Archive by Author

Angelito Santiesteban Does Not Believe Himself the Center of the World

24 Jan

Sonia Garro Alfonso, recently freed Lady in White. Collage over a piece by Rolando Pulido.

The writer and blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats, from the prison where he is serving an unjust sentence, just published–thanks to the help of a friend on Facebook–a brief post expressing his thoughts about the recent releases of political prisoners. As always, Angelito is filled with Light and strength. May my embrace reach him though the faithful reproduction of his text.

Ángel’s post:

I have received the expressions of pain from many friends, my publisher, and my relatives–some stupefied, others offended–over my exclusion from the list of prisoners recently released by the Cuban government.

Upon completing almost two years of unjust imprisonment, I can assure everyone that never have I asked the correctional authories or, even less, the officials from State Security who have visited me, when I will be released. I will never give them that satisfaction, just as I have never inquired whether I will be given the pass* which is granted to all “minimum severity” prisoners like me, who am sentenced to five years.

Nonetheless, although I know that I am not on the noted list, my joy is infinite at knowing that those who were on it are now free. My suffering is universal. I feel all Cubans to be an extension of me, or vice versa, above all those who have suffered and do suffer for an ideal–and in particular that of freedom for our country.

I also believe that the list that so gladdened me was missing the names of other political prisoners who deserved to have been added. There will always be some who are excluded because government’s sleight-of-hand is very swift and, when it already has one list compiled, it as another of recently-apprehended inmates.

It is unfair to think that they should have taken one name off to insert another. Rather, they should have added to the list, because those who were freed deserved it, just as do those who still remain in the totalitarian regime’s jails–some shut away and subjected to inhumane treatment for many years, for whose imminent freedom I pray.

By the same token, and referring again to the recycling of political prisoners, we must now clamor for the immediate absolution and liberation of El Sexto, Danilo Maldonado, whom they keep in the Valle Grande prison for a crime of “disrespect to the images of the leaders.” This is a further proof of how jealously they hold on to their power, and of what they are ready and able to do to safeguard it. Power and its dictators are untouchable, and to live is to see it.

I will not live long enough to infinitely thank those who clamor for my release, and those who suffer because of my imprisonment, but we must clamor for all–just as my publisher entreats on the blog, “The Children That Nobody Wanted,” and my family through social media. At the least, may I be last on the list, as I will complain no more.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

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

*Translator’s note: In an earlier post Ángel 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 

22 January 2015

Five Years of “Crossing the Barbed Wire”: How Long Should I Continue? / Luis Felipe Rojas

27 Dec
Photo of the author: @alambradas

Photo of the author: @alambradas

My baby, my third child, this blog, is five years old and at times I ask myself this question. How long should I continue? I started writing against the grain of what a blog was, doing it like a daily without wi-fi, nor nearby cybercages, but with the recklessness with which one distributes a samizdat.

I remember, it was December 2009. My brother Orlando Zapata Tamayo #0ZT began a hunger strike, impelled by the Castro regime to take off the mask: the arrests and beatings of activists for supporting #0ZT happened in Holguin and several other cities, one after the other. I wanted my neighbors to know, the neighborhood snitches, the police, those who were afraid and those who supported me then and have supported me since, that it is you, the cyberactivists, the fine people who have accompanied me in sixty months of words and actions.

Now with the new refrain of “intimate enemies” I paused, passing several weeks without publishing, listening to my friends, reliving the same party with such naivety. My parents told me that in 1959 people were stunned by so many firecrackers and so much sabotage, on January 1st coming out to salute the rebels, and on the second loudly crying out “To the wall!” (demanding executions), and on the third beginning to fall silent, three days after the Cuban Revolution.

Now the road is long because in Palma Soriano, Manzanillo and Cumanayagua there are still hungry people who know nothing of diplomatic relations. In Camagüey, my friend Millet continues to have the Rapid Response Brigades after him every day to prevent him from putting up a poster against the government or buying kerosene on the black market. Last weekend they defaced Mirna Buenaventura’s house with tar, in Buenaventura, where people now call the Yankees “the fraternal and supportive American people.”

Now that the Furies have changed their spots there are friends who stayed inside the fence and are not going to shut their mouths because they never have. Yannier P. wrote from Guantanamo to tell me, “You don’t have to write for us, we know the horror. Write so that the world will know the horror to come.” I want to send a bouquet of flowers to my friend Nancy Alfaya, a Christian woman with a bulletproof resistance: her husband, the writer Jorge Olivera Castillo received 18 years in prison, but Nancy refuses to stop laughing. In Havana she leads a workshop against violence against women, is the first to read Olivera’s poems, and goes to church every day in the poor neighborhood where she lives. I want to send flowers to Nancy but I would not want them to arrive wilted.

