Chiquita: A Brilliant Novel / Angel Santiesteban

by Antonio Orlando Rodriguez   Winner of 2008 Alfaguara Award

by Antonio Orlando Rodriguez
Winner of 2008 Alfaguara Award

The last time State Security allowed me to leave the country was in 2008, to a Book Fair in the Dominican Republic, which I attended as a judge for a literary prize; and from where I returned with my blog “The Children Nobody Wanted.”

But that’s not what I want to talk about in this post, but rather about a novel I discovered on that trip, the winner of the Alfaguara Prize, by Cuban author, Antonio Orlando Rodríguez: Little One (Chiquita); although the magnitude of the novel should indicate that it’s not (so little) since the author tells the story of the immense life of Espiridiona Cenda del Castillo, a Lilliputian who was born in the city of Matanzas one 14th of December, 1869.

This miniature-sized human being achieved fame once she decided to travel—with her brother and a pianist cousin—in order to triumph in the artistic world and capitalize on her voice lessons and 26-inch size.

Her ups and downs began after June 30, 1896, when she left Cuba for New York with a vaudeville show. In New York she performed on the best vaudeville stages and became one of the genre’s most successful artists. She traveled the world.

Oddly, she had a charisma that made people want to enlist her in the important causes of the time. The most righteous of these was the cause for Cuban independence, and she was visited by no less than a group of Cubans led by Tomás Estrada Palma, who had the dual charge of delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party and ambassador-at-large of the Republic of Cuba in Arms against the United States, and who would eventually become the first President of Cuba.

She was also welcomed by, among many other celebrities, millionaires and people of influence, U.S. President William McKinley, who was later assassinated while in office.

In a rewarding, literary subplot—from the moment she meets Alejo Romanov, third son of Alexander the Second of Russia, on his visit to the city of Matanzas, during which he gives her a gold chain with a tiny watch face as a good luck charm—an intriguing story begins in which the author himself acknowledges at the end of the novel he has “unscrupulously interwoven historical truth and fantasy,” license that adds intriguing turns of events and raises readers’ interest as well as the literary level of the author, who hails from Ciego de Ávila, Cuba.

The author’s humor and trickery, which interfere in the novel with mastery and achievement, provide a fresh, very Cuban flavor to the reader.

My first reading of this novel was ruined, as I told you in the beginning, at that Book Fair in the D.R., while reading in sessions at the same booth where it was for sale and, consequently, once I finished, I promised myself to come back to it and give it a more thorough and uninterrupted reading.

Thanks to life’s lovely coincidences, oppositional and independent journalist Lilianne Ruiz handed me a copy of the book, which life long journalist, Reinaldo Escobar, had sent her from his personal library and for which I will be forever grateful to them both; because I enjoyed this reading more than the first—so much so, that I re-read it in three days.

My pretense for sharing these brief comments is to invite Cubans who have not already done so to find this book and have the pleasure of reading it, enrich their personal library and, best of all, add culture and historical knowledge to their mental archives.

For my part—even though I’m a colleague of the author, who claims that being a writer is synonymous with being a “professional liar”—I only have tried to tell you the truth.

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

Translated by: Kathy Fox

The Island of the Long Shadows / Angel Santiesteban

Section 21, as this Department of State Security is known, works to track the political activities of the opposition in the Cuban archipelago.  They are the omnipotent masters of the destinies of those who seek democracy and freedom.

Screen Capture – Moment in which Angel Santiesteban was arrested in front of Section 21, after being violently beat up by agents (8/11/12).

In my case, it was the official Camilo, the same one who on November 8th, 2012, after a beating in plain view of the public, told me that they were putting me in jail for 5 years [before Angel’s trial was concluded].

Three months later, I went to prison, convicted by a rigged jury, where they didn’t show a single bit of evidence against me, except that joke by the lieutenant colonel graphologist, who acted as something like a fortune-teller and said that given “the height and inclination of my handwriting*,” I was guilty. Of no value were the five witnesses I presented who corroborated my statement. Not even justice is an impediment to the designs of the political police.

Since I entered prison, it has been the State Security officials who have manipulated my incarceration. The prison officials have always let me know that “they are there to keep me enclosed,” but that they have no rights over my person.

