#Cuba, Cubans celebrate the 17th of December. Or do they cry for it? / Angel Santiesteban

For Cubans, as long as I can remember and from the history I learned, December 17th is a sacred day in which St. Lazarus calls his devotees to the shrine at El Rincon, on the outskirts of Havana, to make promises, to thank him for favors received or to ask him for health for next year.

The General-Without-Battles Raul Castro and President Barack Obama decided to make public the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States — after sealing the deal with the exchange of hostages, three spies of the Group of Five who were in prison for one American hostage accused of spying for the northern country, Alan Gross, and an agent of the Cuban intelligence accused of treason — in such an important date for Cubans, and that way, tarnished the tradition, because even for the more pagan or “communist”, on this day they light a candle asking for health and prosperity for their people.

Since last year, along with the tradition there is the fatal remembrance of an agreement that brought neither prosperity nor a decent opening that shows any willingness from the dictatorship to respect human rights and move the country towards a prosperous and democratic future. It has only been observed by the US President; docility and patience, like the stability of his country would depend on that diplomatic exchange.

This year, when the day of the first anniversary of the agreements comes, we Cubans must light two candles: one for our St. Lazarus and one for the funeral of that presidential pact. The only thing that has been brought by the opening of embassies, is a new stampede of Cubans fleeing their homeland and it far exceeds that of the 1994 Rafter Crisis.

The talks between the two governments eventually convinced people that the only thing to expect is more instability and economic strengthening of the totalitarian regime. The pilgrimage of Cubans throughout Latin America is overwhelming. The latest scandal of the islanders still remains unresolved in Costa Rica; there was a bottleneck with thousands of people stranded in emergency camps because of Nicaragua’s refusal to let them pass through, preventing them from reaching the United States. We could not expect less from President Daniel Ortega, disciple of the Cuban dictatorship.

The Castro mob likes to steal important dates of national traditions. As if was not enough usurping Christmas, banning it, and noting as “counterrevolutionaries” those celebrating it, they chose January 1st as the starting date of the so-called Revolution, that is, the dictatorship disguised as populism, plunged us into the most extreme misery of all and led millions of Cubans to emigrate. Now, they desecrated December 17th, a holy day of a saint who always annoyed them because of the huge number of devotees he has.

Translated by: Rafael
18 December 2015

#Cuba Abel Prieto, Interior Minister / Angel Santiesteban

Former Culture Minister Abel Prieto, adviser to the “President” Raul Castro, has distanced himself so much from the realm of Art that today he could be the Minister of Interior since, for several years, he devotes himself to pursue creative sheep who dare to challenge or abandon the sheepfold constructed by the dictatorship to keep artists and intellectuals bowed down.

That friendly editor, devotee of “Lezama’s work,” union-based politician, president of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), Minister of Culture, and finally presidential adviser, has distanced himself so much from the affairs of his colleagues that today, he only responds to the imperatives of the dictatorship.

How can he forget the persecution launched against intellectual Antonio José Ponte, who he personally accused publicly, expelled him from the UNEAC and shut the doors in the culture area, to the point of making him leave a meeting of writers. Ponte’s being abroad today, it is largely due to him.

Abel Prieto, 2nd from left, next to Raul Castro, 3rd from left

The same thing happened with the writer Amir Valle: he also suffered Abel’s harassment and his name could not be pronounced in his presence. He ordered him to be excluded from all cultural events in the country. Amir also thanks Abel — largely or absolutely –for prohibiting his entry to the country upon his return from Madrid, where he traveled in 2005 to present a novel.

Recently, Abel Prieto aggressively challenged the filmmaker Rebeca Chávez during the last congress of the UNEAC, when she and some directors wanted a film law to be approved, that benefits the filmmakers and cinematographic arts in general.

He did not even care that the lady in question has supported the dictatorship for decades; nor that she was the wife of writer Senel Paz, a prestigious intellectual, and back then a UNEAC official — afterward he resigned from UNEAC —  a generational comrade and, as far as is known, his friend.

For most attendees, the aggressiveness and lack of chivalry of Abel Prieto, who completely lost his marbles, uncovered his true character and commitment to the system, turning away from the cultural issues and artists.

From left to right: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz and Abel Prieto former Minister of Culture — photo taken many years ago

In my case, he also did his part: he organized that “spontaneous” campaign to collect signatures against me among the women of the UNEAC. Alleging gender violence, they put me as a paradigm of the perpetrator knowing I was innocent, but simultaneously — this is the most painful — they became accomplices of state violence against the Ladies in White (Women for Human Rights), who systematically and publicly are subject to beatings every Sunday after Mass in the church of Santa Rita. The same attitude assumed when actress and human rights activist, Ana Luisa Rubio, faced a mob that responded to the State Security and disfigured her face in a beating.

From left to right: Current Cuban President General Raul Castro Ruz and Abel Prieto, advisor to the president (old photo)

Abel Prieto, in the presence of other artists said that I would serve the five years in prison to which I had been sentenced. Then, when on April 2015, when the deadline was met, I was denied the Probation I was entitled to, I knew he was not lying, that of being Adviser to the President was not mere investiture.

For many years, that jocose intellectual who betrayed his colleagues was assuming the role of a district chief of police. He was mutating to become another Papito Serguera in the era of Pavonato. In fact, he is a role model if you want to be boosted by the dictatorship. It may be true that saying: “When people get used to power, they do not know how to live without it, and to remain there, they accept the meanness and most desperate and deep contradictions.”

There he is for the dictator. Then he can be used for what he already is: a recruit of the Interior Ministry

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, 20th of November, “on probation”.

 Translated by: Rafael

23 November 2015

Havana Regime Continues to Violate Human Rights / Angel Santiesteban

The regime in Havana continues to ignore the CIDH (International Commission of Human Rights) and keeps violating human rights.

From Angel’s Editor: As I’ve been doing for 3 years, I make available to readers of the blog “The Children Nobody Wanted” the correspondence I keep with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which is systematically ignored by the Castro dictatorship.

