HAVANA TIMES — For several days I exchanged messages with some friends concerning the plight of Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban.
The distinguished and award-winner author — who was a published writer until his increasing anti-governmental belligerence relegated him to ostracism — Santiesteban is going through the last moments of a long legal trial.
Hanging over his head is a five-year prison sentence for the crime of domestic violence. Having exhausted all recourses (the Supreme Court upheld the prosecution’s argument), the author can only await the ill-fated notification to present himself.
In that debate, although there was consensus around repudiating any political manipulation of the case, some of my friends had reservations about issuing a statement of solidarity. The reason for such caution from people have signed documents in the past protesting repressive acts by Cuban officials — with all the risk such opposition implies — in that in this case there was the suspicion that the charge of his violent behavior against his wife may have been well founded.
This arises from the fact that in Cuba, as everyone knows, we’re taught from when we’re little that “you don’t hit girls.”
Consequently, one colleague ended up framing his doubt as follows: “The guy’s says the charges are false. Do I have to believe him because he says he’s telling the truth? The woman says she’s telling the truth too. Why can’t I believe her? Then there’s the witnesses’ accounts that are changing like the weather. That means I can’t be sure about anything. If anyone knows how to sort out the facts with some degree of certainty, I hope they share this with everybody else – and soon.”
Another friend reminded me about the fiasco of the Agustin Bejerano case, when several Cuban artists stood by the innocence of the painter accused of molesting a 5-year-old boy while visiting in Miami. However, the crime was ultimately acknowledged in an apparent negotiation with the Florida court.
It’s precisely such alerts — born out of the legitimate doubts of decent people, ones that confront my own — that finally lead me to the dead end of sins and trust, to examine the legal background of the process.
With a series of contradictions, flimsy evidence and doubtful testimonies, any serious and impartial judge would dismiss the case or — in the worst instance — call for an exhaustive review of the case and a repeat of both the investigation and the trial under better conditions.
If Santiesteban was in fact guilty, he should serve his sentence. Contrarily, if not guilty, he should be immediately cleared of all charges and have his public image restored.
The problem is that in Cuba, in the absence of a rule of law — or institutions and guarantees that give these substance — any illegal act, real or manufactured, can acquire unexpected dimensions and connotations to the detriment of the person charged, particularly if that individual has outstanding debts to “the system.”
In an identical context, violations of the law committed by an official can go unpunished or receive a reduced sentence, as evidenced by cases of police abuse and corruption (reported and criticized in these pages) or physical attacks on vulnerable individuals (as was the case of the patients who died at the Mazorra psychiatric hospital, victims of irresponsible administration and human insensitivity).
Therefore, I believe the problem doesn’t lie only — or even primarily — in the persistent lack of solidarity that corrodes the Cuban intelligentsia and public sphere (an attitude that generates civic paralysis and establishes the monopoly — legal or spurious — of state violence).
In a case like Angel’s, there have been so many serious errors that he simply deserves a new trial or the permanent throwing out of this present one.
NOTE: For evidence that intends to prove Santiesteban’s innocence, see http://loshijosquenadiequiso.blogspot.com/