If I fall ill, whether they are to approve or not the pass** that is provided every sixty days for those serving less than 5 years, transfers, disciplinary measures, or for any other motive, they are to call Section 21 and there they will be instructed as to what is to be done with me.

Of course, it was those authorities in that very same Section 21 who gave the go-ahead for my transfer from the Valle Grande prison to La Lima camp, in keeping with my sentence (as I am not supposed to be in prison); from there to prison #1580 (in a new violation of my rights); later, to the Lawton settlement; and now, to the Guardafronteras (Border Patrol) unit, where I am currently held.

According to the prison officials, they are supposed to consult with the officials of Section 21 at each step in my process. They have retained the appeal of my case, delivered at the Ministry of Justice on July 4, 2013, for more than a year. This is because if justice were to be applied, they would have to release me immediately, as requested by my attorney, given my proven innocence. Instead, they gather an extensive list of flagrant violations that, as my defense attorney at the time said after the trial, left me “in a state of utter defenselessness.”

I have stated before that murderers, drug traffickers, pederasts, and others who have committed grave crimes, are treated with the utmost mercy compared to the stance the authorities have taken toward my person, for they treat me according to the strictest of their laws.

At this time they have me cloistered inside a Border Patrol Troops unit, in a small apartment with two rooms and a bath. It is completely barred and there is a guard at the door who records in a log the hour at which I rise, if I take exercise, if I write, etc.

In addition, this small apartment made into a prison cell includes a patio that, in my honor, was completely enclosed in bars – even on the roof – just hours before they decided to transfer me to this place.

However, even while bearing every suffering that their impediments cause, I feel proud to be treated thus. Not even the worst of their measures against me will cause me to back down from my struggle for a more just country — a country in which free expression against the politics laid down by the powers-that-be will not be cause for imprisonment.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Border Patrol Unit Prison. Havana. October, 2014.

Translator’s notes:

*A handwriting expert literally testified at Angel’s trial that his “too slanted” handwriting proved he was a guilty person.

**In an earlier post Angel explained the Cuban penal system that allows prisoners with shorter sentences to leave prison every so many days for extended (overnight) home visits. He was granted one of these passes when he was in the Lawton Settlement, a work camp, but future passes were withheld. 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, and others.

10 November 2014

Sensitive Issues / Angel Santiesteban

Moment at which the Government’s TV show “Cuba’s Reasons” declared Angel Santiesteban Prats “guilty”

In the days when they arrested me, between last July 21 and August 13, among other questions, the State Security officials questioned me about my economic support. In this regard, I’d never imagined that others would be interested in this aspect, but as the Cuban government likes to accuse every opponent of being a mercenary, I’d like to make this public.

Since I’m in prison, my sister María de los Ángeles, who has always supported me, assumed this role, not without pain on my part, because she didn’t send me her excess, not even from reducing her wishes and desires, but from her own sweat, the same sacrifice, because as she likes to say, “I am the poorest person in the United States, but the richest of any Cuban found inside Cuba.” In addition to my sister, I have received help from friends and colleagues with whom I’ve maintained a close friendship since I was a teenager and youth; and also from Masons living in Florida.

On the literary side, my brother for life and colleague, as well as legal representative as a literary agent, Amir Valle, has collected my copyright earnings and prizes, and gotten them to me in Cuba in various ways. In fact, in Miami it was proposed that in a literary presentation space, my books could be sold, and my sister, in a dignified act, with the greatest friendship, refused to receive the money and, in addition, asked that, without any disrespect, that they not do so, precisely to avoid the Cuban political police accusing me of being a mercenary or maintained by funding from people in Miami. She, from her poverty, will continue with my support.

I have never received money from the American government, nor from any Cuban-American foundation. When someone on Facebook offers to help me economically, with delicacy and thanks, I ask them to send photos of their family at a happy minute, or some book. I never accept money.

I am not a mercenary. On the contrary. I scorned the opportunities the Cuban government offers to the intellectuals and artists if they support the government, and if not, that they at least keep quiet and pretend to be allies.

I preferred, as my sister also says, “to give up being a prince to be a beggar,” and although I never traveled on the Cuban government’s money, I did travel on the invitation of universities book fairs and literary events, saw Europe and a great part of America, including, on more than one occasion, the United States.