Two-weeks from “celebrating” the first anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, let this be an illustration, one more if possible, of what the regime understands as “reforms” and as “humans rights “.

The delay with which I published them, is because, just yesterday, December 2, 2015, I received the documents dated September 16, 2015.

It is important, although Angel Santiesteban has the appropriate precautionary measures and his case is constantly monitored by the CIDH, on 5th of November last year he was the subject of a new arbitrary detention for 24 hours; he was subjected to a summary trial in which he his Probation was revoked and right after, “it was reversed again”, in what became the final chapter in this “Kafkaesque process.”

Of course, the decision of the retrial continues in a limbo. What will be waiting for Mr. Dictator?

Angel’s editor

Translated by: Rafael
3 December 2015

AMIR VALLE: The Early Writer / Angel Santiesteban

Photo courtesy of Amir Valle. From left to right: Amir Valle and Ángel Santiesteban Prats

Angel Santiesteban talks with Amir Valle about personal experiences that marked their lives.

By Ángel Santiesteban Prats, 9 July 2015

Angel Santiesteban: Amir, we are about to celebrate thirty years since the beginning of our friendship, when back in the mid-eighties, at the Alejo Carpentier Center in Havana, they held National Seminar for Young Storywriters, where almost the entire generation then named “Newest” came together.

I made my first attempts at writing stories, when most of the guests had already won first prizes in the literary workshops in their provinces and at a national level as well, I felt myself immersed in a distant and unknown universe, as you will recall I had just been released from prison for not betraying my family in their first attempt to leave the country clandestinely.

What I remember most clearly was my admiration: I looked at them as if they were Nobel prizewinners. We were just introduced, it was like an explosion of affinity, literary interests, feelings. I accepted your friendship with great pride because, at your young age, you were a legend already, the promise you became today. For years you struggled in the most prestigious competitions for our generation.

It was an attempt, the first one of that natural instinct that later we would know as a personal trait of yours, to get out of the fold, out of the official frameworks and, in a statement drafted and made public by some of those youngsters that were named “The Six of Eighties” group in which, you along other writers: Jose Mariano Torralbas, Alberto Garrido, Madlum Marcos Gonzalez, Ricardo Hodelín Tablada, José Manuel Poveda Ruiz, somehow stepped aside from the ruling canons.

That meant a scandal in Santiago de Cuba and, like gunpowder, arrived at Havana, so the national bodies of the political police issued a directive to “assist you”:  as we know, they took you all as a “dissident” group who, influenced by — no one knew who — you were being “manipulated” by the “anti-communist propaganda”, therefore you were besieged, interrogated, tempted by being offered a boat ride from the bay of Santiago to an open area, they pressured your parents, and that way, as it was known later, you became part of the “black list” for good.

At the first opportunity, you picked up some books and you left for Havana. I witnessed all the sacrifices that you made at the time, besides, away from your parents, with whom you shared so many dreams.

Angel Santiesteban: 1. What do you remember, after so many years, from those events that took place when you were almost fourteen years old that prematurely marked your life?

AMIR VALLE: Those were very happy years. Those who lived in Santiago de Cuba in the ’80s will agree with me that they were really glorious years for culture, a time that, as I have heard, has not been repeated.

Santiago received the greatest Cuban and Latin American writers; the complicit joining of Aida Bahr, Oscar Ruiz Miyares and Augusto de la Torre from different positions in cultural institutions and in fighting a well settled state bureaucracy in the city, supported by literary specialists, among whom I remember with particular fondness, Maritza Ramirez or Gladys Horruitinier, which allowed the development of the movement of literary workshops, even publications in other parts of the country they could not have dreamed of.

The network of literary competitions was very important;  besides the musical force of Santiago, the takeoff of theater, dance and the visual arts was impressive; Santiago hosted the most important cultural events in the eastern part of the country and in the whole country as well, and among the young people, as well you say, the idea of creating literary groups. “Six of the Eighties” in our case, the La Raya group of poets, and other groups they had no name, but they worked the same.

But the most beautiful was the unit that was created among those young writers who were attending the gatherings of Heredia House in the Student House, or other gatherings to improvise, for example, at Cafe La Isabelica in a corner square Dolores, or Chess Park, or in the case of our group, in the house of Torralbas in the Sueño neighborhood, which we called “the loft of Torralbas”, because being built on a hill, from the doorway we could enjoy a beautiful view of the city.

If to this you add that as writers we received really special pampering as human beings and the great Jose Soler Puig, the unforgettable Jorge Luis Hernandez, Jose M. Fernandez Small, Aida Bahr, Daysi Cué, Luis Carlos Suarez or Lino Verdecia, these three latter who became guide-friends who were studying at the University of Oriente, you will understand that none of these other discomforts mattered a lot.

We wanted to write and, in all honesty, many good people had conspired for us to do. I remember more than that harassment that they actually began receiving, we felt uncomfortable with the missteps that some “provincial sacred cows” of the older generations attributed to us then, jealous of our success at the provincial and national level.

From that time I keep, to give just one example, the treasure of the most faithful brotherhood that binds me from the love and admiration for one of the greatest poets that  Cuba has today: Odette Alonso Yodú.

None of our group was thinking about anything else but becoming a great writer. It was crazy and beautiful. But Torralbas was always ahead of us; I would dare to say that for family reasons or disagreements he had at a very young age, he was the only one among us that showed a fairly open defiance against the Revolution. And it was he who was pushing us towards a less compliant literature, but more critical one instead.

The other disagreement was that evening, right after receiving a visit from one of those “collegues” who said they were concerned that the “enemy not divert us from the right path”, my father told me, and forgive me for answering you with the same curse he used, but I believe it is necessary: “We’ll see what the fuck you do, but I do not want a ’worm’* in this house: My children have to be revolutionary and if I find out that you’ve become a ’worm,’ I’ll kill you myself.”

