Cuba writer seeks support against criminal case

A little-known Cuban writer and blogger sentenced to five years in prison for domestic violence has been campaigning for weeks to convince others that the charges are politically motivated, accusing fellow intellectuals of staying silent for fear of reprisals.

Some dissidents have rallied to Angel Santiesteban's cause and it has been taken up by U.S. government broadcaster Radio Marti but others on the island say they are reticent to get involved in a case that is not clear-cut and involves a real-life alleged victim.

"It's hard for us to have an opinion. This is an accusation about a domestic incident and it's his (former) wife who is accusing him," said one Cuban writer who knows Santiesteban personally, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Details have not been made public in state-run media, though there has been much chatter about it in the arts community. Government officials, who call dissidents "subversives" in service of foreign interests, did not reply to a request for comment.

Santiesteban was convicted in December of breaking and entering and domestic violence, accused by his ex-wife in a legal case that began in 2009. He allegedly forced his way into her home and abused her physically. The sentence was upheld Monday by Cuba's Supreme Court, meaning that he will likely begin serving his time in the coming days.

Unlike many other dissidents accused of crimes, he has been allowed to remain free even after his original conviction.

Santiesteban said Friday that he was accused of shaking the woman, but he did no such thing and didn't even go to her house. He insisted that prosecutors exaggerated and resuscitated the charges to try to silence his calls for multiparty elections and freedom of expression.

"This is a smokescreen put together bit by bit. They hoped I would give in," Santiesteban, a 46-year-old author who has won local and regional awards for his work, told The Associated Press.

Born in 1966 and with a degree in filmmaking, Santiesteban has written mostly short-stories and still belongs to the powerful and official National Writers and Artists Union, Cuba's dominating cultural umbrella organization.

He alleged that others in the Union have kept mum for fear of losing the perks of being in the government's good graces.

Expatriate Cuban writer Amir Valle recently called it "shameful" that more have not risen to Santiesteban's defense.

Santiesteban "is a person who has great impact with his writings among the intellectual class," Valle said by phone from Germany, where he has lived since 2006. "They are trying to take away the power of Angel's words."

Yet the more cautious are hesitant to weigh in given the lack of verifiable information.

Elizardo Sanchez, a dissident who monitors human rights on the island, said he is still investigating the case and declined to pass judgment except to note that the length of the sentence seemed surprising.

"If a domestic incident did occur, it could have been resolved with a fine or community service," Sanchez said, "but five years is very severe."

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Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP