they have to perform. Meanwhile, they are going to live as best they can, they receive gifts and awards from the regime to maintain the level of immorality, which also they enjoy committing, but we all know that justice will come, then we will look at those criminal eyes covered in tears, justifying the orders that they fulfilled, and next to them they will see those who pushed them to commit their fascist acts.

For now they continue to laugh but, ultimately and unfailingly, justice will be done.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. November 2013

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy
25 November 2013

Angel Santiesteban’s Right To A Pass Violated By Regime Which Is A Member Of The Human Rights Council

As expected, Raul Castro, the second emperor dictator of the tropical Communist Nazi dynasty, recently recognized by the UN Human Rights Council with a seat in the “distinguished” set of toilets that make up the guardians and safeguards of each other, has debuted such a “deserved” honor by violating the rights of prisoners of Lawton prison settlement where Angel Santiesteban-Prats is unjustly caged.

Yesterday, Friday November 22nd, all prisoners were awaiting their coveted pass which they receive every 27 days, and Angel every 60 days, as he is subject to a different regime for not going to work like the rest of his teammates. On the day and time appointed, simply and without giving any explanation, they were informed that there was no pass.

It is not the first time since Angel has been in this settlement that they have violated the rules concerning the treatment of passes. Having nullified this one, the next will be in 2014, and they will have been 120 days without a pass, again violating their rights.

Violating the individual rights of ordinary citizens has been rife in the Cuba of the “Revolution” for 54 years, and rape in prisons and the concentration camps is not only common, but also is an everyday enjoyment for thousands of servants and lackeys who work sadistically fulfilling orders from above.

Sonia Garro, Ramón Muñoz, El Crítico (The Critic), Armando Sosa Fortuny, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, Roilan Alvarez Rensoler are just some of the human beings who, along with Angel, make up the painful and shameful list of over a hundred political prisoners who are locked in Castro’s concentration camps, many of them in serious danger of death on hunger strike, and all unjustly imprisoned, with unfair trials or no trials, all with false charges, tortured, abused, humiliated, simply for the “crime”  of expressing themselves and desiring a free and democratic Cuba.

The UN Human Rights Council miserably endorsed the existence of the dynastic dictatorship that has, for more than half a century, been oppressing the Cuban people, and in giving it a “toilet” honor among the “illustrious” it endorsed the systematic violation of human rights on the Island, setting a dangerous precedent for the community of nations.

Angel did not leave on a pass yesterday in Havana. I wonder if today they will already be preparing for Dec. 10 in Geneva, a tribute to the Five Spies* and if they will denounce the “serious” abuse of the American government which they will repeat at the weekly rant?

Dictator Castro, even having his delegate in the UN Human Rights Council and to show his “power” in such sad maneuvers such as “Bastion”, if it is necessary to cage a writer for what he writes, and to strip a few brave women who carry gladioli as a weapon, there should be no doubt that his place in history has already been secured: a coward and a despicable loser and murderer.

The Editor

*Translator’s note: A reference to the five State Security agents — lauded as “The Five Heroes” in Cuba — imprisoned in the United States (one of whom, having served his sentence, is now back in Cuba) for spying and related crimes.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy
23 November 2013

Why Amnesty International Should Declare Angel Santiesteban A Prisoner of Conscience

We thank Lamasiel Gutiérrez for his solidarity with Ángel Santiesteban-Prats; he has created a petition to collect signatures on the AVAAZ.org platform asking Amnesty International to declare him a prisoner of conscience, for as you know, he is serving a 5 year sentence for common crimes that they have failed to prove because he never committed them.

In this blog, available to all who care to consult it, is the complete legal file, where there is not only proof of Angel’s innocence, but where it is also demonstrated the fabrication of the case on the part of the Castro political police and the total dependence of judicial power on political power.

Our deepest gratitude to those who have already signed and to all those who want to sign and collaborate in getting more signatures in support.

To sign, please go to PETITION TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL.

Between everyone it is possible, in the same way that the freedom of Cuba is won with the efforts of everyone united in the same cause.

The Editor

22 November 2013

Prison Diary LXVIII: New Challenge for Castro: Violate Human Rights While Being a Member of the UN HumanRights Council

The dictatorship frightened and cautious

The Cuban government has decided once again that the “Bastion” exercises would be held just on the even of December 10, the day celebrated for Human Rights.  It’s their way of oiling the “defense” machine, which is intended only to send a sly message to the opposition that they are prepared to attack the smallest anti-government movement, and who have already activated their repressive measures.

Young woman attacked with machete by Castro supporter

Young woman attacked with machete by Castro supporter

Laura Pollán and other Ladies in White attacked by a government mob

Laura Pollán and other Ladies in White attacked by a government mob

Ladies in White being arrested

Ladies in White being arrested

To manage the infrastructure deployed war, the country is spending millions that it can’t afford to waste, especially knowing that thanks to the military investment for more than five decades, they have plunged this country into total misery.

Days before I see the concern of State Security that opposition groups will carry out a demonstration, especially the dreaded Ladies in White. They have their spies desperately seeking information about the planned day and time.1385046202_che

1385046203_raulcastroexecutes1385046203_raul-castro-sierra-maestraRaul Castro knows that in becoming a part of the United Nations Council on Human Rights he is committed to respect them. He has to wonder, what he disrespects them, what is that same UN Council going to say about such a breach. Will it be the first time a member of the Commission is expelled for not honoring what it is supposed to respect?

Newspaper article about the concentration camps for religious, gays and other “counterrevolutionaries”

In fact, it’s a great contradiction, like being the “President” of the Community of Latin American States (CELAC) and not showing respect for it, nor for the countries represented. What is corroborated by the Castro brothers is that it’s all a chess game to gain time in power and to manipulate international public opinion. To be part of the Council is their “Sword of Damocles.”

Mourners arrested at Oswaldo Payá’s funeral

What we do know is that the dictatorship has a new challenge ahead of it: to ridicule the UN or give way before the basics that prevail in this 21st century, which is respect for individual rights. We can only wait, call on the international news media to pay attention to current events in Cuba, because December 10 will not pass unnoticed.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement, November 2013

21 November 2013

Prison Diary LXVII: Troubadors Committed to Freedom / Angel Santiesteban

Pedro Luis Ferrer and Frank Delgado: Eternal Exorcists of the Powers-that-be

Frank Delgado

Frank Delgado

There is no doubt that Cuban music is a letter of introduction to Cuban culture, and its scores have historically been the tapestry of tears of the composers have chiseled their deepest feelings, from love and heartbreak, to the social and historical problems of the nation.

With the coming to power of Fidel Castro, social criticism was suppressed, especially after his speech about “with the Revolution everything, against the Revolution nothing,” which made it very clear what the attitudes and topics of  artists would be, but most of all what they would have to communicate in their works.

From that point forward, slanting the culture was the priority of the political commissars who reached out from the military into the culture sector, five for every artist. They persecuted any attitude that did not clearly and openly support the imposed political process and exalt the image of the maximum leader, which signified the marginalization of the arts, and in addition, a wandering life without life projects of any kind.

Thanks to this, the opportunists appeared who imposed their “socialist realism” to satisfy the accepted aesthetic, the conflict-free narratives; they distorted art, confusing many, while others left or chose to go along so as not to suffer.

There were so many years of intense harassment, an iron grip spanning several generations, that still today there is fear, leading to self-censorship as a form of survival, and in this way being able to subsist and remain in the cultural environment and exercise their vocation and offer their art to the masses.

A half-century after the rise to power of the Castro brothers, opportunism and the rejection of criticism continue to be the only ways to earn the title of artist. To do the opposite just leads to ostracism, the lack of promotions, and in the worst cases, prison.

Pedro Luis Ferrer

Pedro Luis Ferrer

Two popular Cuban musicians, Pedro Luis Ferrer and Frank Delgado, have chosen to wear their honesty like a flag, and for their irreverent lyrics, only at the disposition of noble principles, in many cases criticizing the State and its functionaries, they have seen their songs banned on television and radio, nor are they invited to festivals nor to play alongside other troubadours, who would risk the same fate.

Carrying their guitars, these two excellent poets have followed their own path, renouncing the support of the government and its spaces, which we know are all the spaces; they receive slaps in the face, marginalization in the media, and on many occasions, persecution, citations to appear to clarify the points of view in their annoying lyrics, just to name a few of the many aggravations maintained against them for years.

These songwriters have withstood the mighty storms that restrict their lives, and sheltered themselves — as eternal exorcists of the powers-that-be — between the strings of their beloved instrument. They simply wait; at some point the storm will break, they say, and they continue to watch their environment, that will be reflected in their next songs, and that perhaps we will enjoy, thanks to the space El Sauce, which collects them thanks to the brave and honest work of its head of programming, the excellent actor and friend Luis Alberto García.

Pedro Luis Ferrer and Frank Delgado, please accept the silent honor of your people, and our appreciation for those who, like you, want to think of freedom.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement, November 2013

18 November 2013

Prison Diary LXV: Cuba in the Human Rights Council: How to Demand What has Not Yet Been Met

Shooting themselves in the foot

Photo credited to UN Watch. UN Watch and Human Rights Foundation brought famous dissidents to testify at the UN headquarters on 4 November about on the state of human rights in their countries. From left to right: Chinese dissident Yang Jianli, Cuban dissident Rosa Maria Paya, Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed, executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, HRF president Thor Halvorssen, Russian dissident Masha Gessen.

That Cuba, China and Russia have been elected to the Human Rights Council of the UN might seem like a joke if it were not such a serious issue for the world and especially for this international body.

For those of us who directly suffer violations of our rights it would be logical if it awakened outrage in us, but giving a vote of confidence and analyzing the possible strategy, above all with Cuba which has not signed the treaties, is like a forced invitation to join the inescapable democratization of the 21st century.

Perhaps one can use that saying, “God take care of my friends, as for my enemies I will take charge of them and keep them close,” because now Cuba will be more in the public eye, and their actions more visible, as in “violations of individual rights,” in which the regime is competing for one of the top spots in the world.

We are struck by the way Cuba’s national media have spread the news: they have done so in a brief and tragic mode, and not with the boasting that usually accompanies their Pyrrhic victories.

Is it likely that they fear how Cubans will feel about rights and demand their own rights? So, the less they know the better? We assume that at this point that the mandatory question that Raul Castro will be asking himself is how does he get away with not complying. How could he ask for respect and collaboration if he has been a champion for such violations through the decades? What example could he give and demand of those countries who do not practise these things?

To comply with the UN would be to stop being a dictatorship, and the Castro brothers are still not convinced that they can do without totalitarian power, which they like and have exercised for over half a century.

Hopefully the choice was a wise, diplomatic, cunning one by the UN, and will enjoin Cuba to sign the Covenants, postponed for more than five years, since that position morally obliges them to respect them from now, given that they will be the guardians of their respect. At least I’ll believe it after I see it.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. November 2013.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy

14 November 2013

Prison Diary LXV: Ode to Pedro Pablo Oliva

That the essential Cuban painter Pedro Pablo Oliva (National Plastic Arts 2006 Prize Winner) was expelled in May 2011 from the Popular Assembly of the province, Pinar del Rio, is the best thing that could have happened in his life. Since then, the admiration he has won for his work has grown infinitely. A great artist should not tarnish his name or his work with a dictatorship.

Many biographies, however small, highlight the relationships and defenses of the many artists drawn to fascism led by Adolf Hitler, their names tarnished for the rest of human existence; and the same thing happened to the intellectuals who stuck to the Latin American dictatorships. Unfortunately, the same will happen to those involved with the totalitarian regime of the Castro brothers. Luckily, most of them tend to be mediocre types who earn their flattering salary.