That day, I must confess, something snapped inside me, and for years I struggled to understand how the same being that gave me so much love could turn so blind, forgetting that I was only doing what he had advised me when I turn 14, when he said: “Son, lying is the biggest shortcoming that a man can have. Never lie, even if you annoy someone. I fought for this Revolution, I made this Revolution so that everyone could speak their minds without any fear of ending up in a ditch with their mouth full of ants.”

Angel Santiesteban: 2. You distanced yourself from your Santiago de Cuba and left for Havana, changing universities to continue your studies in the career of Journalism; was this because in some way you were being stalked by State Security? I remember that, once settled in Havana, I witnessed your return from classes, upset with those State Security agents , because they interrupted class schedules and in front of other students, they took you out into the hallway of the department for questioning, to force you to answer questions about expressions you and others said in cultural or private places.

AMIR VALLE: Actually that did not have much to do with it, but certainly, it bothered me the harassment of that mustachioed guy whose name I never knew. He showed up everywhere (I later learned that he did the same with each of us) and proposed to us to become agents, who would informed him of everything that was said in our meetings and in our encounters with other people from the cultural field.

I’ll tell you something funny: one of the not so young writers who excelled at that time in Santiago de Cuba was Eliades Acosta Matos, who later became Director of the National Library, and then the Head of the Department of Culture of the Central Committee of the (Communist) Party; meaning, he would have the role of Great Censor.

I was very good friends with Eliades, back then when I was still in Santiago and, when he was just a minor official of culture, whose greatest interest as he said was to become a writer. I used to visit him at work and at home, where we read our stories to each other and we talked a lot about universal culture, because he really had such opinions that really fascinated me. What I have never said is that I decided to break up that friendship and stop visiting him, when that mustachioed security agent  told me Eliades was in trouble, and I, in order to help save him from falling into enemy hands, should tell State Security everything he said.

Those close to me know that I worship friendship fanatically, so that instead of approaching Eliades and becoming a spy myself, I walked away from Eliades and, weeks later, when the mustachioed agent showed up at my house to talk for the third or fourth time with my father, I told him I had a big argument with Eliades and our friendship was broken. That is why it hurt me so much that, in 2006, when he was still the great censor of the Communist Party, in an interview with Granma International he discredited me and called me a mercenary, a traitor and other insults.

However, the real reason of my departure from Santiago was my ambition, back then I had such a huge ego that even I could not stand myself. I had outgrown Santiago: I had won all the awards, my name came up in all literary studies, from Santiago I had started to sneak into the muddy ground of national literature and several disappointments in the cultural scene made me realize that I should go to Havana if I wanted to be more important.

I remember Aida Bahr told me, “Why are you leaving? Beware, here you are the “head of a lion” and there, if ever, you are going to be “a mouse tail.” But, wielding all the ego I had in those years, I replied to her, “I’ll eat Havana, Aida, and there, you can be sure, I will be one of the most visible matted hairs in the mane of the lion.”

Today, although I spent years asking God to give me the humility that a Christian should have, when I look back, I realize I have accomplished my goals: despite all the obstacles, all the graft of the power groups and all the pressures because of my desire to write freely, I managed to impose myself, to win prizes, to publish and to be considered an author who deserved to be named in the national literary studies, and all that from my position of lone wolf.

That’s something you know well, only a few of us know: I was a loner, and I imposed myself back in Cuba because of stubbornness, writing, sending off to hundreds of contests, writing, writing, writing, to the extent that Anton Arrufat once said, and I don’t know if it was good natured kidding or it was one of his usual elitist criticisms, that, “if Guillermo Vidal writes a novel per month, Amir Valle writes one a week.”

And as you well remember, Guille Vidal said at an event to praise my diligence, “Do not be fooled, Amir is not a single person; It is an army of Amirs: One Amir writes stories, one Amir writes novels, another Amir works for newspapers and makes essays for magazines, another Amir gives workshops, another lectures, another writes scripts for television, three other Amirs read more than ten manuscripts each month that writers across the island send to his home in Havana for him to advise them, another Amir advises and prepares publishing anthologies of the young talents of the Cuban narrative … That’s why he can be everywhere and do so many things.”

All that, I repeat, alone, without the support of any of the three groups of power that existed at the time at national level: the group was sponsored by Eduardo Heras León, called “el Chino” Heras (who was joined by many of the “realistic” writers later called “the violent ones”).

The group that was sponsored by Anton Arrufat (which was joined by to those who later would be called “the gay lobby”).

And the group of writers close to the official cultural power, most loyal members or friends of the generation of writers in the ’80s. Although some of them who were my friends, I never joined boys who would found the interesting Diaspora(s) project and just attended, as a silent listener, the literature clubs on Reina Maria Rodriguez’s roof, where writers from all these groups and trends came together, but where a space was being opened up for other less rigid ways of understanding creation and literature.

Many people believe that I was sponsored by Eduardo Heras León, but that, as you know, just happened from 1984 to 1988. I arrived in Havana in July 1986 and by the end of 1987 a personal disagreement with “El Chino” Heras made me feel isolated, disappointed, so I had to fight so as not to be crushed by those dark powers who spoke out against me from the chapels and literary cliques that existed then.

I like to give honor to whom honor is due, and therefore I must say in those years, I was saved from loneliness by two people, and can even say that most of my literary achievements were possible thanks to the love and support I always received from the unforgettable Salvador Redonet — a university professor— and a teacher and writer, almost a mother to me, Mercedes Melo, called Chachi.

Angel Santiesteban:  3. What effect have  left in yourself those personal experiences? You always had  Literature as a must dream. You wrote, and still write, with that enviable discipline, and I do not remember meeting anyone with such work ability as yours, so that you have under your belt almost three dozen books, before the astonished eyes of all of us who have accompanied you in this literary adventure. Once you admitted your “fear of dying young”; if I remember correctly, someone had told you that prophecy, luckily, and although I think that somehow we are still young, it did not happen. Was it something that you made up to justify tons of typewritten sheets of paper or it actually happened and you got scared back then,in your early teens?

