Armando Valladares: Human Rights Hero
Armando Valladares and David Horowitz
Friday, Dec. 5, 2003
The Annie Taylor Award was presented as part of the Center for Popular Culture's Restoration Weekend, Nov. 13-16, 2003. Cuban dissident Armando Valladares and Sen. Zell Miller shared the award. Below is David Horowitz's introduction of Valladares, followed by the Cuban dissident's acceptance speech. Sen. Miller's speech will run tomorrow.
David Horowitz: I am deeply honored to be presenting the Annie Taylor Award to Armando Valladares, and there's a special irony in the fact that I am the one to do so. We are separated by only about two years in age, and in the year 1960, both of us were young men setting out in life, I as a graduate student in Berkeley and he as a young poet who worked in the Postal Savings Bank, which was part of the Ministry of Communications in the new revolutionary government of Cuba.
In Berkeley, I was the new Left radical cheering on Cuba's regime because its charismatic leader, Fidel Castro, was promising that the revolution would be neither a dictatorship of a left nor right, neither red nor black, but Cuban olive green.
Fidel Castro had already visited the United States as Cuba's new leader. When he was asked by NBC reporter Lawrence Spivak whether he was a communist, Fidel had said, "Democracy is my ideal. I am not a communist. I have no hesitation in choosing between democracy and communism."
Early one morning in the year 1960, Armando Valladares, who was 23 years old and still asleep in his parents' house, was wakened by the cold barrel of a machine gun pressing his head into the pillow on his bed. There were three gunmen standing over him. A fourth kept watch on Valladares' mother and sister in another room in the house. These men were agents of Castro's new political police. After ordering Valladares to get dressed, they took him away.
Armando Valladares' crime was this: Castro had been appointing communists to his new government even though he had sworn that his revolution would bring freedom to Cuba. Many people in Cuba who supported the revolution were concerned. Some were saying that Castro was a communist himself. To combat these fears, Castro had his agents print up a slogan. He had them put it on decals, bumper stickers, tin plaques, wall posters, and in the daily press. The slogan was this: "If Fidel is a communist, then put me on the list. He's got the right idea."
The communists of the Ministry of Communications came to the Postal Savings Bank and to the desk of Armando Valladares. They handed him a card bearing the slogan and told him to put it on his worktable. The 23-year-old Valladares refused. Taken aback, the communists asked him if he had anything against Castro. Valladares answered that if Castro was a communist, he did.
For this crime, Armando Valladares was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Like all of Castro's political prisoners, he was tortured and humiliated. He was made to eat other men's excrement and forced to watch his friends die. One of Valladares' prison friends was a youngster named Roberto Lopez Chavez. He was just a kid, and he went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses. The guards denied him water until he became delirious, twisting on the floor of his cell and begging for a drink. The guards urinated in his mouth and on his face, and he died the following day.
The political prisoners in Castro's jails were given a choice. You could be rehabilitated and save yourself from these torments if you renounced who you were. All you had to say was "I have been wrong. All my life has been a mistake. God does not exist. I want you to give me this opportunity to join a communist society." Of Cuba's 80,000 political prisoners, 70,000 took this path of rehabilitation. Armando Valladares was not one of them.
"For me," he said, "that would've meant spiritual suicide. All the time I was in jail, I never gave up my freedom. My freedom is not the space where you can walk around. There are lots of people in Cuba who have space to walk, and they are not free."
Describing his incarceration, Valladares said, "For me, it meant 8,000 days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement and solitude, 8,000 days of struggling to prove that I was a human being, 8,000 days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain, 8,000 days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart, 8,000 days of struggling so that I would not become like them.�
Another prisoner named Fernando Lopez del Toro came to Valladares and said in despair that what hurt him most about the torment, the beatings, the hunger was to think that all their suffering was useless. Fernando Lopez del Toro was not broken by the pain, Valladares recalled, but by the futility of the pain. Fernando eventually took his own life.