I remember I attended the Home Workshop of Pedro Pablo Oliva in company with Dagoberto Valdes, when paying my humble service as a jury member of the Vitral magazine contest. Then he spoke to me about the painting “The Great Blackout,” of extensive dimensions. Really to watch him, I felt part of the story of the Cuban nation was laid out in front of me, in a genuine and original manner.

His family kindly saw to us, invited us to explore the spaces. Minutes Later Oliva arrived and we offered him a brochure given with the intention that he would dedicate it to us. He did so with the humility that characterizes him, and jokingly, given the quantity of fans, he commented only Ricky Martin was allowed that. I, who was one of the last of the group, replied, “Don’t be fooled, if the singer was here, and without reproach, I, at least, wouldn’t ask for his autograph.” He smiled.

Thereafter, each time I went to the capital of Pinar del Rio, I took the time to get to his workshop and delight in his latest creation. There I saw the picture of Fidel Castro supporting a large stone on his head, which greatly alarmed the then Minister of Culture Abel Prieto.

For several years his daughter visited my house because she was a classmate of the daughter of a cousin of mine. With her I could exchange views on his work, season with family anecdotes that enhanced his stature as a human being.

Days after expulsion of the provincial parliament which acted as a delegate , I went to the Colegio San Geronimo in Old Havana . It was raining , and quickly walked past the restaurant La Mina, where upstairs, Oliva has his workshop. He crossed in front of me, also in a hurry, seeking shelter in the doorway of the restaurant, and I could not resist the excitement and shouted, “Maestro, Cuba never admired you so much,” then, surprised, with those eyes of a laughing child he knows how to offer, he stopped and looked at me excited.

I smiled and continued my quick step to take shelter in the portal of the Palace of the Captains and he in turn continued and avoided the rain. I knew that rain was a way to clean your history, away from all the official events and artists supporting  the dictatorship, and that thereafter he would have less space in the media, but more time to do his work. He had that feeling of the lone ranger who supports any artist relegated by the totalitarian regime, and subjected to the nation’s cultural ostracism, although as in Oliva, his nails are sunk in the island where he is rooted.

In any event, an artist creates for the rest of humanity and for all time. That is the advantage we always gave over the politicians in power, no matter how late they are in abandoning their prolonged season.

All Cubans, like you Pedro Pablo, dream of a better Cuba. And we have the unquestionable right to demand it.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement. November 2013.

11 November 2013

Justice and Prayers for Angel Yunier Remon Arzuga #FreeElCritico / Angel Santiesteban

Ángel Yunier Remon Arzuaga ’El Critico.’ Jailed since March 2013 for being a non-conformist rapper and an opponent of the Cuban dictatorship. In July he contracted cholera in prison.

Jailed since March 2013 for being a non-conformist rapper and an opponent of the Cuban dictatorship. In July he contracted cholera in prison.

The chain of suffering continues for Cuban opponents. Now adding to the injustice committed, among many of the dictatorship, against the artist and human rights advocate Ángel Remon Yunier Arzuaga, who was hospitalized in intensive care and reported to be in critical condition having gone on hunger strike.

He has been imprisoned since 26 March of this year, after the fascist hordes who obey the totalitarian regime of the Castro brothers, undertook in an act of repudiation in front of his house. In addition to being a victim of government provocation, as a great irony of the dictatorship and that we can never get used to, he was accused of “attacking,” and so the prosecution requested eight years of imprisonment.

Since his arrival in prison, he has suffered the hostility of his repressors, those who dealt out to him multiple beatings, and he was infected with cholera.

It’s no secret that Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga’s crime, like that of all of us opponents who are in prison, is to confront the system, which for a long time, if it ever was, stopped being communist or left leaning politically, and only responds to the desire for power of Fidel and Raul Castro in their State without rights.