I greatly preferred to abandon this life to dedicate myself to the freedom of my country, whatever sacrifice is necessary. And for that, I have been beaten, jailed, intellectually marginalized, humiliated by the cultural authorities, and still it doesn’t seem to me the minimum quota of what it’s worth to be able to freely say what I think in my time and my space.

So much so that I write with shame, because I always compare myself with the great Cubans who gave their lives and their youth to free the nation and, ultimately, to offer a better opportunity to their compatriots.

So I said to the political functionaries who dealt with me, and for this I also wanted to share it with my friends and readers because, above all, I am interested in being transparent like the wind.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Coastguard Prison Unit. Havana. October 2014.

15 October 2014

Solidarity with Miguel Ginarte / Angel Santiesteban

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, the president of the Diez de Octubre Court declared conclusive the trial against Miguel Ginarte and five other defendants. Just a year ago, Ángel Santiesteban-Prats wrote this post in solidarity with Miguel.

The Editor

My mother always warned me that the Cuban government proceeds through their actions: “When they no longer need you, the squash you like a cockroach”.

In the cultural media, it is well-known that there are very few shows on Cuban TV that do not use Miguel Ginarte to produce their programmes; in fact, very few are those who in the end who are not grateful for his disinterested help, his constant effort, because he takes the care with each show as if it were the final project that he would ever collaborate on. A man who people rarely hear say no, and when he has had to say no it is because it really was beyond his reach to help.

But that ranch not only provides work for the The Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), but also for the Ministry of Culture, who closed events at that location, like a peasant with a pig being roasted under the stars. I was able to participate in some of these closures before opening my blog, of course, and there we could also see the make up of the diet of then Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, now adviser to President Raul Castro: Fish and wine.

At that time, Ginarte wasn’t selling or diverting resources, as he is now being accused of. The television directors, when they wanted their guests to be treated decently, approached Papa Ginarte: who never turned his back, and after giving the respective indications, persevered to make sure that the requests were met.

As the actor Alberto Pujol said in his letter, there was no luxury to be found there; on the contrary, everything was very modest, to the point that it looked like somewhere one would film a mambises* cabin in the foothills of a mountain. Ostentation never interested Ginarte, only the quality of his work, because as every good Cuban peasant knows “A bull is tied by his horns, and a man by his words”.

As always on the island, behind this web of lies against Ginarte, there must be an official in love with the place, to at a whim do away with the work accomplished by the sweat of another; perhaps someone who resents Ginarte because at some time he should have said no, as only he knows how to do with bureaucrats. But it should come as no surprise to anyone: everyone’s time will come, regardless if they are excellent professionals, altruists, creators, honest, revolutionary people; they need only to be inadequate for the plans of those in power to be literally swept under the carpet.

I remember him with his jovial smile of a macho peasant who enjoyed very few days before entering prison. I would like to be able to say to him “the master should be ashamed, Papa Ginarte”, and remember him on his horse, back in the seventies, going to see Luyanó with his daughter Dinae and, patiently, lifting us up one by one to give us each our turn on his beautiful auburn steed.

At any rate, despite the pain that the injustice committed against Ginarte has caused us, there is something that makes it worth it, and that is his friends and admirers who have joined him by tooth and nail. I am sure that, as always, those who are ashamed will sign the petition, as they have done for decades. Others will want to do it but their lack of courage, or their commitments or perks, won’t let them; they think that it is not their problem, for now. But when someone does it from their heart, then that is already more than sufficient.

Ángel Santestiban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. October 2013

*Translator’s notes: Mambises is a term used to refer to independent guerillas who, during the 19th Century in Cuba and the Philippines, fought in the wars of independence. 

Translated by Shane J. Cassidy

25 October 2014

Angel Santiesteban Prats: 20 Months of Unjust Imprisonment

Today, 28 October 2014, Angel Santiesteban Prats marks twenty months of unjust incarceration, waiting for the Review of this show trial which condemned him without any proof because he is INNOCENT. His son, being a child and used to testify against his father, has now completely dismantled the farce plotted against Angel and yet they still keep him in prison. His only crime: opposing the dictatorship that has plagued Cuba for more than half a century.

28 October 2014

Blatant Lies / Angel Santiesteban

During the days in which Ángel Santiesteban-Prats’ whereabouts were unknown, and with fears absolutely based on the illegal transfers that he experienced before, we filed a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances, so they would put it before the Regime in Havana to clarify his whereabouts.

