“They forced me not to dream”: Interview with Angel Santiesteban

El bloguero y escritor Ángel Santiesteban. (Luz Escobar)
Blogger and writer Ángel Santiesteban (Luz Escobar)

In the Border Guard facility where Angel Santiesteban spent his last year in prison, he heard the sound of the sea. Inside his less than nine by twelve foot cell, when there was a storm the writer could feel the pounding of the waves. A sound that also accompanied him when he was released last Friday and walked, without a centavo in his pocket to take the bus, along the coast through Playa to the house of a friend.

Three nights after getting out of prison, the blogger and activist agreed to talk with 14ymedio about the days in prison, his literature, Cuba and the future.

Lilianne Ruiz (LR): How did they announce your release?

Angel Santiesteban (AS): Hours beforehand a guard was joking and told me, “I think you’re leaving today.” I ignored him, believing that it was a part of the game to psychologically debilitate me. While I was talking to the mother of my daughter during my turn to use the telephone, a prison officer came with the notice of my release. He said, “Congratulations, you’re going.” He gave me papers to sign for my parole.

When I reached the street, I realized I didn’t have any money to pay for transport, but I was so full of emotion I felt like running, and I kept walking.

LR: What were those first minutes like after being released?

AS: I felt like a ghost, I felt like I wanted to see everything and nobody saw me. I was thinking: How easily they can deprive you of liberty and how easily they can let you go. I ended up walking a little over a mile, to Antonio Rodiles’ house.

LR: What is your current legal status?

AS: I got out on parole, conditioned on complying with whatever they establish. A form of blackmail. On the Tuesday previous to my release, State Security took me to Villa Marista, the eleventh time in the last year. There they showed me some papers which, surprisingly, contained the revocation of the parole that they had not yet granted me. A threat of what would happen, for example, if I joined the Sunday marches of the Ladies in White. I told them if they wanted, I could sign it right then.

LR: As a writer, what influence did your prison experience have on you?

AS: Hemingway said that prison accelerated the maturation of the artist. I believe that it makes him confront a viewpoint, it provides a seed of inspiration, like being fed the first line of a poem and then improvising from there. How to transform this misery into literature. I had the experience of my book, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, about when I was in prison the first time, I was 17 and not a writer. Now it was different. I went into prison with this artistic viewpoint and a certain expertise. However, I learned that in these circumstance you don’t look from the viewpoint of art, but from the human viewpoint.

LR: Any new literary project?

AS: I left stunned. I am adapting myself to being distinct, to living a life different than I lived. Someone asked me for an article and I told them that at this moment I didn’t have ability to draft a sentence. I have a revolution of sensations in front of me and I have to wait for repose.

There are books that pursue you, ideas that are out their raising their arms as if saying: “My turn now.” But I look at them and say: “Not yet.” Although I did write a novel in prison about incarceration issues titled God Does Not Play Dice, which my literary representative and friend, the writer and editor Amir Valle, has.

LR: Is it true you’re working on a movie script?

AS: That is the pillow of relief. I have a fairly advanced script, I wrote it by hand and sent it to my family who transcribed it and printed it. In essence, it is inspired by Sur, latitude 13 (South, Latitude 13), although I bring to the cinematic language much more than was in the book. Lilo Vilaplana, in Miami, is enthusiastic about shooting the film.

LR: And the future?

AS: I’ve avoided thinking about it because it scares me. It is not that I want to be pessimistic, it is that I’m forced to be aware. I am coming from two and a half years in prison, where I was forced not to dream, because hope, in some way, can be harmful. Now I have one foot here and one foot in prison. I have a very high chance of returning to prison, especially for my links to the dissidence.

LR: Will you stay in Cuba?

AS: Yes. Indeed, I am going to stay in Cuba. I have never had a dream that is outside of Cuba.


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