I would like to write an article and travel to shake hands with Manuel Martinez Leon, in La Jejira in Holguin, with Emiliano Gonzalez in El Horno, in Bayamo, or Barbaro Tejeda in Mayari. The three are dissidents, open opponents of the Castro brothers’ tropical dictatorship and work the land from sunrise.

Emiliano has given me interviews seated on a mountain of peanut bags, and wrote to tell me of the tortured rules of the State cooperatives and that he dreams of fields of peanuts while they hold him prisoner in stinking dungeons.

Barbaro has talked with me on a trail where he goes to fish illegally, to be able to eat and to feed his family. For years the “Watching the Sea” Detachment — a kind of rapid response brigade with the pretext of being anti-drug troops— monitors and represses its neighbors in Puerto Padre, Levisa and Macabi, throughut Cuba. They cannot sell fish, catch fish or eat fish. They don’t know which law prohibits it, but the people there who talked to me are afraid of breaking the rules. Sometimes Barbaro Tejeda fries plantains or beans and dreams of a modern fishing rod.

With friends like this my blog will have ten more years of life. Still, I have to explain to the world why Cuban mothers live without their children and what the Law of Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness is; first I have to learn to write a legal monstrosity of such a package. Ileana, my Venezuelan friend living in New York doesn’t know what Showing Contempt for the Figure of the Commander-in-Chief is, and I have to explain with examples.

Many more years of life, of survival, remain to this blog. A house organized from within and not for elegies without knowing its neighbors, living in the turbulent and brutal south or north that now appreciates us.

27 December 2014

The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

1 Oct

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

All Exiles Are Possible / Luis Felipe Rojas

7 Sep

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When I say exile, I only think of the word life. That was what happened to me at the meeting “Fight for Liberation against Castro-communism,” which the writer Julio M. Shiling generously coordinated and which was held at the West Dade Regional Library of Coral Way, Miami, last July 10.

Attending the discussion were no more and no less than the well-known former political prisoners Angel de Fana, Agapito “El Guapo” Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez “El Sherif” and others who presented an overview of the insurrectional struggle from 1959 to the present.

De Fana’s words and his hopes for a future Cuba moved me. Twenty years in jail did not seem to have put a dent in the energy of this man who confronted the torture and prison horror of the Castro regime. “We must fight, not for the Cuba that we lost but for the one that awaits us ahead,” I heard him say.

Agapito, a peasant known for having fought in the central plains of the island against the militias and formal army, spoke of the bravery of those who accompanied him in that feat (there is no other name for this action). The loss of 11 relatives has not made him a resentful man, although pain emerges with each word for a country that could not be.

“No one knows the pain that is felt on learning of the death of the youngest of the brothers that you have taken to war,” says the man who earned the nickname “Handsome” in the prisons where they tried to break him for the 25 long years that he spent without tasting freedom. His liberation in 1988 must have been a relief for his jailers, according to the anecdotes that are told by those who shared galley, hallway and punishment cells with Agapito.

We live likewise through the story by Jorge Gutierrez, who landed in one of the infilitration teams days before the Cuban expedition in the Bay of Pigs. The loss of friends that had sent him off days before, the bitter flavor of the disappointment of promised help that never arrived, were related in detail by Gutierrez with a dynamic that left no room for doubts.

The other fight, the same country

Roberto Luque Escalona like Normando Hernandez related experiences of what is known as the peaceful resistance struggle, which although it has its detractors on both sides of the island, gave rise to one of the samples of respect that Cuba deserves.

Those who preceded Luque and Hernandez recognized the co-existence of both methods without sidestepping one or the other. Luque as well as Hernandez explored anecdotes that illustrated the advocacy of human rights, the confrontation of a more sophisticated military, which although assisted by Moscow, since its beginning was refining methods of repression from physical to psychological torture: to the point that at the beginning of 1980 many countries ignored what was happening on Dr. Castro’s island. So far the majority of nations ignore the lack of liberty in Cuba.

It has been a good opportunity, a landscape portrait of thousands of Cubans who do not fit in a single photo. Thanks to the labor of Shiling and his insistence on learning more of the untold history of the resistance against communism in Cuba.

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Translated by mlk.

17 July 2014

The Trumpet Player’s Sad Ballad / Luis Felipe Rojas

24 Jun

Rogelio Betancourt shows his passport in Castilla Plaza in Madrid, June 2014. / M. G.-R.

According to El Pais, “Rogelio Betancourt Suárez no longer lives on the streets of Morocco. After 11 months of facing the daily uncertainty of knowing whether he will find something to eat or a place to sleep, the Cuban trumpet player has managed to overcome the Stations of the Cross that had become his life. Betancourt has managed, finally, to cross the Spanish frontier and has left behind the legal limbo in which he found himself.”

20 June 2014

“Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity” Annoy Families of Cubans Working in Venezuela

23 Feb

As the world shouts itself hoarse over what’s happening in Venezuela, the Cuban Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity assures us that this is nothing more than a ruse of the “fascist right” and they’ve launched a tirade in very bad taste from the site “Segunda cita” (Second Quote), belonging to singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez (the worst taste yet).

Making it all worse is that this Network (hopefully not of the Wasps*) totally ignores mothers, daughters, sisters, loved ones, gossipy neighbors and relatives of another ilk who are in suspense for their loved ones in Venezuela. The brave and harmless Cuban workers (for example doctors or the sports instructors of the “Blas Roca” contingent) are trapped in the midst of violence and despair because they’ve been momentarily caught in their flip-flops between Caracaibo and Corralillo, or in the flow of laptop parts between the state of Lara and the town of Majibacoa, in Las Tunas. Their families in Cuban are screaming blue murder and now these intellectuals have come to “fuck it all up,” as a young Guantanameran has written to her boyfriend working as a nurse in Caracas.

“Finally, we call on international solidarity to squelch any attempt to impose violence in a country which is advancing firmly toward a society of justice, equality and peace,” concludes this letter from the “professionals of simulation**”, among whom are poets fighting for their literary event, historians praying to God not to take away their European fellowships, and musicians who aspire to give a concert in the hills of Caracas to put a sound track to the fists of the National Guard and the truncheons wielded by the brave boys of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

Translator’s notes:

*A reference to the Wasp Network of Cuban spies stationed in the United States.

** A sarcastic reference to those who “simulate”… or pretend to believe… so as not to lose their perks.

Spanish post
22 February 2014

The Cuban Writers Club / Luis Felipe Rojas

2 Dec

Víctor Domínguez. Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Men who believe themselves to be free manage to break the bars imposed on them by authoritarian regimes. The Cuban Writers Club (CEC), established in Havana in May 2007, is an initiative that arose from the desire for free literature, poetry out loud, and a way to rub up against life as if they were living in a free country. A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune of having lunch and chatting with one of these free men, Víctor Domínguez. Armando Añel delivered him through the crazy Miami traffic.

“A group of writers, some of the members of the official National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), others from the Hermanos Saiz Association (AHS), but all of us marginalized from the institutional spaces because of ideological problems, realized we needed our own independent space. We are more than fifty writers from the whole county, and twenty of us have published works, which is an accomplishment,” says Victor Manuel Dominguez, co-president of the Club.

Dominguez is one of Havana’s veteran independent journalists who survived the hardships, arrests and police harassment. “Twice they have expelled Jorge Olivera Castillo and me from literary and cultural meetings we were attending — once it was in the Cuba Pavilion — and we have to say that we are here and we are going to continue doing our literary work despite the repression and censorship,” said the author of the banned and still unpublished novel, “Operation Cauldron.”

The fruits they already taste

Jorge Olivera Castillo is one of the independent journalists who has survived hardships of every kind. He is the founder of Habana Press, a banned press agency born in the long past year 1995; he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the well-known Black Spring of 2003, and today has nearly a dozen books published by helping hands around the world.

“It was prison that made me turn to literature, and especially being at the side of Raul Rivero, unfortunately now in exile. I was in solitary confinement for a year, in a cell in Guantanamo, six hundred miles from my home in Havana, but literature helped me to survive,” Olivera Castillo said with pride.

The award of the Franz Kafka Novels from the Drawer Prize to Frank Correa Romero in 2012 for his work “The Night is Long,” and that fact that 2010 was “a great year” for Olivera Castillo, made them realize they were beginning to reap what they had sown.

Jorge Olivera Castillo has published nearly a dozen books of poetry and prose. Publishers from half the world have helped him, not because of his having been condemned to 18 years in prison in the 2003 Black Spring, the only criterion is the quality of his writing. Olivera saw his book of poems appear almost a decade after they were written: “Lit Ashes” (Polish-Spanish, Lech Walesa Institute, 2010), and from Galen Publishing (French-Spanish) “In Body and Soul,” which had been published in 2008 by the Czech Pen Club.

The world, all the worlds

In Havana, the Swiss, German and Czech embassies have opened their doors to these bards to develop their literary gatherings, blocked by the authoritarian regime. The German Romantic Period, the work of A. Von Humboldt, the dramas and poetry of Polish writers, as well as readings by their own members, are part of this unique Writers Club.

The digital magazine Puente de Letras (Literary Bridge) contains all of this flood of creation: the list of its members, the prizes they have won, fragments of works half done and on their way to publication, are part of the mission of this attractive digital site.

Authors such as Luis Cino Álvarez, Juan González Febles, María del Carmen Pino or Manuel Cuesta Morúa have presented their stories, poems or essays on the Puente de Letras magazine and website.

Looking ahead, they have made this bridge to the future. “This is a source of feedback, you write and life gives you these prizes: the books, the friendship, the sharing,” Olivera concluded.

2 December 2013