Category Archives: Ángel Santiesteban

The Same Script for Every Dissident / Angel Santiesteban

Hector Maseda after his release, with his wife Laura Pollán, founder of the Ladies in White, who later died under circumstances still being questioned.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Border Guard Prison Unit, Havana, February 2015 — February 12th will be four years since the release of the last prisoners belonging to the group of 75 arrested in that fateful “Black Spring” of 2003.

History and Memory are two spaces that in time unite. I remembered Hector Maseda telling me about the pressures he received those final days to abandon the county. The way in which the political police have pressured me is similar to what Maseda told me about At times I feel I am in the same mold, they’ve only changed the people, to my honor.

On more than one occasion Maseda came to see me in the Lawton jail. There, I had finally heard his voice and a powerful force entered me. He said words to me that out of humility I would be incapable of repeating, and coming from someone whom I admire and respect, I will keep them in my memory for the rest of my days; but right now I could restart my imprisonment.

I feel such strength as at the beginning thanks the spirit of those who have sacrificed their lives, and those who are still willing and accompany me with their breath.

As José Martí said, “honor is happiness and strength,” which like a blanket, my brothers in the struggle cover me with.

3 March 2015

Musings of a Blind Man (4) / Angel Santiesteban

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana, December 2014 — Raúl Castro has just finished his address to the so-called Cuban “parliament” this morning, Dec. 20, 2014. For those who are familiar with the logic of the Castro brothers throughout this more than half-century since they installed themselves in power, his words do not produce the least surprise. They have been like the Second Declaration of Havana and a reaffirmation of his “socialist character.”

President Barack Obama’s enthusiasm, his excess of emotion and assuredness, convinced as he is of acting in the Cuban people’s best interests and, of course, most significantly and above all else, in the most beneficial way for the United States (for many reasons that we are not going to explain in this post) — for the Cuban regime, it is nothing more than a power play, a show of arrogance and contempt. Obama’s words insulted and frightened the Communists, who therefore demanded a forceful response. I can picture Fidel Castro’s aggravation upon hearing it, the insults that he must have spewed upon interpreting Obama’s remarks as insolence.

Simply put, the words of the dictator quash the dreams of Obama, who enjoys the unique and unprecedented opportunity given him, and which barely hours later, already confirm for him that about which some in the dissident movement have warned him: that the more the Castros gain strength, the more they will double down on human rights violations – because a totalitarian system is diametrically opposed to independent, individual thought.

In his speech, if General Castro broached the subject of the opposition, it was to label us as “mercenaries at the beck and call of the United States.” To call me that, who have never entered the U.S. Interests Section building, save for the year 2000 when I went to the common area on the ground floor to collect my visa, for my first cultural trip to the north, is effrontery of the first order.

Since then, I have been given a visa without appearing in-person. Similarly, never have I received money or instruction of a political nature. I have never been face to face with a representative of the United States government. If I have had two faults since joining the dissidence, they are the suffering caused to my loved ones, and the financial drain on my sister, Mary, and my closest friends. Nonetheless, I am accused of being a “mercenary” — I who gave up receiving the government’s handouts which, because of literary prominence, others with less, live like princes attached to the dictator’s teat.

There is no need to be confused. If in his first speech announcing the prisoner exchange, Raúl Castro said that “we should learn the art of coexisting, in a civilized manner, with our differences,” these are manipulative words, uttered only so that President Obama will take ownership of them. The mind of the Castros is focused on “big ideas” about projects at the U.S. and Cuba government level — never on the “ordinary understanding” with which we long for our divergent thinking to be accepted, at least on principle.

The great gift in Castro’s response is that we now find ourselves at the beginning, and negotiations with the Castros are not now, nor will ever be, of any use. Would that this causes Obama to pay attention to and trust the opposition.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Angel Santiesteban Included in the Defending Freedoms Project

1425271734_tom-lantos-human-rights-commission24 February 2015 — In December 2012, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, together with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Amnesty International, U.S., created the Defending Freedoms Project, with the objective of supporting human rights and religious freedom worldwide, with a particular focus on prisoners of conscience.

