The Case of Angel Santiesteban: Doubts and Background

Armando Chaguaceda

Angel Santiesteban

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

3 thoughts on “The Case of Angel Santiesteban: Doubts and Background

  • AC, the reason the regime would severely punish Santiesteban has nothing to do with his ability to influence other Cubans. Keep in mind they control the media. Internationally-known dissidents like Yoany Sanchez and the late Oswaldo Paya are indeed relatively unknown outside of the dissident community inside of Cuba. Rather, putting Santiesteban in a Cuban gulag does send a chilling message to other Cuban dissidents however. The Castros are ever fearful, and they should be, of that single spark or sole dissident that could ignite an insurrection. One way justice is served is by transparency. The Cuban legal system does not permit foreign journalists to cover trials and rules of evidence are severely weak. Prosecution witnesses are not subject to cross-examination by defense lawyers including so-called ‘expert’ government witnesses like police. I am certainly biased against totalitarian regimes. This would necessarily include their legal systems. Finally, Cuba’s record in managing their public image with regards to the dissident community leaves a lot to be desired. If they did not make a big deal about a group of middle-aged women dressed in all white who march to and from church on Sundays armed with flowers, it would not be the international black eye it has become for the Castros.

  • Probably the same way a waiter knows how much is going to be your bill after taking you order? As I mentioned elsewhere, sentences in Cuban legal system are fairly predictable and usually there are no surprises, so if the officer knew the charges he can easily infer the sentence if found guilty of said charges.

    This article is more of the same crap that has been floating around in the past weeks. The author don’t even understand the charges, so why would he have an informed opinion on the trial? Santiesteban was charged and convicted of break and enter because that was the worst of the crimes committed and thats why he got a 5 year sentence.

    IMHO, this is just another example of cognitive bias: the author (and some commenters) have the underlying notion that Cuban legal system is broken, so anything coming from there must have nefarious motivations and cases like this just reinforce your own bias.

    As far as I can tell, all concerns with the outcome of the trial come exclusively from the accounts of the guy convicted of the crime, but since he has stakes on it, his testimony MUST be backed with strong evidence before taken seriously. And that evidence must be considered in conjunction with the trial documents, the evidence shown by both parties and the basis the judge had for the sentence. Not doing so is just caring to reinforce your own bias and not for the truth of the matter.

    Notice that the ONLY thing the prosecutor needs to prove to confirm the sentence is that Santiesteban forced his way inside the victim’s home and thats fairly trivial since I remember reading somewhere that the police was called in the episode.

    The defendant in the other hand have to prove that the police call was bogus, the defendant got into the house with the victim permission and there was no violence involved. He failed to support those claims, and thats why he got convicted.

    Regardless, why would the Cuban government want Santiesteban in jail that badly? He is a nobody as far as the dissidence go and has zero influence on Cuban people. By not publicizing his work he is effectively neutered and there is no need to stage a fake conviction that will be heavily scrutinized and used as a political tool against the government regardless of the outcome.

  • Good post. The most damning piece of this ‘he said, she said’ is the comment made by the State Security goon who told Mr. Santiesteban PRIOR to the trial and sentencing that he would receive 5 years. Unless Cuban state police are embued with the ability to see the future, this sounds like a set-up.

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