Translation of letter from the High Commissioner’s Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commission:

Dear Mrs. Tabakman,

I have the honor of addressing you in the name of the Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances with respect to the case of Mr. Ángel Lazaro Santiesteban Prats (case no. 10005155).

In this respect I would like to inform you that the communication sent to the Government of Cuba on July 30, 2014, due to an administrative error, did not include the phrase “Marti TV (Miami, United States)” in place of “Cuban communication media.”

Furthermore, I want you to know that this correction of the case does not affect the decision taken by the Working Group during its 104th session, such as was communicated to you in its letter of September 30, 2014.

I would like to inform you that the Working Group will celebrate its 105th session between March 2-6, 2015, in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Sincerely yours,

Ariel Dulitzky, President-Presenter

They acted with the dedication and speed that an emergency requires, and, of course, the Castro dictatorship did not. They only responded to the Group’s requirement when it gave them the demand; that is, when Ángel already had been located by journalists from 14Ymedio. Thanks to them we knew where he was, although they couldn’t meet with him. The Regime had put him in the border military prison where he presently is.

I want to point out not only the fact that the Regime responded to the presenter for the Working Group, but they also took advantage of the occasion to lie blatantly and use against the “source” complainant the same strategies they use to falsely accuse and imprison the opposition. All thieves believe that others are like them.

Translation of document from Cuban government:

On the other hand, the facts transcribed are not reliable. They don’t come from pertinent and credible sources that act in good faith, in accord with the principles of cooperation in the matter of human rights and without political motivation, contrary to what is set forth in the United Nations Charter. They are supported by unfounded accusations that are only intended to tarnish the reality of Cuba’s record in the promotion and protection of all human rights for everyone.

They exploited an involuntary omission in the group’s communication to the Cuban government to try to disqualify the complaint and the complainants. Now they have just communicated and corrected the omission – again – in order to continue supporting their lies, but they will preserve the same pathetic silence that they have with respect to the whole case.

I am transcribing here the response from the Regime (the complete document is attached in a link in this post):

Session: 104

Government Item

Date: September 4, 2014

The Government of Cuba reported that:

“The allegations about a supposed transfer of the citizen Ángel Lázaro Santiesteban Prats,

from the place where he was fulfilling a punishment of deprivation of liberty to a ’military base.’

“After investigation, it was demonstrated that:

“1. At 7:00 a.m. on July 21, 2014, Santiesteban Prats tried to escape from the center where he was held as a prisoner (with open living). Immediately complaint 38563/14 was filed in the station of the National Revolutionary Police of Municipio Diez de Octubre, for the crime of Escape of Prisoners or Detainees.

“2. At 1:05 a.m. on July 27, 2014, Santiesteban Prats was detained and transferred to the Territorial Department of Criminal Investigation and Operations, where he remains. He enjoys good health and receives all the benefits established in the Cuban penitentiary system.

“3. Santiesteban Prats himself admitted that he fled from the detention center with the goal of leaving the country in an irregular and covert manner, with support from the exterior, and to thereby avoid having to continue serving his sentence.

“On the other hand, the facts transcribed are not reliable. They don’t come from pertinent and credible sources that act in good faith, in accord with the principles of cooperation in the matter of human rights and without political motivation, contrary to what is set forth in the United Nations Charter. They are supported by unfounded accusations that are only intended to tarnish the reality of Cuba’s record in the promotion and protection of all human rights for everyone.

“In that sense, it is false that his presumed disappearance was related to ’declarations of a person associated with him in Cuban communication media in the days previous to July 20, 2014.’

“Nor for his activities as a writer and blogger was Santiesteban Prats sentenced to five years in prison for having committed common crimes, as regulated in the present Cuban Penal Code.

“He was accused by his wife, Kenla Liley Rodriguez Guzmán, in August 2009, of the crimes of Harm, Home Invasion, Injuries, Threats, Rape, and Robbery with Force. After investigation, the Prosecutor presented the case before the Provincial Court of Havana for the crimes of Injuries and Home Invasion.

“From that time they knew of his intentions to flee the country in an irregular and covert manner, incited by his sister who lives in the exterior, to evade his sentence. He finally tried, unsuccessfully, in July of this year, as already has been explained.”

