Armando Valladares is a Cuban poet, artist, and career writer. He did not support the Communist agenda, mainly because Communism opposed religion. Here is his story:
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Lifetime achievement: Armando Valladares
I used to conclude each journalism history course at the University of Texas by reading a speech Armando Valladares gave in 1988 when he was Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Valladares spoke of Fernando López Toro, a Cuban political prisoner who killed himself because “total ignorance and indifference from the rest of the world” made him think “our sacrifice was useless.” My point to students: Fidel Castro put López Toro in prison, but American journalists who defended or at least ignored Castro’s evil kept him there.
Valladares, now 78, knew that evil firsthand. From 1960 to 1982 Valladares suffered through—as he later said in speeches and in his memoir, Against All Hope—“eight thousand days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement, of cells with steel-planked windows and doors, of solitude. Eight thousand days of struggling to prove that I was a human being. … Eight thousand 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.”
Those jailers were killers. Night after night during the 1960s, Valladares in prison heard the last words of those whom Che Guevara ordered to Execution Wall: “Viva Christo Rey,” Long live King Jesus, they shouted, before bullets silenced them. The jailers were also brutal toward the living. After Valladares had three broken bones, guards beat him with thick twisted electric cables, which felt “as if they were branding me with a red-hot branding iron, but then I experienced the most intense, unbearable, and brutal pain of my life. One of the guards had jumped with all his weight on my broken, throbbing leg.”
When I interviewed Valladares in Miami on Nov. 6—see “Armando Valladares: Mind games”—he said, “I never asked God to take me out of jail. I asked him for the strength to be able to go through this. I never asked God to take me out because I knew there was a purpose for it. I started seeking God more and each time came out stronger than ever. I never remember being in solitary confinement alone: I always felt God’s presence.” Valladares is also grateful to his wife Marta, who led what became an international campaign for his release.
Each year for the past 18 we’ve awarded our Daniel of the Year award to a person (or several) who glorified God by sacrificing fame, fortune, and sometimes life itself. But Hollywood hands out both annual Oscars and Lifetime Achievement Awards, and this year so does WORLD. We honor Valladares for standing up for Christ and also giving us words of warning: “America is founded on the principle that rights come from God. They precede the state and they cannot be usurped. If America begins to cede that principle, it will be signing its own death certificate.”
Valladares ended Against All Hope by quoting Fidel Castro’s claim in 1983 that Cuba has “no human rights problem … no tortures here. … In 25 years of revolution … a crime has never been committed.” Leading U.S. journalists generally accepted this, and at one party those who never would have worn a swastika took turns joyfully putting on a Cuban army cap. Some later excused their behavior by saying Castro had overturned a previous dictatorship, that of Fulgencio Batista, but Valladares exposes that equation: “In the history of the world there has never been a more horrific dictatorship than the dictatorship of communism. Think of two bank robbers: One has robbed five banks, and the other 40 banks.”
Recognizing Valladares seems particularly appropriate in a year when, to use Valladares’ words, “Pope Francis received tyrant Raúl Castro in an ambience of mutual smiles and cordiality, shaking his bloodstained hands and asking the communist chieftain for prayers. This is a chilling and appalling scene before God and history, and one that will indelibly mark the current pontificate.” Valladares also criticized President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for offering the Castro brothers hugs rather than treating them as thugs.
Listen to Jamie Dean discuss this year’s Daniels of the Year on The World and Everything in It.