Specifically, the members of Congress who “adopt” prisoners of conscience, in solidarity with those brave men and women throughout the world, pledge to plead publicly for their freedom.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats and the journalist José Antonio Torres, both Cuban political prisoners, have recently been included on the list.

1425271734_ai-usaThis new recognition of Ángel Santiesteban-Prats is added to what he recently received on behalf of the German Eurodeputy, Dr. Christian Ehlerquien, who assumed the political sponsorship of the imprisoned Cuban writer.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Musings of a Blind Man (3) / Angel Santiesteban

At this point in the historic events that have taken place in recent days between Cuba and the United States, it is not worthwhile to have regrets, but rather to understand the reasons for these events, and try to find a positive view of them.

I dare say that President Obama has passed the ball to the Cuban rulers. Now they have in their court what they have been long been clamoring for. We shall see what they are capable of doing with it. Most likely, the Castro brothers will not know what to do with the new possibility that can only lead to the path of liberty and democracy. This is something that they are unwilling to concede, albeit knowing of the great chance that the Republicans will assume power in the next U.S. elections and will revoke a good part or all that Obama has given them – which as a policy matter is never possible.

Barack Obama knows that he can play with these possibilities for another year and, in a certain way, it is his personal vengeance against the opposition party. Although in his speech he mentioned relations with China and Vietnam, the question is whether the U.S. is willing to tolerate human rights violations in a country so historically and geographically close. I do not accord to Cuba the same status as those other two communist countries. I am of the view that Cuba will demonstrate to the world its inability to allow individual freedoms, even though the Castro brothers will be unable to return to power – the older one due to physical limitations, the younger because of the very legislation that he himself approved.

Of course, we are all more than certain that the president who will be installed will be no more than a puppet whose strings will be in the hands of the Castro family if, by then, one of their own offspring is not put in power so that the cycle of history can repeat itself.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

December, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Musings of a Blind Man (2) / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 7 January 2015 — To know that there is a Cuban who knew how to work against the dictatorship makes it easier to bear that the regime’s five spies are now back on Cuban soil. I rejoiced when it was revealed that this Cuban — responding not to the North American government but against the dictatorship of the Castros — was the cause, having passed information to United States intelligence agencies about the enemy network that was operating in its territory. He is a free man today, having been exchanged for the last three of those spies who were still in prison in the US].

In turn, the fact that Alan Gross is now back with his family also means relief for those of us who harbor good feelings — especially those of us who know firsthand the suffering of incarceration.

I believe the Castros will win any arm wrestling match in which their arms are supported by feelings. They do not care about keeping innocent people in jail, at least for the crimes with which they are charged. In the Gross case, the regime’s own reports affirm that this is about “a North American subcontractor who intended to smuggle into Cuba equipment which is not authorized by the government of the Island.”

If his crime is one of “smuggling,” then of what espionage is he accused? The government’s legal action was forced in the exchange for its spies, as has recently occurred.

There are good reason that it has an espionage and repression machine, lubricated by the oil of experience over more than half a century. The most important thing, to my understanding, is that the Communists in power have, for the moment, been left without a carrot to mobilize social media.

Throughout their more than 50 years in power, the Castros have been characterized by public “yearnings” — which they use to keep the Cuban people distracted. Nobody can forget the months of intense, manipulative propaganda regarding the return of the boy Elián Gonzalez, later replaced with an even more intense campaign for the return of the spies.

I suppose that at this moment, the ideologues of the regime must be finding themselves in a forced march in search of a new carrot to dangle, as well as a new objective to achieve. In the meantime, they will find entertainment in the embargo, which they like to call a “blockade” in order to produce maximum solidarity effect.

Starting with Obama’s announcement of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, an interesting chapter is opening that could end up, for the regime, being even more destructive than the embargo.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

December, 2014. Border Patrol Prison Unit, Jaimanitas, Havana.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Musings of a Blind Man (1) / Angel Santiesteban

1420210999_castro-obamaAngel Santiesteban, 2 January 2015 — It finally happened, what a part of Cuban society desired and another share feared: Cuba and the United States resumed diplomatic relations. To criticize President Obama would be an innocuous, ungrateful, and useless, if we learned from José Martí that in politics what isn’t seen is bigger.