Ángel Santiesteban, without even knowing of the existence of the complaint or this document, has already given an answer to that nonsense in the message that was sent explaining what motivated him to leave the Lawton prison settlement and saying that he would give himself up several days later. The only certainty in everything the dictatorship alleges is that he recognized that he abandoned the prison voluntarily, taking advantage of the movement of the prisoners who left for work in the morning.

The first lie, which falls of its own weight, is that “he receives all the benefits established in the Cuban penitentiary system.” Exactly because he DOESN’T receive them is the reason he left on his own to recover them (the 15 days of pass that corresponded to the last 10 months, which they arbitrarily denied him). He wasn’t “detained” on July 27 like they allege. He gave himself up, telling the official who received him that they still owed him 10 days of pass.

“On the other hand, the facts transcribed are not reliable. They don’t come from pertinent and credible sources that act in good faith, in accord with the principles of cooperation in the matter of human rights and without political motivation, contrary to what is set forth in the United Nations Charter. They are supported by unfounded accusations that are only intended to tarnish the reality of Cuba’s record in the promotion and protection of all human rights for everyone.”

Such a declaration merits nothing more than remembering that we are facing a dictatorship where neither law nor justice exists, in which they only administer rewards and punishments according to whether one is obsequious or opposed. The cynicism of those who work for the Regime is such that they have the nerve to mention the United Nations Charter and human rights. Does Mr. Dictator finally want to ratify the pacts of the U.N.? The biggest violator of all human rights on the continent makes believe that the complaint “continues tarnishing reality and the executive of Cuba in the promotion and protection of all human rights for everyone.” Ask him about all the executions, assassinations, tortures, imprisonments, and those who have been banished and forced into exile who have endured the said promotion and protection for 55 years.

Then they relied on the before-mentioned omission to lie again: “(…) It’s false that his presumed disappearance was related to ’declarations of a person associated with him in the Cuban communication media in the days previous to July 20, 2014.’ Now it’s already been explained to them that it was a matter of an omission, clarifying that it referred to the declaration of Angel’s son in a television program from Miami. How do they explain that they had prepared a transfer for Angel and that he complained only five days after his son said on Television Marti how he had been manipulated by his mother and the political police to lie and prejudice the case against his father? Wasn’t there a relationship with the said complaints? Are they trying to delegitimize the rumor that he denounced his imminent transfer on July 20 when on August 13 they incarcerated him where he said they would? The Regime knows perfectly well that there was an involuntary omission in the report, and they knew that it referred to the declarations of Angel’s son on Television Marti, who said that the political police were permanently spying on him, so that the Human Rights Commission granted cautionary measures for him also.

Ángel Santiesteban is the only “common” prisoner to whom the dictatorship has offered – on numerous occasions since he was incarcerated – freedom and banishment in exchange for renouncing his political position, documenting it in a video. Every time he has refused outright and denounced this in his blog. Even so, they continue stubbornly trying to convince him. So that “From this time they knew about his intentions to abandon the country in an irregular and covert manner (…)” is no more than another cock-and-bull story like the ones they habitually resort to in order to justify the unjustifiable: the lack of freedoms, guarantees, and protections for the citizen victims of the island prison.

Ángel never asked that they free him; he only requested a review of the trial with ALL the guarantees of due process that they denied him when they took him to prison. If they would proceed to carry out the review, he would be absolved, because the accusations aretotally false. That’s the reason they delay the review with the stupidest excuses, because they only pretend to penalize him by keeping him locked up: “Nor for his activities as a writer and blogger was Santiesteban Prats sentenced to five years in prison for having committed common crimes, as regulated in the present Cuban Penal Code.”

The accuser is named Kenia Diley Rodríguez Guzmán; only by reading how they refer to her in the response do we have proof of the “care” they put into fabricating causes of action, the accusations and the accusers. It doesn’t ever matter to them who has lied; the only thing that matters is that their lies serve the interests of the dictatorship: “He was accused by his wife, Kenla Liley Rodriguez Guzmánin August 2009, for the crimes of Harm, Home Invasion, Injuries, Threats, Rape, and Robbery with Force. After investigation, the Prosecutor presented the case before the Provincial Court of Havana for the crimes of Injuries and Home Invasion.”

I remember again that as there wasn’t any proof that would incriminate him, they condemned him after a report from a lieutenant, a handwriting expert, who alleged that “from the size and inclination of his handwriting, he’s guilty.”

In the end, there is little to add that is not already known.

The Editor

Translated by Regina Anavy

20 October 2014

The New Robin Hoods (II) / Angel Santiesteban

Granting the wish of Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, who remains unjustly imprisoned, that his voice is not silenced, and while I await for him to find a way to send me his posts, I will be publishing, starting today, the ones he sent me in the past, as to keep his voice alive in these isolating times that prevent him from publishing in his own blog.

The post I share today was written in May, in the Lawton Prison.

 The Editor


The New Robin Hoods (II)

Last night, after we were locked in our barracks, we heard screams and remained alert. Shortly after, we saw the prison guards running around and calling for the military-on-guard. They had caught a thief who had entered one of the storage rooms that hold construction materials. When he was brought close to a light, we were even more surprised: we soon recognized him as the other military officer who guards the prisoners. He’s not more than twenty years-old.

While being taken, he kept explaining he needed to fix his house, as he was getting married. For this, he would need to divide the space so he could be independent from the rest of the family and start his married life.

We can imagine it was humiliating to him for the prisoners to see him detained and then see him being pushed into the patrol car that would carry him to the police station. One of the inmates joked: “The birds shooting the rifles.”

One more young man who will be added to the thousands waiting in Cuban prisons.

I’m sorry for those who do not understand this, but in the prison cell where they lock in people who rob, not for luxuries, but for necessity, I would instead lock in the politicians, whom I blame for cutting those young lives short and ignoring their most objective needs.

Ironically, it is a sort of luck and a relief for their families to see them in prison, as at least they know they will be alive and they know they can wait for them to return, as opposed to the families of those hopeless ones who venture into the sea risking their life and, in many cases, losing it in the attempt.

Those who live or have lived in Cuba know that the salary here is not enough to live on, not even in the case of the most lauded or brilliant professional.

Inmates assure us that the real ambition of the guard, now locked inside some dark and fetid cell, was—after becoming independent of his family—to buy himself a bicycle.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison. May, 2014.

Ask Amnesty International to declare Cuban dissident Ángel Santiesteban a Prisoner of Conscience

Translated by: T

15 September 2014

Changes in Cuba / Angel Santiesteban

29 September 2014

The "Hero" Who Couldn’t Find the Entrance / Angel Santiesteban

A great truth was revealed at the VIII Conference of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC, by its Spanish initials).

We have to admit when our detractors speak the truth.  There’s no other option than –for the sake of honesty– to accept how right they’ve been.  Therefore, I have to admit that, yes, “The UNEAC is the Moncada of culture”*.  It’s impossible to state it any clearer, for we know well the political, human, logistic, and leadership failures that the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953 symbolized, when the immature and terribly suspicious Fidel Castro stationed a select group to practice their aim in Santiago de Cuba.  With neither suitable arms  nor adequate preparations to confront the army, he sent them to a certain death.

How can intellectuals pretend not to recognize Fidel Castro’s cowardice, who — in spite of having gone to school in that city and having planned the attack — couldn’t find the entrance to the barracks, when those who had never been there were able to get behind its walls?

It is infuriating to watch that documentary where Fidel Castro, leaning on a car of that era, explains how he was unable to find the entrance, yet the cars traveling ahead and behind him managed to penetrate the garrison, whose entrance is of such a size that a blind man could find it!  But we already know that there’s nothing worse than one who doesn’t want to see what’s in front of him.

That wasn’t his only mistake.  We know that, throughout the entire struggle of the Rebel Army, he never participated in a single battle; and he advised Raul Castro to do likewise: while leading his comrades in the midst of combat, the latter would abandon the fight only to appear days later when the town square had been taken.  Fidel Castro not only couldn’t find the entrance, he was unable to follow the sounds of gunfire on that fateful morning, nor could he redirect himself towards other posts during the shootout.  On the contrary, he remained huddled, waiting for the end, and when he learned his soldiers were dead or captured, he sought shelter in a hole in order to finally turn himself in to the Catholic Church (which he never thanked for saving him), and reemerge as the hero.