Yunier Angel belongs to the duo “The Children Nobody Wanted” — to my honor* — and if that wasn’t enough, with the suggestive name of “The Critic,” together with Yudier Blanco Pacheco. The lyrics of their songs are hymns among youth, making an impression with immediacy and profundity on Cuban youth who then learn and repeat the verses. Through their voices they feel that they also reclaim that which belongs to them by right: freedom.

His real and unforgivable offense, in the eyes of the political police, is to think differently, and expose this through his art. State Security sought to stop his rise in the Cuban culture.

Taking from experience the awesome rise of Los Aldeanos (The Villagers) and the phenomenon it immediately caused among the youth. Guided by a sense of support towards this young artist, I am obliged to announce that if the worst is to happen to this activist for the rights and freedom, from the place where I am detained, I will start an indefinite hunger strike.

May God be with Remon Yunier Angel Arzuaga, may He protect him in the name of his baby of nine months, his wife, and all the Cubans with shame and good feelings that accompany him in prayer.

The dictatorship is responsible for his life. The die is cast.

Ángel Santiestebn-Prats

Lawton Prison settlement. November 2013.

*Translator’s note: “The Children Nobody Wanted” is the title of a book by Angel and also the title of his blog.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy

6 November 2013

Prison Diary LXIV: The Dictator Doesn’t Learn That Infamy Multiplies The Forces Opposing It / Angel Santiesteban

The Mistake of the Dictator

The great slip-up of dictators is to come to believe that the pain from the abuses they cause is sufficient to overwhelm their opponents. For them, arranging for mobs of criminals, people without principles or feelings, mercenaries who obey those who pay them, although only pauper’s wagers, and like a dog who submits in exchange for a bone, they follow orders to be sadistic.

Cuba is a breeding ground of these dogs who bite right and left to protect their food. They prowl around their bowls fearing someone will snatch them. Then, they are so committed, they know no way out. Their recurring nightmares are those they subjected to justice who will spend many years in prison. So they are determined to scare off those who pursue political change, and so avoid being punished for their misdeeds.

When it comes to justice, as opponents we suffer their beatings, prison, exile. Paying the price of these experiences only strengthens our ideals, deepens the necessary convictions more and more to fight for a better Cuba where individual liberties are guaranteed, as explained by the Constitution of the United Nations in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba has evaded for more than five years by not signing the UN Covenants, in order to continue its flagrant violations of Cubans’ most elemental rights.

Several countries, hiding behind “respect for the right of peoples to choose their politics and regime,” have become accomplices of totalitarianism, as if Cuban citizens have chosen famine, family division, laziness, fear, denunciations and State terror against everyone who is opposing the system.

Unfortunately, there is an embargo on Cuba. I am sure that if the dictatorship, as has been demonstrated, had  power — which thanks be to God they don’t because of their own ineptitude — today we would even further away from the possibility of achieving the democracy and freedoms that every day we crave more, and that for us are the only possible path to the social development of the nation.

The embargo, even if it hurts us, should continue. “Friend” countries of the dictatorship, and even those who are not, have the luxury of playing with “respect for the rights of others,” when the dictatorship itself does not respect individual opinion. While they  frolic, Cuban continues to survive badly, accepting as an everyday thing that its children throw themselves into the sea trying to reach a better life.

In this same interval of time and actions, opponents persist and their dreams and rights, and risk their lives, like Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá, among other brave fighters, and resist the beatings and humiliations, because what the dictators do not learn is, it is only cowardice that corrodes and is able to feed their fears, and their infamy multiplies the forces who oppose them.

The image I carry with me and that feeds me, is to imagine them asking to be forgiven, justifying the unjustifiable, claiming they were following orders or did not know, and returning to the coffers of the State the stolen money scattered across the globe. Because that will be the only way to prevent the next leaders from repeating this dark part or our history. Then, I do want to hear that not forgetting is synonymous with bitterness. I prefer to be convinced that justice is the equivalent of shame.

4 November 2013