Obama has charted a course and we have no option but to watch from the stands. that some remember that they gave him their vote isn’t elegant, especially because we must be grateful for the sheltering of several generations of Cubans. It’s a glaring mistake to think that Obama should defend the rights of Cubans when his only obligation is to guarantee the prosperity of the United States.

After having done that, he can — as he has done up to now — support the reality of Cubans: but the political, economic and strategic interests, at the presidential level, outweigh what a good part of we Cubans consider best for our nation.

We all know that the embargo was mild when compared — for example — with the sanctions applied to Russia right now. With the tiny totalitarian government of the Castros, we are now writing history, perhaps the worst since the Special Period, and where the only sustained human casualties were the most economically vulnerable Cubans unable to face the extreme hunger.

We might think that the United States never wanted to carry this guilt, because — needless to say — the leaders, their power structure and their minions, have not reached the rigor of that escalation that, ultimately, even the most extremist had criticized. On the other hand, it is not OK to demand constant turns of the screw to the impoverished Cuban economy when it is so distant and you know that you won’t experience even a single drop of the misery caused.

Most particularly, I continue against the lifting of the embargo, because — as I’ve said before — to the extent the dictatorship is strengthened, the arbitrary executions, illegal and abusive treatment against the dissidents. But to avoid our own suffering, more than is our usual share, we shouldn’t desire it for the rest of the population of the archipelago.

Now our minds are overwhelmed trying to unravel the intention of the American president. In the next post I will share my musings with respect to, where — perhaps — we could all be mistaken, because finding myself isolated I don’t hear what the specialist say on the topic. Perhaps what I consider an inconvenience, is an advantage, because the blind here the chords of the instrument better.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats
Written in December 2014, Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana
Posted in January 2015

Ángel Santiesteban: “I am a social reflection of my times” / Luis Felipe Rojas

1423710210_angel-santiesteban-prats

The writer Ángel Santiesteban Prats

Luis Felipe Rojas, 12 February 2015 — Just days after Ángel Santiesteban Prats sent this interview to Martí Noticias, he was transferred in an untimely manner to Villa Marista, the general barracks of Cuban State Security. However, his replies were already safeguarded, as was he.

This storyteller — who won the UNEAC (Cuban Writers and Artists Union) prize for his collection, Sueño de un día de verano (Dreams of a summer day, 1995), the 1999 César Galeano prize, the Casa de las Américas award of 2006 for his Dichosos los que lloran (Blessed are they who weep) — later started a blog where he set forth his ideas on human rights in Cuba, and he did not cease even unto imprisonment.

In 2013, Ángel won the International Franz Kafka “Novels from the Drawer Prize,” which convened in the Czech Republic, for the novel, The Summer When God Slept. Today he is responding to these questions from his improvised cell in a Border Patrol unit of the Ministry of the Interior, in Jaimanitas, Havana.

Following is a Q&A between Luis Felipe Rojas and Ángel Santiesteban

Luis Felipe: At which moment did the narrator and character Ángel Santiesteban come to be?

Ángel:  I can affirm that he came into existence at the end of the 1980s. I believe that the need to write, to communicate, to transmit my feelings, were a way of dealing, precisely, with the pain I felt inside of me. I recall that my first literary sensibility arose at the age of 17, when I found myself imprisoned at the La Cabaña fort, for the “offense” of having accompanied my family to the coast, with the intent of seeing them off, as it turned out.

They were later caught on the high seas, and I was charged with harboring fugitives — but on the day of the trial, the court ruled that, according to current laws, I could not be so charged, because between parents and children, and between siblings, such action was considered reasonable. However, I was prosecuted anyway because, according to the district attorney, I should have reported my relatives for clandestinely leaving the country, which is considered an act of treason against the totalitarian regime.

Notwithstanding, I remained in jail for 14 months. Thus I consider that before I was a writer, I was already one of my characters, which I used to share my personal pain with the other characters that, as of that time, I began to construct. In each character created by me, there is my pain, or that of my family, friends and neighbors. I am a social reflection of my times, and there is where my commitment lies: with myself, with my mother, with history and with my times, with no concern for the consequences that this posture might entail for me.

I suffer with every word I write, I bleed for every passage that I execute. I live and die with my characters; but always, I believe above all, it is through art that is genuine and uncompromised.

Luis Felipe:  To what point were your narrative demons fused with your social intentions?

Ángel:  I swear that this was not a goal, nor was it a commitment, and even less intended as a means to shock or gain attention. I believe, in fact, that this is not the way to achieve art. My creative seed took root in nonconformity and social fear — individuals who hid their antipathy to the political process and pretended, or pretend, to be sympathizers of the dictatorship — and this reflection of my times turned me into a voice, an alternative, and it was an unconscious process, because the foundation of my artistic vision is that which lacerates me, which strikes or preoccupies me, and then I want to capture it in the best way, according to the literary tools at my disposal.

When I discover a thought in a personal passage, or hear an evocative anecdote, a force is ignited in my being, and a different hunch alerts me that I should attempt it, and almost always this is tied to a social consequence.

Luis Felipe: You have assumed the tragic sense of life. Like Severo Sarduy, Guillermo Cabrera Infante or Reinaldo Arenas, you have assembled a literature that becomes condemnation. What does Ángel Santiesteban Prats process or write from within this enclosure?

Angel and Luis Felipe

Angel and Luis Felipe

The author of this interview with Ángel Santiesteban, 20 January, 2010, in Havana, Cuba.

Ángel:  Above all, to recognize that with any artist to whom I am compared, among those three great Cuban writers, I am honored, and I appreciate the noble hereditary line in which you have placed me, because I will always recognize the distances between them and me. I respect them for their work and life, the suffering they hoisted like a flag, for choosing the emigration option, looking for those “three trapped tigers,”* who were them, for having been voices discordant with the political system.

I have experiences similar to Reinaldo Arenas, in terms of imprisonment and the cultural marginalization that he suffered; but I identify with all three in the matter of emigration — only that in their cases they had to displace themselves from the Archipelago, and in mine, I live those same consequences, but from the interior, inside the Island. For this reason, today I write about the reality that surrounds me, the injustice that I live.

I once wrote in a post that the last place that the dictatorship should have sent me was here, where I have had to develop myself as a human being, artist and dissident. I have written a book of stories out of pain, but which in my view and that of my friends, is still very raw, and I need to distance myself from the experience to revisit it and remove a political intention which, inevitably, is reflected in this collection of stories. I also wrote a strange novel, with a prison-life theme, which I intend to revise upon my release. I started a novel, Prizes and Punishments, of a more biographical cut.

My life experience is tragic. I have lived a tragic script that affects society, caused by the dictators’ political whims. It is known that “we writers nourish ourselves from human carrion,”** and this system is quite given to soiling us with the blood of its victims.

Luis Felipe: Your characters appear to be stricken with pain as if there were nothing else on the horizon. From whence this creation, these pieces of change contained in every story?

Ángel:  At times it is, in a word, an image, or the reflection of an anxiety. When I perceive that someone is suffering, I feel a need to help him. I fervently believe that if a writer does not help to change — to heal — that reality, at least he has the duty to reflect it like a mirror of his times, as a social function. And, at times, we even seek alternatives to anemic responses for those sufferers, when they see in the characters their more immediate reality.

We have the possibility, as part of creation itself, to substitute, improve, provide, replace, exchange, our given destinies, and to create for ourselves something better. The variables can be many, to the extent of the writer’s capacity for talent and his artistic needs. I feel that I am the reflection of my times and so I try to capture this in my work.

Luis Felipe: If we refer to the backstory you provide in The Summer When God Slept, your novel is the reconstruction of an era. Describing life at sea, characters that are not precisely fishermen, the actual circumstances in which they decide to launch themselves to a new life, or to death, and the outcomes that come to pass from what we today know as the “Rafters Crisis,” what we have is an historical novel. What were your tools — were they historiography, sociology, or a thorough knowledge of those narrative techniques that you have been displaying for a long time?

