Guille, The Macho Guajiro / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on April 20, 2014
Angel Santiesteban Prats dedicates this article to Guillermo Vidal, to
remember the tenth anniversary of his death. He wrote it from the Lawton
Prison Settlement for the column "Some Write" from the digital magazine
"OtroLunes" ("Another Monday").
By Angel Santiesteban Prats
It's always a pleasure to remember Guillermo Vidal.
Sharing with him the adventure of writing has been one of the great
rewards that life has offered me. His sympathy, modesty and talent
seasoned his conversations. He was a man called to make friends, easy to
like, and always persecuted by injustice, since they never could make
him bow down. He maintained his literature at a high price, because he
didn't yield even one iota of his level of social criticism.
When they expelled him as a professor from the university, they didn't
even ask how he was going to live or maintain his family. Being despised
and marginalized by the government of his territory in Las Tunas, by the
demand of the political police, he became himself.
He was part of an intellectual existence that he accepted with stoicism,
without complaint, which he endured in solitude and repaid with
brilliant writing. That was his revenge.
After treating him like the plague for many years, the government
offered a tribute to an official writer, and we agreed to attend if
Guille would be among those invited. Once there, in the seat of the
Provincial Party, in the same lair as the dictatorship, one of us said
publicly that our presence had no other end but to lionize Guillermo
Vidal, the most important living writer of Las Tunas, and one of the
most important in the country; that it was a way of supporting him and
demonstrating our friendship.
The government functionaries and those in charge of culture opened their
eyes, surprised by the audacity. Those were the times when we still had
not gained some rights that we have now, and where for much less than
what is done today, there were immediate reprisals.
What is certain is that on that night and in the following days, we felt
like better people and better intellectuals for showing our solidarity
with him. Later he let us know that, from that moment, things got better
for him. He stopped being banned and persecuted, because the authorities
feared his contacts in the country, especially in Havana.
Now that we are on the eve of another congress of UNEAC (National Union
of Writers and Artists of Cuba), I remember what happened during the
decade of the '90s. After the vote to name the officers, Professor Ana
Cairo, the officer of the Roger Avila Association of Writers, and I
counted the votes, and there were a surprising number of artists who
voted for Guillermo Vidal.
No one else had as many votes; no one even came close. However, later,
when I saw who they elected, I understood that the votes were only a
game, because Abel Prieto determined the election. They didn't give any
commission to Guillermo Vidal, not even in his own province. He was
cursed, on the list of the marginalized.
When he died, it caused an infinite sadness, impossible to describe. I
called the Institute of the Book (ICL), since I knew that they would
have transport to take writers who wanted to participate in his burial.
The Taliban Iroel Sanchez, at that time the President of this
institution, assured me that the microbus already had seats assigned. Of
course, he was lying to me, and I intuited that in his words. Later,
those who made the trip in that transport told me that not all the seats
I regretted very much not being able to say goodbye to him in that last
moment. They feared that the truth would come out: that they had
condemned him in life by closing all the doors to him that he knew his
literature, a stroke of talent, would win. Surely I would have said that.
You can't talk about Cuban literature at the end of the 20th century
without mentioning the genres of the short story and the novel. However,
in spite of the human misery that surrounded him, and the material
poverty they obliged him to suffer, his genius at being a good Cuban
jokester is the first thing that comes to mind when we think about him.
That's how I want to remember him now.
The book fairs in Havana take place in February and almost always
coincide with his birthday, the 10th, that all his friends celebrated in
harmony. We also celebrated February 14. I have one of his books,
presented to me during those days, and I remember the dedication to me
that "in spite of it being the day of love (Valentine's Day), don't get
me wrong, I was a macho, macho guajiro."
He had a spectacular snore. It almost loosened the nails from the beams
and raised the roof. When you approached his room, the first sensation
was that there was a roaring lion inside. The result? No one wanted to
share a room with him.
Once, late in the night in Ciego de Avila, I met another writer from Las
Tunas, Carlos Esquivel, literally crying in the lobby of the hotel
because he couldn't manage to sleep with those snorts.
When I described this scene the next day to Guillermo, he laughed like a
naughty child. He asked me to repeat the story so he could continue to
amuse himself, and he called for the others to listen to what suffering
he was capable of inflicting, unconsciously.
In one of the prizes he won, and there were several, he had the luck to
receive dollars. Then we got a telephone call saying that he was a
relative of Rockefeller, and that he was ready to share his fortune;
thus, he was generous. Certainly, in those few months I didn't have a
cent, and he continued in his material poverty. No one except his
friends and spouse could believe him.
At one book fair in Guadalajara he told me that sometimes he had the
impression that the government permitted him to leave to see if he
stayed and they would get rid of him, and he laughed imagining the faces
of the functionaries when they saw him return.
In one of his visits to Havana, he confessed to me how surprised he was
because another writer told him that he envied him, and he couldn't
conceive of being anyone to envy, and he laughed. "When I go home from
the university, at high noon, the cars pass me and no one gives me a
ride, and they leave me wrapped in dust to the point that I stop
breathing so I don't swallow the dust," he said, and he began to laugh.
Then I told him that I would exchange all that poverty for his books,
that I also envied him, and he got serious, and in a respectful tone
asked me if I was serious.
Thus he always comes into my memory, ironic as the priest's pardon after
confessing sins, and as sweet as the tamarind that they give the leaders
This year is the tenth anniversary of his physical disappearance. And
every year, in spite of some mediocre political and cultural figures who
agree to forget him, the imprint of Guillermo Vidal on Cuban culture
overrides frontiers and political regimes. And this is elaborated with
the passage of time, which was the only thing he didn't laugh about. To
struggle against time through writing was an exercise on which he bet
Published in OtroLunes.
Please follow the link and sign the petition to have Amnesty
International declare the Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner
Translated by Regina Anavy
9 April 2014
Source: Guille, The Macho Guajiro / Angel Santiesteban | Translating