Friday, May 30, 2014

New book sparks renewed discussion of jailed Cuban novelist

Posted on Thursday, 05.29.14

New book sparks renewed discussion of jailed Cuban novelist

The publication in Miami of the novel El verano en que Dios dormía (The
Summer When God Was Sleeping) has revived the controversy surrounding
Cuban dissident writer Angel Santiesteban, who is serving a five-year
sentence on the island for allegedly breaking into the home of his
ex-wife and attacking her.

Santiesteban is a renowned author who won the international Casa de las
Américas Award in 2006 for his book of short stories Dichosos los que
lloran (Lucky Are Those Who Cry), a volume of crude tales about Cuban
jails. His new novel received the 2013 Franz Kafka Award for Drawer
Novels, created in the Czech Republic to support Cuban writers who
cannot publish in their country due to censorship.

In 2008, Santiesteban started a personal blog in which he harshly
criticized the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC in its
Spanish-language acronym) and the Cuban government, which, according to
opposition figures and writers abroad, eventually got him incarcerated.

In his blog, Santiesteban documents a series of irregularities in the
Cuban judicial process. Particularly, he alleges that he was not at the
time and place where supposedly the crimes took place, but he was
visiting a friend, who confirmed this fact in the trial.

The writer, who pleaded not guilty on all charges, has requested "a
clear and transparent trial," one that could be attended by people who
may assess whether "it's rigged or not."

Amir Valle, a writer and Santiesteban's literary agent abroad, has
pointed out that this is a typical case of "criminalization of
dissidence in Cuba," referring to the attempts to jail opposition
figures accusing them of common crimes.

"If I thought that these accusations were true, I wouldn't be defending
Angel," he said.

There is an ongoing campaign to have Amnesty International declare
Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience. The author has been included in a
list of 100 Heroes of Freedom, published this month by Reporters Without

However, some writers on the island expressed doubts about
Santiesteban's innocence. In an open letter, writer José Miguel Sánchez
Gómez, better known as Yoss, accused him of having a history of
harassing his ex-wife. But Yoss later recanted in his personal blog and
apologized for having rushed to condemn Santiesteban on "hearsay." He
also said "he was not so convinced" that Santiesteban committed the
crime for which he is in prison and acknowledged "irregularities" in the
judicial process.

Santiesteban's case prompted a debate in Cuba about gender violence.

On March 8, 2013, a group of writers, journalists and academics publicly
read at the UNEAC a declaration titled "All Against Violence," in which
they said that "no one should accuse a victim of trying to fabricate a
case so that someone can be sentenced for obscure political reasons."
They also appealed to Cuban institutions to launch a public campaign
"against all types of violence, especially against women."

Danae Diéguez, a professor, activist and one of the signees, told El
Nuevo Herald that the declaration had been "a spontaneous gesture," with
no institutional support. She said the declaration was a response by
Cuban feminists who were outraged by a letter written in support of
Santiesteban by another writer, Rafael Alcides.

In Alcides' letter, which drew responses on several websites, he
describes the incident as a "family quarrel" and speculates that, if
justice were done, Santiesteban would receive "house arrest ... with a
sentence to fit what in a few years would, after all, turn into
neighborhood folklore."

This shows, according to Diéguez, the tendency to downplay gender
violence, including within intellectual circles in Cuba. The activist
said she had information that points to guilty behavior by the author.

However, the female signees have been criticized for not mentioning, in
the original letter or subsequent versions, other notorious cases of
violence against women in Cuba, such as the harassment against the
dissident Ladies in White. A law against gender violence would, in
theory, also protect women in the opposition within Cuba.

In July 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women expressed concern about the lack
of statistics on this issue in Cuba and the absence of a law in Cuba
about domestic violence. Also, it noted the nonexistence of independent
human rights organizations that could help victims.

Diéguez said the campaign in which she is involved seeks exclusively to
typify the crime of gender violence, though she rejected any other type
of violence against women, "regardless of ideological or political
motives. I don't believe that violence is the way to resolve any
political conflict," she said.

Blogger Yoani Sánchez's news site, 14ymedio, was launched recently with
an interview with Santiesteban, in which the author says he feels "freer
than many walking the streets."

He also said that he had declined meeting with Fidel Castro at a
reception at the Palace of the Revolution after receiving the Casa de
las Américas Award. However, El Nuevo Herald confirmed with other
participants that the reception was held at the Riviera Hotel, without
the presence of Castro.

In his exclusive interview for 14ymedio, the writer also said that in
1998, Abel Prieto, then-president of UNEAC, offered him a car or a house
in exchange for excluding five stories from his book Sueño de un día de
verano (A Summer Day's Dream).

"I needed a house at that moment. In the end, the book was published
without those five stories," he said.

Cuban-American writers Carlos Alberto Montaner and Antonio Correa
Iglesias will lead a discussion about El verano en que Dios dormía at 6
p.m. Tuesday at Casa Bacardi, 1531 Brescia Ave., in Coral Gables. It has
been republished by Neo Club Ediciones, an independent publishing house
based in Miami. The plot of the novel is about the drama of the Cuban
rafters and, according to Valle, its main feature is the "strength of
its characters" and "the combined force of Angel's stories with the
spirit of the novel."

Santiesteban will also receive that day the JOVENAJE Award from a
coalition of local cultural groups, designed to recognize writers,
promoters and artists, and will be picked up by the author's sister,
María de los Angeles Santiesteban.

Source: New book sparks renewed discussion of jailed Cuban novelist -
Little Havana / Flagami - -

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