Ángel:  When I tackle a subject that I have not experienced, which is not even found in books that can be consulted, I begin a field study — in my case, depending on my subjects, with the soldiers who participated in the African wars, with the rafters who chose to return from the Guantánamo Naval Base, or marginalized characters who survive through crime.

I always make recordings of their narratives. In a few cases I had to turn off the recording equipment at the interviewee’s request, when they incriminated themselves in their testimonies and fear forced them into self-protection, upon revealing delicate matters — for example, terrible orders from a high-level military commander in Angola that produced innocent victims, or acts that they themselves committed and for which they are now ashamed.

I have the need, when I begin to treat a subject, to know every event — the history, the culture, the color of the earth, the scents, the vegetation — details that help me to transport myself and live in my imagination, to recreate, to go back in time and see, and feel, what I narrate.

The majority of the characters in my novel, The Summer…, are based on relatives or friends. Manolo is my younger sister’s husband. It is true that he was involved in the conflict in Africa, that he was a combat engineer, that he risked his life in the Florida Straits on a raft with other relatives, and that he later crossed the minefield [around the American naval base at Guantanamo] to return to Havana with his family.

In him, in that character, are composites of many characters. I interviewed every rafter I have met, producing hundreds of hours of cassette recordings — which is what I would use in the mid-90s — and in every one I captured the pain that burst from their words, gestures and silences.

Luis Felipe:  There is a period of “painful apprenticeship,”  as Carlos Alberto Montaner might say. Why are your stories loaded with victims?

Ángel:  I am convinced that every Cuban who is a participant in the political processes — not only since 1959, but from before — is a victim of the whims, ambitions, and bad intentions of those leaders who have arrived at positions of power in the nation. In particular I base my view on the experience, the suffering, of the generations since that of my parents, through today, and I consider them victims of the regime.

And not just those who were opposed, but I also add those who were deceived, those who like my Uncle Pepe, bet on a better country, democratic and humanist, until they discovered that they had been deceived, but then no longer had the youth or courage to confront the deceivers — and they decided to take their own life out of shame at having been party to this miscreation that has governed for more than half a century, and has done so by executing, jailing and assassinating via its structures for repression and espionage.

Those who emigrate, those who remain inside the Island with their fears (even if only one); those who at some time have needed to pretend so as not to be reprimanded or punished; those who have lied, or are lying, and who betray their real thoughts and opinions about the reality that surrounds us — all are victims of the system.

I always reiterate that the only ambition I have had in life is to understand people — to understand them even if I don’t share their reasoning, but at least to know the cause, the feeling that they had at the moment of committing an act, be it positive or negative. I don’t always achieve this with human beings, but I do so with my characters. They must be transparent to me at the moment that I tell their story, understanding their actions, thinking and functioning.

I am a victim of my times, in the company of my characters, who reflect this human suffering.

Luis Felipe: It appears that you inhabit a space between the pieces of Carlos Montenegro and the lost souls of Reinaldo Arenas. The protagonists of your novel and stories move between the perdition of the night and the disillusionment of the days in Havana. Do you not fear that you will ultimately tell of a Havana that has been told and told again?

Ángel:  Montenegro’s version is my personal experience, and we already know that reality surpasses us — it being so rich in hues, in multiple, inexhaustible tones that guarantee the health of that approach in the city and to the city. There is always a trace that hasn’t been covered, a new way of telling the same story, of sharing imperishable themes. Not even the same photo taken repeatedly in rapid succession can capture the same subject because its colors change constantly.

Yes, I fear repeating those paradigms of Cuban literature, but I do not believe that it can seem an imitation of those great and special writers, because there are many ways of seeing, ways of telling this Havana, this Cuba, at times so beloved, or so hated.

Ángel.

Border Patrol Prison Unit, Jaimanitas, Havana.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:
* A reference to the novel, “Three Trapped Tigers,” by Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante.
** Santiesteban is quoting Cuban writer Amir Valle, who made this statement during an interview with the journal, IberoAmericana, published in 2014. The original Spanish phrase, “Los escritores nos alimentamos de la carroña humana,” is used in the title of the article.