"Remember him," Valladares said. "The only thing that keeps us firm is to know that somewhere else there is another soul that loves us, that respects us, and that is fighting for the return of the dignity that has been taken from us."
Twenty-two years after his arrest, after an appeal from French President Francois Mitterand, Armando Valladares was able to return home a free man. He did not forget Fernando Lopez del Toro. He went on a world campaign to bring to light the terrible fate of Castro's political prisoners. He published an account of his experiences, a book to which he gave the title �Against All Hope.� In 1987, President Reagan named him the United States Representative to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission with the rank of Ambassador.
Ambassador Valladares persuaded the U.N. to conduct an investigation of the terrible conditions in Castro's jails. He exposed to the whole world the inhumanity he had witnessed. To the U.N. Commission he said: "We must enter the cell of every Fernando Lopez del Toro in the world, embrace him in solidarity, and tell them to their faces, �Do not take your life. There are men of good will who are standing by you. Your dignity as a human being will prevail.�"
This is a good man and a great man, and I am honored to present him with this award.
Armando Valladares: Thank you. Thank you very much. It is a great honor for me to be here tonight. I want to give thanks for this attention, first of all, to David Horowitz. Thank you very much, David.
I was 22 years in Fidel Castro's prison, and because I am against any kind of torture, I don't want to torture you with my English. My very good friends, my translator will translate for me tonight.
Translator for Mr. Valladares: If I didn�t have reason enough to spend 22 years in jail, moments like this would be a reward for those years.
David shared with you some of the highlights of those 22 years in prison. I want to tell you that were it not for the support of my wife, I would not be here tonight. You know the story of Penelope, who waited 20 years for a drink. Marta did more than that. Not only did she wait more than 20 years for her husband, but she traveled the world fighting for her husband's cause.
I met her when she was 14 years of age and she traveled to prison to visit her father, who was my prison companion. A year after I met her, I told her that I had a 30-year sentence, and I expected to serve all 30 years because I was not going to accept Castro's rehabilitation. She told me that she was willing to wait the 30 years. She waited 22.
I want to take the opportunity this evening, more than sharing my experiences in jail with you, to share with you some of the grave concerns that I have.
Everyone knows Fidel Castro. He's a man who begged Khrushchev to allow him to launch nuclear missiles against this country. For many years, he was a willing conduit of drugs into this country. He was the brain trust and organizer of all of the subversive communist guerrillas in Latin America and is a man who has obsessed every day for 40 years on how he can harm this country. He's behind or he�s supportive of any activity in the world against this country.
That's why, for me, it's incredible that some Republican politicians are thinking of helping Fidel Castro by lessening the sanctions against Cuba, lifting the embargo, and treating Fidel Castro as a bona fide leader of a democratic country. This country has never had an enemy like Fidel Castro. You know that he was able to infiltrate the highest levels of intelligence in the Pentagon. After 42 years of a terrible dictatorship, it's agonizing.
To offer a hand to him at this point is inconceivable to me, and I can't help but think about Lenin's words about capitalists. Lenin said, "The Capitalists will sell us the rope we hang them with."
And to end, I want to tell you that the people of Cuba and we in the exiled community reject any type of effort that would leave Fidel Castro in power, that will not disband his repressive forces, that will not allow the exiled community to participate in future political decisions, and that would accept the Communist constitution of 1976.
I've just returned from Europe, and many in the European community are proposing such a transition. You know why? Because their interest is not the absolute liberty and freedom of the Cuban people. They're interested primarily in protecting their investments in Cuba. I hope that our politicians do not have similar thoughts. Fidel Castro continues to be our enemy. He still tortures, still puts people in jail, and the criminal activities of the regime have remained constant since 1959.
I want to thank all of you for the time you've spent listening to my reflections and to repeat that any assistance to the Cuban regime at this time would only help to prolong the agony of the people of Cuba.
Thank you. Good night.
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