Category Archives: Translator: GH

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

Open Letter to the European Community / Angel Santiesteban

I am addressing each one of the twenty-eight nations which make up the European Community, to demand more depth, through an exhaustive investigation with free people, unencumbered and unafraid, to find a just consensus to the national issues of the Island, more so when we know that the historic practice, in more than a half century of socialism, has not been the welfare of the people, but the maintenance of the cruel machinery for the sake of their “Iron Totalitarian Power,” the imprisonment and daily repression of dissenters, and the mysterious deaths of opposition leaders.

I appeal to you, in the light of the recent decision of your Foreign Ministers, to open up a bargaining agreement with Havana, which we consider to be a grave mistake, in view of the fact that while the European Union was arriving at this agreement, the regime was imprisoning its opponents.

We hope that you do not see Cuba as a palliative to help you solve the crisis you are dealing with, at the cost of permitting the violation of our rights.

Exposing ourselves to risk, we have learned that the Castro brothers will never permit any imposition which gives any space for opposition, so that they have not even signed the United Nations Covenants, which in this 21st century should be the minimum indispensable requirement for the self-respect of any state, in the face of the international community; achieving this, and thus liberty and respect for the opposition, would be the contribution that the European Community could present to the Cuban people, and in turn this would be a credible step forward on the part of the Raúl Castro government, showing that it really is its intention to provide openings and improvements in terms of the Human Rights of the Cuban people.

In actual fact, they have filled up the jails with young people who, without any other option, have preferred to be criminals rather than submit to hunger and the absence of basic necessities. In those prisons, you will find many professionals, “embezzlers”, who have had the same misfortune as those who haven’t studied, since they haven’t had the opportunity to emigrate, as is the case with the overwhelming majority.

With respect, we urgently request that the European Community does not change its Common Position, without previously assuring itself in respect of the necessary change for the political democratisation of the Cuban archipelago.

Sincerely,

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. February 2014.
Please sign the petition for Amnesty International declare the dissident Cuban Angel Santiesteban to be a prisoner of conscience

Translated by GH
26 February 2014

Kafkaesque Chronology in the Island Utopia

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Ángel Santiesteban

By Wichy García Fuentes  | Originally appeared in  Revista Replicante

A Cuban writer has just been sentenced to five years in jail for a crime he never committed. He has just been sent again to the galleys for that bad obsession that some have to wish that a hundred, fifty, ten, five or one person should have the same right to think and choose as the other millions of Cubans.

It was ten years ago that Ángel Santiesteban appeared at the International Book Festival of Guadalajara, where he was taken by the Cuban cultural authorities after winning the Alejo Carpentier Prize for his compilation of the stories The Children Nobody Wanted.

Ten years ago Ángel Santiesteban dared to be the discordant voice in a delegation which, on being asked constantly by university students about the human rights situation in Cuba, could only repeat the Fidelist refrains which, for half a century, have accused anybody with his own ideas of being “an imperialist mercenary”, and, not being able to tolerate this, that brilliant narrator born in 1968 said publicly that “a hundred, fifty, ten, five or one person have the same rights to think and choose as the other millions of Cubans”,  receiving the applause of the young audience, an applause which greatly irritated the government representatives at the FIL (International Book Festival), and with the result that for the rest of the event, they deliberately detached themselves, without trying to hide the fact, from the programmed activities.

Ángel Santiesteban had received the Carpentier Prize, after obvious skirmishes with the Casa de las Americas, which he finally gained after two attempts in which the jury came under pressure from the authorities to put him to one side to make room for others — on those two occasions (1992 and 1994) the winners were, according to Amir Valle, “two of the weakest books to gain prizes in the history of that competition in the story category” — and although by 1995 he was able to win the UNEAC (Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba) prize and the Carpentier in the 2001 competition, it was only in 2006 that he was recognised by the Casa de las Americas, in a half-hearted recognition, which was not free from pressure on the jury, and which hardly allowed him to enjoy the controlled publication of Happy are those who mourn.

Nevertheless, his books, mostly published with a mediocre presentation, immediately sold out in the Book Fairs in Havana. They flew off into the eager hands of the same readers who left the most officially-favored volumes to gather dust on the bookshelves.

Ángel Santiesteban had already suffered imprisonment. Although absolved after a tribunal recognised that there had been no crime in seeing off his sister on the coast – she illegally left the island – he just the same had to suffer fourteen months in jail before it was recognised he was innocent of the supposed crime of a “cover-up.” From that experience emerged literature, translation into the written word of the hunger and inhumane treatment in the Cuban prisons.

But the NeoStalinist regime could not permit what happened next. Ángel, who had already made clear his ethical line on officialism, opted to write his opinions and to publish them in the nascent independent Cuban blogosphere. An old friend, the poet Camilo Vanegas, instructed him in internet avatars and Blogspot. Like a good Cuban, half-literate in 2.0, he hit the net and brought out the blog The Children Nobody Wanted, taming the limitations of connectivity on the island and posting whenever he could his written criticisms, his truths and his explicit risk.