AMIR VALLE: Such blatant pressures on me during my years as student of journalism at the University of Havana affected me, I think, as favorably as such impact can: it deepened my disappointment, I was terrified. I had decided until that very moment to write critically, but just after the last of those harassing encounters with the State Security agent, which coincided with a historic event in Cuban journalism that happened at the Faculty of Journalism, I decided to openly speak my mind, and do it also through journalism, even if it would not be published in Cuba.

As you must remember, in the first of those meetings, in 1986, I came home very afraid. I was in the classroom and the secretary of the dean came to get me, he asked permission from the teacher and told me to go to her office. It was the secretary who then told me to go upstairs by way of a round staircase to another room that was locked up. There I met two men who introduced themselves as officers of the State Security and I confess that the tactic of good-cop bad-cop they used made me feel afraid: It was the first time I faced something like that.

It was right there, where I confirmed all the suspicions that we had in Santiago: the two men confirmed to me that an alleged young writer who hung out with us was in fact sent by them, that the yacht ride another co-worker offered us was also planned by them and, even worse, three of my best friends in the journalism classroom in Santiago de Cuba, were reporting to them every week on every single of my “ideologically opposed” comments. That feeling of knowing that I was watched and betrayed crushed me. I could not understand how those who should be concerned about more dangerous issues against national security, were after an innocent asshole like me.

But right there a curious thing happened: I started writing with more anger about our reality, and keeping those things in places where I thought no one would ever find them, and I started reading a lot of banned literature taking advantage of my friendship back then with an old historian who lived a few blocks from the house of my aunt in Luyanó, where I lived all those years.

That old man, Samuel, had an impressive library and, since his daughter was a Cuban diplomat, she brought him books he lent me. I  am still happy to recall that when my presence became common in his library (because for months he would not let me take the books home), one day he told his wife, “when they define the term in the dictionary Library Mouse it will show a picture of this kid.”

Returning to the appointments they forced me to attend: the last one was after a meeting in which we journalism students demonstrated, first against Carlos Aldana, who was then the head of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and then against Fidel Castro himself, who, taking advantage of a meeting in the Palace of the Revolution which he “accidentally” snuck into, questioned many of the flaws of the media and the revolutionary process.

Some believe that I had role in what happened there, but the truth is that when I discovered it was a setup, I threw out the last question, yes, preventing Fidel from continuing to crush others, who were naive and had not realized that it all was a farce.

My question, I did ask with the sole intention of getting him to run his mouth, knowing that he would not stop, as indeed happened. After that, a real witch hunt began at the Faculty of Journalism against all those who had dared to confront the power.

Many were intimidated so that ended up becoming government bootlickers, the most embarrassing case being Alexis Triana, who was in fact the organizer and one of the masterminds of this “revolt.” I still remember it in our brief but intense meetings in the park opposite the department, where we coordinated what to ask, what issues we couldn’t miss, and even who should ask and how to fight back against the predictable responses.

In those days they came to see me again — bad Policeman and good Policeman — and they said they already had met with other colleagues of mine who were willing to cooperate to finish crushing the revolt: in front of those colleagues who cooperated they mentioned my classmate Rosa Miriam Elizalde, someone to whom I devoted a special affection.

At this point I do not know if he was lying, but then, seeing the sudden leadership role she got, and seeing her meteoric career rise up to power, I have come to think that maybe they told the truth.

At that meeting (always the same method: secretary approaches the door of the classroom, asking for permission for me to leave and ordering me to go to her office) they wanted to communicate that in return for my question and the way I cut off what they called “a string of stupid insults to the Commander” they could promote me to one of the positions on the Faculty and even to being a member of a select group of students who would work directly with the President of the Union of Journalists on the ideological work with freshman journalism students.

I told them that the only time I held a leader position I was a mess, I lost friends in the student world because the leaders were always looked down upon by others, and to me the only thing that mattered was to graduate. Good Policeman said, “Sorry, you could have been very helpful,” and bad policeman muttered: “You’re gross, kid, you are about to fuck up your life.” And the fact is that from that day on, things narrowed so much for me in college that I began to focus only on my studies, and the clandestine readings at my old friend Samuel’s house, and in writing, day and night, like a man possessed.

Dying young is something that always worried me, until I met Cristo and knew that he would wait for me in that eternity that all Christians dream off. We were doing field work in journalism and I and a colleague, a great friend, Jorge Baxter from Holguin, we were assigned the subject of African-Cuban religion.

When we got the saint room of one of the babalaos (holy people of African-Cuban religion) we interviewed, the old man stared at me and said: “I see the mark of a genius upon you,” and I liked that, it fed my ego, but what followed afterward felt quite bad, “you are going to die young,” he said, “geniuses always die young.”

And the truth is that if I lived until today it is because I don’t think I am the genius that he saw in me, but I also wonder if there was something that happened there that confused the spiritual diviner of the old man, because the one who died young of a heart attack, was Baxter my colleague, a tough loss for those who knew him.

Angel Santiesteban: 4. You were always daring, and that has defined your life, perhaps like fate. This natural rebellion that began, as we already said in 1980, and then was kept in perpetual conspiracy between your ideas, dreams and feelings reflected, of course, in your most mundane or transcendental acts.

I remember, somehow, you tried for young writers to get to be part of the board of the UNEAC (Writers and Artist Union of Cuba), you campaigned among us for a while, not to promote yourself, but for someone of our generation might also decide, and I even remember a young writer, Alberto Guerra Naranjo, told a gathering of writers that “my generation also wants to cut cod” [’call the shots’] and, as he said it, some ruling dinosaurs understood that “cut” to mean that the young people wanted to “cut off the heads” of the slate of nominees submitted without Abel Prieto’s consent, as you and I know, since we know him well, he pointed his finger at his friends of his generation to fill the vacancies, as still happens in those useless Congresses.

It is undeniable is that the UNEAC board was offended by our transgressions and created a real lobby to nullify us, as eventually happened.

