Armando Valladares Perez
May 30, 1937
|Occupation||Poet, diplomat, activist|
|Known for||exposure of alleged human-rights abuses by Cuban government|
|Title||United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (1988-1990)|
Armando Valladares Perez (born May 30, 1937) is an Cuban-American poet, diplomat, and human rights activist.
In 1960, he was arrested by the Cuban government for conflicting reasons; the Cuban government alleged that he had been complicit in anti-Castro terrorism, while foreign sources regarded his arrest as being due to his protesting communism, leading Amnesty International to name him a prisoner of conscience. Following his release in 1982, he wrote a book detailing his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Cuban government, and was appointed in 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Arrest and imprisonment
Valladares is from Pinar del Rio, Cuba. By his own account, he was initially a supporter of Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution, later becoming an employee of the Office of the Ministry of Communications for the Revolutionary Government, for which he worked at a post office.
In 1960, at the age of 23, he reportedly refused to put an "I'm with Fidel" sign on his desk at work. Shortly after, he was arrested by political police at his parents' home. He was subsequently given a thirty-year prison sentence. The Cuban government stated that his arrest was on charges of terrorism, and that he had previously worked for the secret police of Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship. The international human rights organizations Oslo Freedom Forum, PEN International, and Amnesty International, in contrast, stated their belief that Valladares had been imprisoned solely for his anti-Castro stance, and the latter organization named him a prisoner of conscience.
Valladares states that he was offered "political rehabilitation" early in his prison term, but refused. According to Valladares, this led to his being abused and tortured by his guards, including being forced to eat other people's excrement and imprisonment in cramped "drawer cells" in which multiple prisoners were confined in a space too small to lie down, without being allowed toilet access.
Describing his incarceration later, Valladares wrote:
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.
Describing his thoughts on Che Guevara later, Valladares stated:
He was a man full of hatred ... Che Guevara executed dozens and dozens of people who never once stood trial and were never declared guilty … In his own words, he said the following: "At the smallest of doubt we must execute." And that's what he did at the Sierra Maestra and the prison of Las Cabanas.
However, the Cuban government contested Valladares' claims. According to Castro, "Only a few hundred political prisoners were held captive" as of 1960. When Valladares was "liberated" by the French, the Cuban government provided Valladares' identification card from the Batista Police force and video that revealed how when the night arrived the "paralytic" got up from the wheelchair and performed stretching exercises to counteract the numbness caused by the wheelchair, and a healthy Valladares walking out of the prison as evidence that Valladares' claims are disingenuous. The recordings were shown to Regis Debray, when he visited Havana on behalf of François Mitterrand. The Cuban government decided in 1982 that Valladares would be released and could leave the country, on condition that he got on and off the plane at his own feet and in the sight of everyone, which he did effortlessly demonstrating his falsehood. 
In 1987, Reagan drafted a UN resolution accusing Cuba of human rights abuses based on Valladares claims of "140,000 political prisoners being tortured and executed in Cuban prisons and concentration camps." The Human Rights Council went to Cuba to investigate these claims, but the organization found no evidence to substantiate Valladares accusations.
Writing and release
During his time in prison, Valladares went on multiple hunger strikes. The longest, a 49-day hunger strike in 1974, left him using a wheelchair several years with an attack of polyneuritis. Valladares subsequently appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, stating that he was being denied important medical care, including a functioning wheelchair. The IACHR found that Cuba had violated a number of Valladares's rights, including the right to a fair trial, the right to protection against arbitrary arrest and the right to humane treatment during the time the individual is in custody, and the right to due process and protection from cruel, infamous, or unusual punishment.
Believing that "poetry is a weapon," Valladares also began smuggling his poems out of jail, which brought him a measure of international attention. His first published collection, From My Wheelchair, detailed prison abuses and was released in 1974. After the book's publication, PEN France awarded him its Freedom Prize.
In 1981, Valladares's wife Marta – who had met and married him while he was imprisoned – traveled to Europe to meet with government officials regarding her husband's case, and in 1982, 83 U.S. Congressmen joined a call for Valladares's release. Valladares was released that year after 22 years' imprisonment after a direct appeal by French President François Mitterrand.
Against All Hope and ambassadorship
After his release, Valladares resettled in the U.S. In 1986, Alfred A. Knopf released Valladares's memoir Against All Hope, in which he detailed his prison experiences. One year later, U.S. President Ronald Reagan appointed Valladares to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The move was widely seen as an attempt to dramatize and draw new attention to Cuban human rights abuses. The Cuban government reacted by calling Valladares a "traitor and a fake," including stating that he had faked his paralysis while imprisoned. The U.S. State Department responded by accusing Cuba of "mounting a massive defamation campaign against Armando Valladares" to deflect attention from its human rights record. In 1985, he signs a petition in support for the far-right paramilitary Contras (Nicaragua).
Valladares served as the ambassador from 1988 to 1990. He vigorously argued for UN attention to Cuban human rights abuses during his tenure, leading Human Rights Watch to criticize him for appearing to have "little interest in pursuing other violators, particularly of the non-Communist sort," such as US allies Iraq or Guatemala.
- Desde mi Silla de Ruedas (1976)
- El Corazon Con Que Vivo (1980) - a book of poetry in Spanish
- Cavernas del Silencio (1983)
- Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag (1985) - an autobiographical work
- El Alma de un Poeta (1988)
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- Ana Veciana-Suarez (March 19, 1982). "83 Congressmen ask Castro to free poet Valladares". The Miami News.
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