At the end of 2011 Ángel had a legal process to face, a Kafkaesque mechanism with the intention of seeking to sentence him to fifty years for alleged crimes of rape, robbery, attempted homicide, threats, harassment, injuries, and running over a child on the public highway. All of this in a very badly written script in which his ex-wife banded together with an official of the political police in order to cause him the greatest possible damage.

The false evidence was falling apart little by little and only terminating at the end of 2012 — and after the writer and other peaceful activists were brutally detained opposite an office of the State Security in Havana, beaten up and locked up for several days — the dreadful process started up again and Ángel Santiesteban, once again without evidence and with sufficient witnesses in his favor, is brought before the “revolutionary tribunals” and sentenced to five years prison for the shamelessly fabricated offences of housebreaking and injury.”

He isn’t, by a long way, the first Cuban to be stitched up by false accusations, clumsily put together by the Castro dictatorship. Many others have been systematically discredited by official publicity, sent to jail on unlawful charges, but until recently the dissent moved compulsively into areas of physical protest, with little thought of philosophy or sociological analysis.

Ángel, in his role of prestigious storyteller, joined in the debates that another intellectual, Antonio G. Rodiles, had arranged in his house. Estado de Sats refers to that space for integration, conceptualisation, civic projection, which is so much-needed by the new generation to share their differing thoughts.

The government has not been able to show a relationship, even superficially, with the CIA or with the United States Interests Section in Cuba. It hasn’t been able to find a way to demonstrate “imperialist mercenary”, so as to impose an unofficial punishment. The false accusation of aggravated crimes could be the answer, since among so many alleged crimes something is likely to work. And it worked.

A Cuban writer has just been sentenced to five years in jail for a crime he never committed. He has just been sent again to the galleys for that bad obsession that some have to wish that a hundred, fifty, ten, five or one person should have the same right to think and choose as the other millions of Cubans.

Young university students applauded Ángel Santiesteban Prats ten years ago at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara. Today, the writer needs them, and the Mexican intellectuals who can still distinguish between the revolutionary utopia and the decadent obstinacy of a totalitarian regime which cons all of us equally.

Given that the media and the limited virtual network in Cuba remain under the strict control of his captors, Ángel Santiesteban needs international help, needs the solidarity of his colleagues and as many decent people as can join together in the social media to demand his freedom.  ®

Published by Revista Replicante

 Translated by GH

January 25 2013

Santiesteban, the Facts and Reasonable Doubt

By Wilfredo Vallin Almeida

The questions mount up in the criminal case of the celebrated writer Ángel Santiesteban leaving the legal officials in Cuba looking very bad in terms of transparency and legal  techniques and leaving us with a certain taste of injustice. The case is a good demonstration of that and gives rise to something which in the past used to be unacceptable to legal practitioners; deciding a penalty while doubts persist.

IN DUBIO PRO REO (the accused has the benefit of any doubt) is what they used to say, but this seems to have been excluded from Cuban legal practice.

In criminal law and criminal procedure, the events which give rise to offences normally focus, in terms of process, on two basic aspects:

  1. the facts in themselves (the grounds of fact), and
  2. the relevant legal principles (Articles of Law, Resolutions of the Governing Council of the Supreme Popular Tribunal, legal doctrine, interpretation, etc.)

Let’s start of by indicating some of the irregularities (there are more) in terms of grounds of fact which are evident in this complicated and lengthy business;

The only direct evidence shown in the process is  that of his ex-partner, who is the one accusing him. But what we have ended up with is that during the various declarations offered by her in the long-drawn-out preparatory stage, the accusation has repeatedly changed, to such an extent that the Prosecutor had to disregard and ignore some of them on the grounds, as far as we could see, of being ambiguous and hardly able to be taken seriously.

Can you have confidence in the evidence of a person who keeps changing his or her testimony? In the same case, this lady again contradicts herself, this time in terms of the medical certificate she presents, which does not accord with the injuries she claims to have received.

In her testimony, the claimant says that after having been brutally hit, she was raped by the accused. The Prosecutor nevertheless did not take into account this important element in the case.

Prior to this matter, Angel and his ex-partner had been through another case where she accused him of having threatened her. In this case the defendant was found innocent.

The appearance of the teacher and school director of Santiesteban’s son, Eduardo Angel , was important. She testified that the child told her that his mother obliged him to say things against his father. This evidence was also disregarded by the Tribunal.

Obviously, these were not all the issues of fact: I have referred to only some of them – sufficient in my opinion to illustrate to those not well-versed in such matters, what is the meaning of REASONABLE DOUBT.

Translated by GH

December 20 2012