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Interviews : Armando Valladares

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Interviewed April 2010

Armando Valladares, a poet, human rights advocate, and former diplomat, was a political prisoner in Castro's Cuba for 22 years. After international pressure led to his release, he emigrated to the United States and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission from 1988 to 1990.

Valladares was a Cuban Postal Bank employee who was arrested in 1960 when he refused to display a sign on his desk that endorsed Communism. Valladares, then 23 years old, was convicted of being a “counter-revolutionary” and spent 22 years in prison. He was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and his prison memoir “Against All Hope” became an international bestseller and raised the profile of the campaign for his release. This campaign finally succeeded after then French President Francois Mitterand made a personal appeal to Fidel Castro.

During his service as ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Valladares succeeded in persuading the commission to adopt a resolution on the human rights situation in Cuba. 

While in prison, I started to write and send reports clandestinely about the human rights violations that were taking place inside the prison. And that was my occupation in prison since the beginning of 1961.

That is, I spent every day, every week, every month, every year, trying to get the complaints about violations of human rights in the prisons, the torture, the murders and the abuse, known overseas. My goal is to try to create awareness in mankind, which, had it existed when I was in prison, possibly neither my fellow inmates nor I would have spent so many years in jail. That is to say, make every citizen of the world aware that when someone is being beaten, tortured, abused or violated in their dignity, it must be felt as your own affront. In other words, to look for that solidarity from one human being to another without having for one moment any kind of ideological or political considerations. That is to say, human dignity is above any political position. And in my opinion, there is no ideology that can justify the violation of human rights. A human being must be respected in his rights. The worst for us was to know that our suffering, our struggle, had no impact on anyone. It was as if we didn't exist.

We felt terribly helpless to see how public opinion was interested in the victims of all other regimes but Cuba's. And that was really sad. When we occasionally got the news that someone somewhere in the world remembered us, that would give us the strength to keep resisting. We felt that there was someone in the world, even though we may not even have known who it was, who knew that we existed, and that was sort of a satisfaction amid the complete abandonment that Cuban political prisoners suffered for 50 years. 

Cuba, a country of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean, is governed by a totalitarian state led by Raul Castro who serves as chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. Fidel Castro, who ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his brother in 2008, remains the First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.”

The Cuban government denies or severely constrains the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect for human rights. Government action against dissidents often takes the form of “spontaneous” attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials. 

More from Armando Valladares

Armando Valladares: What Matters in Prison Armando Valladares remembers his 22 years in Cuban prisons. Armando Valladares: Democracy is the Future “Don’t lose hope. The future is ours. Democracy is the future of mankind.” Armando Valladares: Business Sustains the Regime The effects of assistance provided to the Cuban government by foreign governments and companies. More + Armando Valladares: International Aid International assistance to pro-democracy dissident movements is necessary for their survival. Armando Valladares: Solidarity Among Prisoners “Solidarity from international organizations, governments, and the press, that means protection for the life of the political prisoner.” Armando Valladares: Role of Technology How the internet and other modern technologies have made it more difficult for the world to ignore atrocities against prisoners of conscience. Armando Valladares: Denouncing Castro Describes how he accomplished the “impossible mission” of getting a United Nations body to take note of human rights violations by the Castro regime. Armando Valladares: Double Standard at UN Valladares laments the “double standard” United Nations bodies have applied to human rights violations. Armando Valladares: International Indifference Why many democratic governments ignored human rights violations in Cuba, and the impact this had on the regime’s victims.