Reasons to Live / Angel Santiesteban

My daughter, Daniela, is turning 17 and has written me a letter yearning for my return, saying that this would be the best present for her — but at the same time, she reaffirms her support and respect for my way of thinking and the necessity to make it public, and to go to battle for those rights. Her words are a caress on my face, a welcome breeze that soothes my wrinkles and tribulations, a force that rises up my chest and embraces me. “Papá, you are always with me, you are my pride, I speak to everyone of you, never was I ashamed of the situation. I carry you always in my heart, I swear, through everything and at every moment.”

As for my son, Eduardo, he also offers me his support. This, despite maternal pressure and influence from those who love him yet succumb to their own political cowardice, and surrender before the political police; even when, in silence, they think the same way I do and admire me — and expressed as much in the dedications of books that I guard jealously, in the event that some day, history might understand them.

My children wait for me because they know that I belong to them, and they need me — and also because I am a friend of both of them, and we discuss all human issues. Yet they also understand my need to be an intellectual true to his time and the sacrifice that I savor like honey in my mouth.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

December, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

29 December 2014

Any honest and decent agreement should include the demand for the release of ALL the political prisoners

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats was and is the victim of Cuban State Security, which wants to silence his voice of opposition.

They fabricated a judicial action based on false denunciations from the mother of his son, who properly denied them when he announced internationally that he had been forced by his mother and the political police to declare against his own father.

Angel’s innocence has been shown with more than enough proof, and all good Cubans (and others) know it. Before the impotence of puppet justice to “prove” these denunciations, in spite of the fact that international law doesn’t consider one element of the accusation valid, they justified a sentence of five years on the report of a calligraphy expert: “guilty by the height and inclination of his handwriting.”

Some secret accords between the administration of President Obama and the dictatorship of Raul Castro, encouraged by his Holiness Pope Francis I (knowing the “Santiesteban” case, since he has received many letters and faxes), have effected the renewal of diplomatic relations between both countries. As a gesture of “good will,” the dictator freed 53 political prisoners, of whom 14 were already released, demonstrating once again how Castro ridicules the whole world, including those who favor treating him in a way he doesn’t deserve.

Shamefully, Angel Santiesteban-Prats wasn’t included on that list [of prisoners to be released]. Obama, as well as the “human rights” organizations that composed the list, know very well that the dictatorship’s most effective method is to condemn the opposition for common crimes that are invented in order to take support away from them and in order to deprive them of the possible benefit of amnesty.

Nor can those who composed the list of “approved” political prisoners justify the Machiavellian maneuver of the “legal bureaucracy” (not being “bureaucratically” political prisoners, they can’t be on that list, although the trap perpetuated against them has been made public).

The fact is undeniable: They ignore and exclude those “common prisoners” condemned because of their opposition and moreover are responsible for the injustice they committed with Angel’s exclusion.

It’s worth remembering once more that Angel Santiesteban-Prats must be the only common prisoner on the island who was offered freedom in exchange for abandoning his political posture, many times. Each time he refused.

Angel not only remained off this list because he is — according to the dictatorship, the Pope, President Obama, and the intervening human rights organizations — a “common delinquent,” they also laid another legal trap, delaying for more than a year the “benefit” of a review of the ridiculous judgment.

This “review,” approved but not yet carried out, left Angel outside any possibility of enjoying his rights as a prisoner, among them conditional liberty, which he should get in April, upon fulfilling half of his sentence. The explanation is again a bureaucratic one: While there are pending “matters” with justice, there is nothing conditional; now Angel has a pending review that will never happen.

The ones guilty of this situation are Raul Castro and his always-and-never-dead brother, Fidel. But by the same measure, so are all those compatriots who call themselves “activists” and “dissidents,” who know that Angel IS NOT a common prisoner but a prisoner of conscience. They left him alone and excluded him from the list. You have to ask yourself how many more of those “common prisoners” have also been forgotten when that list was drawn up.

Any honest and decent agreement must include the demand (no one demanded anything from the dictatorship) of immediate and unconditional freedom for ALL Cuban political prisoners. Angel Santiesteban-Prats has always expressed this demand in his writings from prison.