Certainly, seen as a failure (the only way to comprehend this event), without a doubt, as the president of the UNEAC, Miguel Barnet, put it: “The UNEAC is the Moncada of culture”.  He’s never been more right.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Compound.  April, 2014

* Santiesteban is referring to the speech by Miguel Barnet at the opening of the VIII UNEAC Conference.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

Sign the petition so that Amnesty International will declare the Cuban dissident Ángel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

23 May 2014

Let’s Join "The Death of The Cat" in Denouncing the Castro Dictatorship at FIBABC

For my soul brother Angel Santiesteban, prisoner of Cuba for thinking differently.

For my second father, Raul Guerra, who died intoxicated with disappointment.

The Death of the Cat

Writer:  Lilo Vilaplana  Genre:  Fiction  Category:  Fiction

The Death of the Cat is much more than an exceptionally accomplished work of art by Lilo Vilaplana.  It is an unambiguous argument against the Castro dictatorship that has plagued Cuba for fifty-six years.

It deeply impacts Cubans who have lived that period, those who even if they have not lived it suffer even today the same painful reality, and the non-Cubans who are moved seeing how the Castro propaganda has fooled them also while all Cubans are prisoners of the big island jail.

Dedicated to Angel Santiesteban and Raul Guerra, it deals with a work of fiction inspired by real events, contextualized in the day after the shooting of General Ochoa but that takes great care with even the smallest details managing to recreate on a Bogota lot the miseries of one Havanan.

Details as “trifling” as to have covered the floor with a paper that mimics the tiles that populate Cuba.  And even the wretched roll that Cubans eat, many preliminary experiments were needed until obtaining what appears in the short film, seeking not to exceed the weight and to be true to what the impoverished people eat.

It is not easy to create intentionally so much destruction, poverty and neglect as the Castros have caused in over five decades.  Painstaking craftsmanship by Lilo’s team has managed to “destroy” the setting, making it so true to life that more than one person will believe that it really was filmed in Havana.

The director’s merit, and it is great, is not only artistic.  The art, it is true, has brought the short film to first level international festivals.  But it has not only shown the world Cuban talent, which is infinite and in Cuba has no possibility of being developed unless one wants to end up censored, marginalized or in prison.  The short itself, filmed in Colombia, is true testimony that in order to exist, it must have been born on another horizon where liberty reigns.  And just for this reason, the performances by Jorge Perugorria and Coralita Veloz, both residents on the island, are doubly meritorious.  You have to have a lot of guts to participate in such a film and continue living in Cuba.

The fact that The Death of the Cat is shown in the CANNES or GOYA festival, among others (KRALJEVSKI FILMSKI FESTIVAL, Serbia; FESTIVAL IBEROAMERICANO DE CORTOMETRAJES ABC.ES, Spain; FESTIVAL LATINOAMERICANO DE VIDEO ROSARIO, Argentina; PORTOBELLO FILM FESTIVAL, United Kingdom; FESTIVAL PIRIAPOLIS DE PELICULA, Uruguay; TRINIDAD + TOBAGO FILM FESTIVAL, Trinidad and Tobago), means that hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world can learn the reality of Cuba, which tries to hide it at all costs, and I refer not only to the misery, but to the most terrible thing:  a people subjugated to a brutal dictatorship, for the violation of human rights is its denomination of origin.

Seeing The Death of the Cat and voting for it at FIBABC means, besides recognizing Lilo Vilaplana’s talent, an act of patriotism, because his participation in the Goya Festival will help open eyes to the reality of Cuba for a great number of people in the world who have no possibility of seeing it with their own eyes.

Certain that Angel Santiesteban would ask you to support Lilo Vilaplana by voting for The Death of the Cat if they did not have him isolated as they do, I ask it in his name.

The Editor

To see and vote for The Death of the Cat, follow the next link:

Magic Filmmaking

by Angel Santiesteban

Finally, through my son’s cell phone, on the visit he made me in recent days where they have me incarcerated, I was able to see the short film “The Death of the Cat,” by Cuban director Lilo Vilaplana, living in Colombia for more than a decade, a place where he took — besides his talent, craft, some friends and his family — the bitterness that he suffered first hand, totalitarian logic processes, and that now, as a mature creator, he feels the duty to expose, first as literature and now in film.

The traumas lived by Lilo, which he carried in his soul like a mother who travels pregnant, began to flower in that second country — Colombia — which opened its arms to his stroke of talent and effort in the productions.

After a decade of successes, now he can afford to produce these short films; the script of this particular one is based on one of the stories from the collection “A Cuban Story,” which saw light, also, after he emigrated.

Many viewers will confuse its geography and think that it was filmed in its totality in Havana, because at the beginning the character Armando is seen walking through its streets, in the great performance by Albertico Pujol, who was filmed by another colleague, at Lilo’s request, because of the impossibility of his entering Cuba.

Then the brilliant edition would be harmoniously connected with the rest filmed in Colombia, thanks to the plausible set design by excellent professionals who thought of even the most minute detail, and which helped to color the Cuban reality at the end of the eighties decade of the past century — on the eve of the officially named “Special Period” that would uncover the worst penuries ever lived by the Cuban people and that, in a snap, changed the perspectives of a nation deceived and repressed for decades.

To lend context to the story, it is worth remembering that Lilo chose the day after the execution of the Hero of the Republic of Cuba, Brigadier General Arnaldo Ochoa, a circus spectacle by the Castro brothers to entertain the people, to make them forget their hardships and resist taking to the streets in protest.

It was also a lesson for the high military command — on the other hand no less important — to remove the danger of those who had feathered their leadership, and who imitated the habits of the Castro brothers, their mentors, for those “that life was for enjoying at any cost.”

Finally, once the officers “diverted from the principles that the Revolution pursues” were punished, it was said in the official press that the complaints by the government of the United States had to be put to an end at once, complaints which accused Fidel Castro of being part of international narco-trafficking that introduced drugs into its country.

Destroying those men who could testify about the regime’s consent to the participation — and with the most notorious drug lords, like Pablo Escobar himself — they sealed an opprobrious chapter, and — as if it were little — they exterminated those who could create a seditious plan against their government and compete with brother Raul Castro for military power.

Amid this national morass, the artist that grows within Lilo is preoccupied with the little things, apparently inconsequential in the eyes of most, in order to reflect them in the art, like hunger, the need for a political transition, the loss of societal values, the separation of family, and the painful scars, exposed, in this case, in the character of Armando, who has no news of his son who launched himself to sea on a raft, a long time ago; not knowing his whereabouts, he supposes that he did not reach the Miami coast and lost his life.

The story walks the tightrope between social criticism and artistry, between melodrama and sensitivity, managing, happily, to emerge unscathed avoiding the pitfalls of trying to tell the deep suffering of each actress, actor and production team, except the young actor Camilo Vilaplana, who thanks to his parents, managed to grow up far from that social catastrophe.  In the end it manages to ward off, although it always suggests, the conviction of those responsible for the desperate reality; that judgment it leaves in the hands of the public, particularly the Cuban public.

Also without making it obvious, it awakens that unavoidable fine humor in Cubans although the worst occurs.  The cat is the trophy for their real salvation and objectives; adding meat to their food source is vital for them and, in this case, the black pussycat becomes a symbol of the worst, because it is also vengeance for the oppression that they feel because of its owner, the neighborhood snitch.

The masterful performances by Jorge Prugorria as Raul, Alberto Pujol as Armando, Barbaro Marin and Coralita Veloz, as Camilo and Delfina, respectively, ride the scene, in a brilliant team, to a worthy height, artistically speaking, which leaves a taste of pain instead of pleasure.

We are grateful for the effort of the Vilaplana family and the artist friends that joined the project because in the death of the character Armando, we kill part of the shadow that still pursues us from those hardships, and in the suffering and tears of Raul and Camilo, our own tears flowed, in the full exercise of personal exorcisms.

These days, the short film has been invited to participate in the Cannes Festival; in spite of the pain of our lives reflected on the screen, knowing that the guilty dictatorship still maintains power for more than half a century, each time the Cubans wandering the world in search of freedom and opportunity overcome the fear of being pursued in whatever corner of the planet where they try to hide, they triumph, above all with the weapon of art, the most effective of all.

Receive my embrace and thanks for the unmerited dedication, from your brother Angel from the Lawton settlement.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement.  May 2014.

Translated by mlk

21 September 2014