AMIR VALLE: Look, there is a reality that few comment on: in the years when we started to grow, in literary terms, and even now, the domain of culture in the country was in the hands of the Generation of ’80s. I myself remember being in some gathering of friends where some of them, Abel, Sacha, Arturo Arango, Norberto Codina, bragged that they had taken the monopoly of culture from Armando Hart and his court of mediocre ones.

They were sneaking into magazines, into publishing houses, into the offices where cultural directives for the country were decided. And I hope you remember because you were present, the party where we all celebrate that Abel Prieto was appointed Minister of Culture. We saw the heavens open up and I still clearly remember his words: “I know that among all these mayimbes (powerful ones) I’m just a piece, but at least I hope it serves to help our pals and that culture takes freer paths.”

And certainly it is honest to say, that strategy produced a real change in the culture of the country, it was like a breath of air, moments of certain controlled openings, compared with the period of Hart, whom I remember in an event in Cienfuegos saying to us, the young people: “You are artists, so you play with the rules of art, but if you get into the field of politics you have to face the political consequences of your actions, because at least us, who made this revolution, we’re going to respond to you politically.”

That generation, from the’ 80s, as one them put it to us in a discussion in the last Book Fair held in PABEXPO, could be proud of having taken power from the cultural commissars of the early years and having closed their path, those were his words, “to the mediocrity of previous generations who intended to continue living on stories because once, one of their little books was outrageously censored.”

For me, as you did, I felt very near the traumas that that censorship in the ’70s caused a writer as great as Eduardo Heras León could have been, whom I consider was the frustrated by force, could not understand that this generation, consolidated itself when we took our first steps, I mean, many of them our friends, suddenly became censors, strategists of culture that from their offices do the dirty work of the political power.

Therefore, in the mid-90s, I started along with the writer Alberto Guerra Naranjo a conspiracy with the intent to remind them our generation was as strong as theirs and, although it sounds ugly and generational, quality wise ours was superior.

But they were our judges, who decided who will rise and who will not, and it was even customary that Sacha gave military degrees ranks to writers, according to our “literary level.” So we were captains, when all of them, according to Sacha, were generals, and one day, years later, when we were no longer that young, she almost gave us a heart attack, when she said we had been promoted to colonels.

It was a game, but a game that defined very well the state of opinion they had about themselves and about us. And today I say with no regret from that generation, if indeed any could be considered a general, those were: Leonardo Padura, Miguel Mejides, Reinaldo Montero, Luis Manuel Garcia Mendez, Abilio Estevez and Aida Bahr, among the storytellers.

The others, kept living on stories or, even more literally, living on having written once a good story. By the time of that anecdote you refered to, Alberto Guerra and I, with the support of Mercedes Melo, we celebrated the Colloquium of Current Cuban Narrative: “Open the beat of criticism,” on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July 1996 in the Provincial Center for Cultural Improvement and House of Writers in the 10 de Octubre district, an event that, like that of the voting you talked about, was completely boycotted, and, of course, no one from that generation attended.

Angel Santiesteban: 5. What did you try to achieve by what officialdom understood as a “cultural coup d’etat”?

AMIR VALLE: The idea I had then is the same I defended afterward, until today: culture can not be the fiefdom of anyone, neither politicians nor chapels nor literary groups. It has to be a land of freedom where all trends, generations, schools and powers converge.

I remember a joke Anton Arrufat told Guillermo Vidal and me on an occasion when a typesetter, ex-military, is horrified at a book by Guillermo Vidal and decided, without consulting anyone, to  stop its printing: “Dear Guillermo, in your case it is clear that in this country Culture is not managed by the poor Abel Prieto, it is managed from the building of the Armed Forces, in the Plaza of the Revolution.”

And he was right: I witnessed how Omar González, then president of the Cuban Book Institute, and several officials from the Ministry of Culture, including a vice minister, had to negotiate with the military for Guillermo Vidal’s book to finally be printed.

In the end, I confess, I gave up. Our fellow writers, all of them, regardless of generation, were full of fear. Trying to mask that fear by saying that their hesitations were due to: politics was not their thing or, the more honest ones, because they did not want to risk losing the little they had, but the undeniable fact is the disgrace of other generations in assuming certain responsibilities and the strategy of that generation of taking those responsibilities as their own, paved their way to stay in power, to monopolize the national and international promotion of culture in their favor and, unfortunately, to obstruct the air of freedom that brought the new generations that have arisen up to today, in many cases, annihilating them with the speech about the fidelity owed to the Revolution.

Traps, entanglements and schemes against other colleagues staged by some of them are material for an encyclopedia on human misery. Or does someone want to convince me that Abel Prieto is now a personal adviser to the dictator simply because Raul Castro is fascinated with his mane?**

Angel Santiesteban: 6. What did you expect from the young writers and which cultural policy were you betting on? Returning to those votes, I remember they elected me to the ballot selection committee, where writers wrote the names of delegates who were supposed to represent them in the Congress of the UNEAC. I made sure Guillermo Vidal, rest in peace, obtained the necessary ballots to be there. At the end of the ballot count he was the most voted, which necessarily, according to the supposed democracy they wanted to show with that circus act, “Guille” would be The Delegate; however, he was not invited.

AMIR VALLE: I thought we all wanted the same thing: more windows for promotion; more freedom to publish our literature without many of our stories or books being subjected to censorship; less paternalism, as we had already discovered that this alleged way of protecting us had turned us into “eternal frozen promises”, even though many of our works were considered by some leading critics (Margarita Mateo, Madeline House, Salvador Redonet) better than others of previous generations.

But it was right there in those preparatory meetings of the Congress (since I was fortunate to participate in some meetings in other provinces), when I discovered the narcissism than sickens Cuban intellectuals and writers: as long as one is not touched by the evils affecting others, nobody cares. And the cultural strategy of the Revolution has been to make them believe that they are nothing without the support of the institutions, they are nothing without the cultural support of the Revolution or without the support of a the country.