From here on, and condemning the silence and the complicity of everyone involved in these agreements, WE DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE, UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS. The rest, as the people of Cuba say, is mere jabbering, cheap politicking.

The Editor 

Translated by Regina Anavy

15 January 2015

A Writer With More Talent Than Fear / Angel Santiesteban

Literature has its decorum, as do those who live by it. José Martí

Nelton Pérez is a Cuban writer who recently won the Alejo Carpentier prize, which is the highest literary award for writers on a national scale, and also the best financially-endowed prize, comparable only to the Casa de las Américas International Prize.

His winning novel “Infidente”, deals with José Martí’s stay at the El Abra estate, on the Isle of Pines, following his release from political prison, when Sr. Sardá, a friend of his father’s, invited him to recover his good health there, while he awaited his deportation to Spain.

Taking as his starting point the limited historical information about Martí’s stay on the island, Nelton recreates, imagines, supposes — and he does it so well that the reader ends up believing that the letters written by the young Martí are real. Once when he visited me in prison, I had the privilege of him bringing me the manuscript.

I admire Nelton for his talent and quiet perseverance. He hasn’t lobbied or asked for concessions of any kind in order to achieve what properly belongs to him based on his genius. In fact, he has passed several years, as patient as a priest, waiting for the Cuban Book Institute (I.C.L) to publish his excellent volume of stories, “Apuntes de Josué 1994” (“Notes of Josué 1994″),which contains some subject matter uncomfortable for the government, i.e. the stampede of the boat people* during the year referenced in the title, from which one can appreciate the pain of the Cuban people–above all that of the young people desperate to try their luck on the Straits of Florida, to achieve their dream of getting to Miami.

Every year, Nelton calls Rogelio Riverón, who acts as the boss and devotes some minutes to excuses, which I assume are meant to be a joke; including that one of the characters mentions my name and the title of one of my books, and that the censors won’t accept it.

I remember that it was Riverón who assembled that anthology with the prizewinners in the Carpentier and Cortázar competitions, leaving out Jorge Luis Arzolla and me; I presume that Riverón was obeying precise orders from the then-President of the Cuban Institute of Books (ICL), the Taliban Iroel Sánchez. But it is best that history take cares of placing everyone in the position they have earned, whether by honesty or dishonesty.

Nelton Pérez once again demonstrates — by means of his own talent — that he is a great writer, and this creative greatness is comparable only to how great a human being he is. In particular, I can assure you that he was the only writer who has visited me in prison, and I was the one who always had my apartment full of friends and colleagues.

On many occasions, Nelton has set out on a journey over land and sea from the city of Gerona, just to see me during visiting hours and exchange a warm embrace. Nelton has never embarked upon a political speech to me. He is not interested in why I might find myself imprisoned, because, being a friend, a brother more than anything, he only knows that one of his family is jailed.

But as if that weren’t a good enough reason, Nelson knows I am innocent. He was always at my side. When a bond was imposed to ensure that I would not travel to the Festival of the Word in Puerto Rico in 2009, he went to the bank to deposit the sum in question, and then, when he found me in prison, when he wanted to pay it, he read in the official documents that the  requirement had in fact been imposed by the State Security, which didn’t even have the modesty to hide its desperate hand, on account of my rebellious attitude toward the dictatorship.

Nelton suffers my imprisonment as much as or more than I do. He is the most honest person, with the finest feelings, of anyone I know. He is himself a prize, as friend, husband and father, who, unlike others, did not keep his distance for fear of reprisals for not accepting the pressures applied by the Culture  functionaries and the State Security officials.

This prize will not be the last we will hear of Nelton Pérez, because his talent includes also writing poetry, songs, and directing a literary workshop in his town, thus providing help to the newest writers.

Brother Nelton, when I learned of your prize, I don’t recall having been so emotional when I won it myself in 2001 for my book, “The Children Nobody Wanted.”

Sending my happiness to you with an embrace.

 Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

January 2015. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana.

*Translator’s note: 36,000 Cubans launched themselves in makeshift boats in the summer of that year, to try to get to the United States.

Translated by GH

16 January 2015