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by Neal Patel
Ex-prisoner tells of horrors in Cuba Armando Valladares, who was
a political prisoner in Cuba for 22 years, denounced Fidel Castro
and all dictatorships during his speech Thursday night.|
Armando valladares relays his experience as a Cuban political prisoner. Once he was released, Valladares testified before the United Nations about his 22 years in jail.
The soles on a pair of large black boots are what Armando Valladares remembers when he thinks back to his trial at age 22. The boots belonged to the judge in the case, who sat through the trial reading a comic book with his feet up on his desk and then sentenced Valladares to 30 years as a Cuban political prisoner.
Valladares' crime, as he told an audience of about 40 last night, was refusing to post a card on his desk that said that he supported a communist government. He spent 22 years in prison before a special request by then-French president Francois Mitterand freed him in October 1982.
Since then, he has written the book Against All Hope and served as U.S. special ambassador to the United Nations.
Last night's speech was hosted by the Cuban-American Undergraduate Student Association, Amnesty International and La Unidad Latina and sponsored by a wide range of University departments and campus organizations.
Valladares spoke in Spanish and through an interpreter during the nearly two-hour speech. He stressed the evils of a dictatorship, regardless of any of its positive outcomes.
"All of the dictatorships are the same-to characterize that some are worse than others is a mistake," he said. "If we are going to justify the dictatorship because of all the schools and hospitals Castro built, then we have to justify Hitler, Stalin and Pinochet because they also built schools and hospitals. How do you justify that when a Cuban finds anything that can float, they will leave Cuba?"
Paramount in Valladares' critique of the Cuban dictatorship were his stories of life as a political prisoner. Stating that, "I am not the exception, there are thousands of prisoners that have stories more dramatic than mine," he reeled off a series of gruesome anecdotes.
He told of the urine and excrement from other prisoners guards dumped on his face while he slept. Holding up his hands, he showed the scars from rat bites. He described the fungus that grew on his body up to his eyes, and how he would try to shove the food from the plate directly into his mouth, so he would not have to touch it with his infected hands. And he told of the time a guard jumped on his broken leg.
In order to leave the prison, Valladares said, political prisoners had to state that "all my life has been a mistake, I've been wrong all my life, God does not exist, I want you to give me the opportunity to join a communist society."
Valladares said about 70,000 of the 80,000 political prisoners in Cuba have accepted rehabilitation.
"For many people, that is the solution," he said. "For me, that would have meant to commit spiritual suicide.... I never lost my freedom. 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."
Valladares said he got out of prison because of the devotion of his wife, Martha, who was only his girlfriend when he was first sent to prison.
"Penelope waited for Odysseus for 20 years," he said. "My wife did more than that. She waited 21 years. She went around the world for me in a campaign, which ended with Mitterand's request."
After his release, Valladares said he had an obsession to free his friends still in prison.
His major step toward that goal was his testimony to the United Nations, which culminated in a U.N. Human Rights Commission to Cuba. The commission's report documented thousands of cases of human rights abuse in Cuba.
"This is a battle, a gigantic battle," Valladares said of his work to promote human rights. "It's a terrible battle, but I think we're winning. I'm sure we will have a society where human rights violations are a thing of the past."