Beside,s the typical selfishness of us, who are in this field, of arts and culture, and the way things are, makes them cling to any minor promotion or publication opportunity they believe they have won, even if it means having to sacrifice their principles.

And finally, as you might remember, one of our colleagues told us in those days, “What is the point in opposing, and proposing something new, if from the power elite they will manage to keep things the same, so that nothing changes?”

That’s what happened with Guillermo Vidal: since he was such a beloved and respected guy, even by his enemies, he got that overwhelming vote, but the power elite decided they could not afford a big mouth like him disrupting the sheepish docility they had planned for that Congress, which, as we already know, was an Ode to Submission.

End of first part.

On the second section they will talk about friendship, loneliness, honesty, betrayal colleagues and the independence.

Note from the Editor: The interview was so long and deep I had to split it up in sections to publish it.

Translator’s note*:
Gusano,” meaning “worm” or “maggot” was a common insult applied to counterrevolutionaries, and used by Fidel Castro in speeches.
**Abel Prieto has notably long curly hair and a lot of it.

Padura and the Face of Cultural Context / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, 18 November 2015 — On October 31, in the Museo Napoleónico de La Habana, the book, “The Faces of Padura: Work and Life of a Writer, ” a compilation of texts about Leonardo Padura, was presented. Padura was recently awarded the Princesa de Asturias de las Letras Prize.

At the event, Padura shared the thank-you speech that was read in Oviedo before Spain’s royal family; words that should have been published by the Cuban press. But not only did they not publish them, but also in the official media it was completely ignored that for the first time a Cuban writer was given credit for such a prestigious award.

This attitude of the Castro press is one more mockery of the Cuban people’s intellect, caused by that “cult of secrecy” so many were talking about in the last Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC), where it was treated as something from the past, blaming the journalists themselves for unnecessary self-censorship, now that politics is not interfering in the news and its opinions.

Which is to say that suddenly we had overcome the dictatorship and that we found ourselves in a State where there is free thought.

But returning to the question at hand: the book about Padura could have been one more release for the world of the many that the distinguished Cuban writer completed; only this one was special because it happened on his terrain, surrounded by family, friends and his natural readers, and it was delightful because it was presented by colleagues from his generation, among them the writer Francisco López Sacha.

But they couldn’t stop mentioning some irregularities around this event, like the rejection of eight cultural institutions which didn’t celebrate Padura, which is very alarming; of course, behind that was the sinister hairy hand of the Government, which has exhausted without success all its misleading strategies, praising him moderately in order to buy his silence and stop him from telling his truths and offering his critical evaluations about the reality of the Cuban people.

That Leonardo Padura — actually the most distinguished Cuban writer on the international scene — shares his books with readers at home is a deference that makes us grateful; however, that the Regime tries to make him pay the price for not being a writer who kneels before the manipulations of those who direct the cultural politics on the archipelago is an immense immorality, a brutal insensitivity, characteristics that are endemic to Caribbean totalitarianism.

That his books, awards and presentations aren’t promoted as they should be with a National Prize of Literature shows a lack of delicacy and transparency of the cultural politics and the Government, which discredits itself even more (if that’s possible, given the shameful and repeated practice of this and other dirty tricks), ignoring and trying to “invisiblize” a writer who, in spite of not coming out directly against the system, still doesn’t accept gifts or pampering, as do most of the intellectuals and artists on the island.

They at first tried to manipulate him with an open cynicism, through publications, national fairs, a homage in the Casa del las Américas, or with that final power of cultural officials, accepting that a jury award him the National Literature Prize, the greatest award for the work of a Cuban writer residing on the island. But, since Padura didn’t react before such “magnanimous” tokens — because here it’s only important that you have won, not that they decide whether or not you win — now the same cultural officials, who once called themselves his friends, are cold and distant in response.

I also know that the filming of the movies based on his detective novels that have his character Mario Conde as the protagonist, has received negative responses to official requests from foreign filmmakers to use some sets, the same that are used daily to film short police programs for national television.

The dictatorship thus holds a grudge against those who don’t bow their heads, against those who don’t permit the humiliation of being treated like objects, against those who refuse to be manipulated in order to abide by the designs of government power; all because they still try to ignore an irrefutable truth: art expands, endures and always wins against political power.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, November 16, under conditional “liberty” [on parole]

Note from Angel’s editor: The compilation, in the charge of Agustín García, includes his texts, those of Francisco López Sacha, María del Carmen Muzio, Dulce María Sotolongo, Lorenzo Lunar, Rafael Grillo, Michel Encinosa, Enrique Saínz, Rafael Acosta, Rebeca Murga, Elizabeth Mirabal and Gustavo Vega, the filmmaker Lucía López, Leonardo’s wife and one from Padura himself.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Angel Santiesteban Explains What Happened During His Arbitrary Detention

“I traded one cell for a slightly roomier prison, because I continue to think that this island is a prison.”

Elisa Tabakman (Blog Editor), 6 November 2015 — Angel Santiesteban-Prats was arrested on November 4, suspiciously, after reporting the previous day that the political prisoner Lamberto Henández Planas died in Combinado del Este Prison as a consequence of the hunger strike he maintained during his re-imprisonment, the result of a sinister new maneuver by State Security to lock him back up after 23 years in prison.

What happened since Angel’s arrest at his home, and the new “Kafkaesque process” that ended in a summary trial, lasting only 5 minutes, in which they “revoked his probation and in the same act revoked the revocation because there are no reasons to re-incarcerate him” shows that they threw together a crude spectacle to draw media attention, releasing from the police station (where he remained until being transferred to the court) all kinds of false, absurd and contradictory versions, which we believe were concocted to cast a new shadow of suspicion on Angel and to discredit the serious accusation he made about Lamberto’s life, and incidentally, to continue the ongoing campaign they have mounted to destroy Angel’s reputation and to try to diminish the numerous international awards he obtained during his two and a half years in prison, something they well know has failed. Precisely for these reasons, we preferred to maintain a cautious silence about what was happening and to wait for Angel himself to explain it and not to keep playing the dictatorship’s game.

