Open Letter from the Writer Ángel Santiesteban-Prats to the New President of Spain / Ángel Santiesteban
President of Spain / Ángel Santiesteban
Angel Santiesteban, Translator: Unstated
Havana, 20 December 2011
President Mariano Rajoy, I turn to you on the day my daughter celebrates
her birthday. Just thinking of the Cuban young people, I decided to
write you these humble and sincere words without standing on ceremony
other than to offer you well-deserved congratulations, and to cry for
the young of my country whose only horizon is the Straits of Florida
which cause so many deaths. But not before giving you a small account of
the last two governments of my country and the impact they have had on us.
Since the absence in power of Spain's People's Party, three elections
back, the freedom of Cubans has been banished. We quickly received a
half-communist minister representing the PSOE (Socialist Workers Party),
who came to negotiate with the Castro brothers. Since then, the silence
and Spanish president Zapatero's complicity threw its dark mantle over
the Cuban archipelago. The days when the freedom of the people was more
important to Spain than relations with a tyrant, were long gone.
That complicity with which the Cultural Attache welcomed those of us
with the intention to participate in some literary contest in Spain, and
the envelopes full of stories and hopes, ended. From that time on we no
longer received the latest published books from the Iberian peninsula,
nor the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana which had provided us
with the latest cultural events in the world and, especially, in the
culture of our diaspora forbidden on Cuban soil.
The literary, essay and photography contest thought up by the Spanish
embassy, which was juried and where I was told there was no pressure
because they would award the prize to some irreverent text despite the
political system that scorns us and exists in this country, only got as
far as a call for entries. The official policy of support for
marginalized artists vanished. We also lost the profound and hard work
of the Hispanic-American Center because the dictatorship closed it, not
wanting there to be a space for the cultural freedom it supported.
Then, the meeting with the ungainly ambassador of whom I only remember
his name "Lazarus," and who joked about a Bible passage, "Lazarus, arise
and walk," because the Lazarus sent to us only came to lie down at the
feet of the dictator. And the following meeting for Columbus Day, which
we had celebrated in the ambassador's residence for many years, and
Lazarus just read our group what his work plan was going to be, which
was "nothing," making him the second Government of the Island. Since
then we haven't gone back despite continuing to receive an invitation.
Months later the Ambassadors of the European Union wanted a
meeting-dialogue with Cuban writers in the residence of the Ambassador
of Austria, which chaired the EU at the time. Attending were Leonardo
Padura, Amado del Pino, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Reinaldo Montero and me.
Each gave his vision of the social reality.
Some Ambassadors wondered about the relationship between Venezuela and
Cuba, and thought that perhaps, as expressed by the Spanish Ambassador,
that starting with a substantion improvement in the economy, there would
arise an improvement in individual freedoms. He was hoping for better
times for Cuba, the raising of the national economy and social freedoms.
When I intervened I said that with reference to the possibility of
"economic improvement", I found myself pessimistic, given that the years
of dictatorship had demonstrated gross mismanagement of the assets of
the People, and that in the unlikely event that Venezuela became what
the Union Soviet and the rest of the socialist camp had been for Cuba,
it would be disastrous for individual liberties, as rather than being
strengthened, repression would also increase.
That the Ruler (at the time it was Fidel Castro, now it is his brother,
but it has always been the same last name), had ceded his harsh
dictatorship from the Special Period, when he lost credibility and
followers, but there was a return to economic consolidation, which I
doubted we could say for certain that it would sharpen the repression,
censorship and imprisonment of opponents of the government.
After the meeting ended, while having refreshments, I was approached by
Ambassador Lazaro, who told me light-heartedly, "Don't be so
pessimistic." I gave him a look as impotence threatened to overcome me.
"Sir," I said, "how is it possible that you dare to ask for optimism
from one of the members of the third generation that this process has
consumed without any benefit. Fidel Castro is a human crushing machine."
The ambassador wanted to escape but I stopped him: "Never," I
pronounced, "have I seen the Cuban State prosper, not in economic
matters nor in individual liberties, and unfortunately we two are going
to be alive to see it."
The Ambassador raised his arms and walked away. We never met again. I
did not accept his invitations. Wherever he finds himself today, he
should remember the words that without being an expert in political and
social matters, were offered to him, a career diplomat, most
disadvantaged by our forecasts, with his failure as Ambassador and his
role in a boring and submissive political party, so much so, that his
own workers in the Spanish embassy in Havana let us know that they had a
room full of the journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, which they
couldn't distribute because the government had forbidden it in secret
In those two governments of Zapatero, we have suffered the shamelessness
of both presidencies (Zapatero-Fidel and Raul Castro) and their minions.
Supposed achievements in the matter of the prisoners of conscience have
only served them to be accomplices in helping to take the lid off the
pot and relieve the pressure and thus avoid a social explosion on the
island, to procure some respite for a process that is asphyxiating at
times, an that resorts to strategies intended to improve its
international image, award accomplices, and ultimately ultimately extend
a system which the population does not believe in, such as releasing the
prisoners of conscience to Spain which agreed to receive them as
political refugees, but which disengaged from them after their arrival
and haphazardly left them in the hands of God. The Master of Ceremonies
of this sizable circus was Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos.
In the end they demonstrated that releasing the prisoners was not done
for humanitarian but for political reasons.I also pray for them and I
urge you to provide them the place they deserve after suffering
persecution, torture and imprisonment, it would be very kind of you to
stop this escalation of agony, and end something that started ill. Ii is
in your hands to do it.
Of course, we know that while the Popular Party has won, it doesn't mean
it will resolve the immense problems that have shaken Spain, much less
solve the dilemma of the Cubans. What we are sure of is that at least
you, President Mariano Rajoy, have extended a hand in solidarity and
know how to take the measure of a dictatorship that is dying, but that
even in its death throes, keeps kicking and is willing to take the lives
of those who confront it.
Recently Cubans have lost a friend, intellectual and former Czech
President Vaclav Havel, but God has provided us with you. Having called
the Czech writer to His side, he is right to leave this task in your hands.
With humility we simply ask you, President Rajoy, for an ambassador who
respects us and offers a place to the thoughtful opposition, dedicated
and determined to achieve the freedoms inherent in being human.
Translator's note: Slight changes have been made in this letter for
English-speaking readers who may not know what positions those named
hold or held in Spain and Cuba — they have been added.
December 26 2011