This is an excellent opportunity to remind the dictator Raul Castro that Angel is waiting for the response to the Review of the judgment, filed July 4, 2013, and that was admitted to the 3 instances why it happened, proving that they have already acknowledged errors, irregularities, and violations of judicial procedures, because, it never hurts to remember, THERE IS NO OBLIGATION to acknowledge the revisions, only to acknowledge them when such “mistakes” are proven.

General Raul Castro, it is very sad to go down in history through the sewer, to be remembered by posterity as a violator of human rights and the architect of all kinds of crimes against humanity.

What follows is the account of the “episode” in Angel’s own words. [Recording of phone call in Spanish is available here.]

The Editor

 

Any Life in Havana / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban, Havana, 26 September 2015 — Rolando never wanted wealth, depending on the point of view you look at it from, because wishing for blue jeans, a good pair of sneakers and some brand name t-shirts, carries an extra sacrifice above and beyond the daily one. It is going beyond, through “ambition,” the possibilities, that usually set or rule an average Cuban’s behavior.

Graduating from nursing school, despite the terrible food that he endured at school, the little enjoyment of those youth years, and the humiliation of being financially supported by his grandmother with her precarious pension, made him walk the desired path of the “easy,” and once his Diploma was endorsed after completion of the mandatory community service required from graduates, he experienced the bad night shift hours at the Hospital emergency rooms, lousy professional rewards and underpayment, and so, among many reasons, accepted the invitation to meet an old but interesting foreigner who offered him, for one night, the equivalent of several months wages.

Young Rolando is a regular on the Malecon, in clubs, gay bars, the piece of beach called “My Cayito” and many places available for homosexual gatherings. Meanwhile his nursing Diploma remains hanging on the wall. At least that way he could pay back his grandmother, who did not get to see his “profession” change or the prosperous life he’s living now. At times he takes flowers to the cemetery and softly, almost in the ear of her spirit, begs her for forgiveness.

“This is crappy life I have to live, with no choices,” he says disappointed, while sucking his cigarette. “My grandmother has to understand wherever she is … She knows I tried everything and nothing worked.”

And he starts walking along the edge of the Malecon while the streetlights draw shadows he drags down like the ordeal of his own life.

by Ángel Santiesteban

Havana, September 23rd, on probation.

Translated by: Rafael

#PapaEnCuba [Pope in Cuba]: A Shout for Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto)

Danilo (El Sexto) painting one of the piglets for his planned performance.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 21 September 2015 — Today, Monday, September 21, makes 13 days since he has been on a hunger strike inside a solitary confinement and punishment cell. Separated from his family and from all human companionship, for the act and right as an artist of attempting to put on a performance that alluded, according to the political police, to the dictators when he applied two common names, Fidel and Raúl–names borne by many in this nation–on the bodies of two pigs.

He has spent nine months in captivity without due process and will not therefore have a fair trial from the judges. The lawyer I have met with assures me that her intention is to “help,” but that it is not in her power, “because she is a simple attorney, from whom the case file has been kept for several months.”

Danilo’s nights are long, extremely extensive. The dawn seems elusive, while he feels his body coming apart. His faculties are failing, and that mental deterioration which, at times, inserts ideas of desisting–along with the fear of dying, of not ever again seeing his mother and his little dauther, of losing his teeth, of ruining his kidneys, among so many fears–are the battles he fights secretly in solitary confinement.

“This too shall pass” — A Danilo made in prison.

These days we are being visited by Pope Francis, the merciful one who spreads peace for being the messenger of God and who, out of respect, those who say they revere him should interrupt their wicked actions, their pride and the abuse they inflict on the helpless, whose only intent is to be artists who fight for their beliefs.

But the dictators Fidel and Raúl only manipulate the Pope, the presidents, the UN and any international courts where they appear–as they have done throughout their more than half century in power, robbing destinies, destroying futures, extinguishing lives, undoing dreams–and consequently ignoring pleas for Danilo’s release, because always, with dictators, their commitment to evil and to assuring their totalitarian power comes first.

“Peace is a white (dove) knife that is placed in our hands.”

Danilo’s little daughter sobs for wanting to see her father. Danilo’s mother bravely endures the trance of pain not wishing to break down and say goodbye to her son and, at the same time, lives the contradiction of admiring him and respecting his ideas.

Danilo’s grandparents look on with that mixture of despair and sorrow, and one feels that they need to demand, to scream, for someone to show them where to find justice, and we can only respond with our heads bent low or look away so that they don’t see our tears.

The Ladies in White along with the members of the forum for Rights and Liberties, with the hashtag #todosmarchamos [We All March], march every Sunday, for the last 22 weekends, bearing Danilo’s photo along with those of other political prisoners through the streets of Miramar, demanding their release–even when on every one of those weekends, they are subjected to brutal beatings and arrests.

Danilo’s friends accompany his family, trying to give them support in the emptiness caused by his absence. We take it upon ourselves to demand his freedom, to go along on visits to the lawyer, or to deliver letters to the prosecutors’ offices regarding the violations to the law committed against him according to their own judicial laws, which they should respect and to which they should adhere.

The regime cannot, as it always does, arm wrestle with Danilo, and have it affect his health. Their duty, their obligation, must be to free him immediately before greater harm is done, and not add another international crime to their dictatorial records.

Freedom for Danilo Maldonado, Now!

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats,

Havana, 21 September, “free” on parole

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

The Pope, So as Not to Say Anything, Said Nothing / Angel Santiesteban

The Inverted Pyramid

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, Havana, 17 September 2015 — It always irritates me that it is accepted, ironically, for the Cuban dictatorship to ply its totalitarian propaganda and be visible in foreign countries, via the media and its “solidarity”committees, when not even Cubans themselves in their own country are not allowed to claim freedom of thought, association, and all  the rights contained in the magna carta of the United Nations. Is it just that a country that violates these rights by denying them to its own citizens be allowed the spaces to cover up, manipulate, and lie to international public opinion?

A front-page article in Granma newspaper, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, reports “anti-blockade [embargo] tour begins in Washington,” which will include stops in other North American cities and various countries. It also announces a confirmed total of 44 visits to the Congress, 37 to congressional offices, and 7 visits to senators’ offices.

However, it is soon coming on six months since the Ladies in White, supported by members of the Forum for Rights and Liberties, as well as activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and other political groups who answer to the hashtag #todosmarchamos [“We all march”] have been subject every Sunday (22, to be exact), to brutal beatings and arrests. Just last Sunday it happened again, in the presence of members of the foreign press, who could see for themselves the peaceful way in which the opposition members carry out their demonstration–and in turn, the violent way they are treated, and the humiliation they suffer, upon being arrested.

The world seems to be turned on its head. President Barack Obama ignores the pleas of the dissidence clamoring for an end to the dictatorship’s violations of basic human rights. Pope Francis serves as mediator between the regime and the United States, and encourages the European Union to engage in and continue the steps taken by the United States, and so the first contacts and studies have begun to realize them in the near future.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Cuba’s top ecclesiastical representative, is more attached to the dictatorship than to his people, and so he publicly says that “in Cuba there are no political prisoners,” when he himself has met with some of them, and he has been given a list of who they are, and the details of the disgraceful legal proceedings to which they have been subjected.

To top it off, during a televised interview, he didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge the courageous Ladies in White and their current struggle–or for that matter, the abuses they suffer every weekend very near to his Santa Rita church–and he refers to them in past tense, without calling them by name, but merely as “those women who dressed in white.”

The Pope, just hours before his arrival in Havana, for the first time had the opportunity to address the Cuban people, but so as not to say anything, he said nothing. Those of us who awaited a message of salvation for a long suffering nation–one where his children launch themselves desperately on the sea without the least guarantee of survival, who need the encouragement of hope, the least glimmer of light to assure us that off in the distance an oasis awaits us–we were not granted it. He did not mention the families of this dispersed, and therefore divided, people, nor did he even speak of the pain that for more than half a century of dictatorship, we have suffered in our deepest flesh.

Hopefully once the Pope has visited our nation we may say with certainty that His Holiness visited with us, and not that he passed through this land like one more tourist.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Havana, 17 September, “free” on parole

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Reporters Without Borders to John Kerry: Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard’ / Angel Santiesteban

Photo taken from the internet

Open letter to John Kerry: “Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard?”

Published Thursday, August 13, 2015.

On Friday August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba to strengthen the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He is the first U.S. Secretary of State to make an official visit to the island since 1945. This is a unique opportunity to address the catastrophic situation for freedom of press and information in Cuba. RSF sent an open letter to John Kerry addressing these fundamental issues.

Paris, August 13, 2015

Dear Secretary Kerry,

On the occasion of your historic visit to Cuba this August 14th, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks that during your meetings with Cuban authorities you address the problem of freedom of press and information. As the first high-level American politician to visit Cuba since 1959, you have the duty, and the power, to positively influence Cuban policies.

Cuba ranks 169th among 180 countries in the World Ranking of Press Freedom published by Reporters Without Borders in 2015. The Cuban government maintains a monopoly on information and does not tolerate any independent voices: it prohibits the existence of free media. Only official media are authorized (and the list of them is very short). The media that do not have state authorization are deemed illegal and are censored. Moreover, Cuba is considered one of the countries with the least access to the Internet worldwide.

Cuba’s control of information and censorship do not affect only the local media; Foreign journalists are also subjected to these restrictions. Press credentials are awarded selectively. And if the regime considers news stories by foreign journalists “too negative,” they are deported.

In addition to censorship, Cuba has a long history of violence and harassment towards journalists. Many journalists working for independent media have received violent threats from the government. Roberto de Jesus Guerra, editor of Hablemos Press, the independent news agency and free-speech NGO, was physically attacked by agents of the Internal Security Department in June 2014. Another correspondent from the same publication was run down by a car that same month. In July of this year, many activists and journalists were arrested at a protest organized by the Ladies in White opposition movement. Unfortunately, these are only several examples of a widespread problem. These events served as a sad reminder of 2003’s Black Spring, when 27* journalists were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Prominent journalists have recently been arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences for merely doing their job. Writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on trumped-up charges of “domestic violation and injuries.” These charges were used as pretexts to punish him for his outspoken criticism of the government. He was released on parole on July 17, 2015, after serving more than two years of his prison sentence. According to his website editor, during his time in prison he was repeatedly mistreated and tortured. Amid these reports, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted a formal request last September urging the Cuban government to guarantee Santiesteban-Prats’ physical safety. Now that he has been released, the journalist is calling for a retrial. He sees his release as an attempt by the Cuban government to silence him, since he was able to write and express himself from inside his prison cell. But he has no intention of remaining silent and has already published a book entitled “Last Symphony,” a collection of short stories about violence in Cuba, which he began writing in prison.

While Reporters Without Borders welcomes his release, we cannot forget two journalists still imprisoned in Cuba, in troubling and dangerous conditions. Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García, an independent blogger from the agency Yayabo Press, was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March 2014 on charges of “illegally slaughtering cattle.” He maintains that the charges were fabricated to put a stop to his reporting activities. Yoeni has repeatedly been the victim of violence and torture inflicted by prison staff. José Antonio Torres, former correspondent for Granma, was sentenced to 14 years prison in 2012 for the crime of esponiage, a questionable accusation.

In this new era beginning for Cuba, barriers to press freedom must be broken. The United States has the opportunity and the responsibility to facilitate this change through diplomacy. Now is the time for releasing jailed journalists, and allowing independent media to operate without fear of violence or arrest. Now is the time to make sure that all of Cuba’s many voices are heard.

I thank you in advance, Secretary Kerry, for the attention you give to this letter.

Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire

Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders

Published in RSF

*Translator’s note: The total Black Spring arrests, which included other types of human rights activists, were 75.

Translated by Tomás A.