March 21, 2002:, America’s News Page

Against All Hope: The Struggle Goes On

Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Armando Valladares – who spent 22 years in Castro's gulag – authored the powerful 1984 book "Against All Hope."

Now there is a newly re-issued version. It was presented in a Book Forum on March 15, 2002, at The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

This new version of his best-selling memoirs features a new prologue by Mr. Valladares. In it, he recounts his life since his 1982 release from Castro's prison, which was the result of an international campaign of protests including, at the very end, French President François Mitterrand's personal intervention with Castro to secure his freedom.

Dan Fisk, Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, hosted this event. Fisk is a veteran Washington foreign policy expert who has served in two presidential administrations and on the House and Senate committees that oversee foreign affairs. He is a leading authority on Latin America and international relations.

In his presentation remarks, Fisk referred to Cuba as a "tropical gulag." He also pointed out the ironic juxtaposition of two images: al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo compared to the hundreds of political prisoners in Cuban jails. He said "the real victims" are the "11 million Cuban people."

In reports filed by Cuban independent journalists (who are illegal in Cuba), the pro-democracy groups in Cuba have taken note of the international press coverage and concern for the terrorists held at Guantanamo.

But they also notice the lack of concern for the Cubans who are deprived of human rights and suffer frequent arrests, beatings and harassment by Castro's forces.

Among those assisting at the event were Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky and Mary O'Grady from the Wall Street Journal.

In this re-issue of "Against All Hope," Valladares says in the new prologue, "[T]he government of Cuba and defenders of the Cuban Revolution denied that incidents that I recount ever happened. Castro sympathizers, who were more subtle, said the incidents I described were exaggerations.

"There has been a continuing love affair on the part of the media and many intellectuals with Fidel Castro. While I was on book tours in the mid-1980s talking about 'Against All Hope,' I encountered many individuals who argued fiercely on behalf of the Castro regime."

In 1986, President Reagan named Armando Valladares ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. But at that time, he says, "the thousands of accusations of violations of human rights in Cuba conflicted with the double standard then current at the U.N. Sadly, this body considered crimes according to the ideology of the victims and the murderers. Those who hated the crimes of Pinochet closed their eyes when the same crimes were committed by Castro.

"The posture of many countries was governed by their hostility against the United States, and they excused Castro out of a reflexive anti-Americanism. (The enemy of my enemy is my friend.) These political games still take place today.

"I have become convinced that hatred toward the U.S. has been a chief reason for Castro's longevity in power. The old dictator's proximity to the U.S. and his confrontational attitude have given him undeserved support from the press, governments, politicians and intellectuals of this hemisphere."

What shocked Valladares the most during his tenure at the U.N. was the blatant "double standard of many governments." He cites the examples of Spain under the socialist President Felipe Gonzalez and Mexico.

But it wasn't until 1988 that a group of U.N. ambassadors was able to visit Cuba for 11 days and documented "137 cases of torture, 7 disappearances, political assassinations and thousands of violations" of human rights. This trip was summarized "in a 400-page report, which was the longest report ever to appear on the agenda of the U.N."

This report provided irrefutable proof of what Valladares had recounted in "Against All Hope." But academia and the media successfully passed over both the book and the report.

This 1988 report included "locking political prisoners in refrigerated rooms; blindfolded immersions in pools; intimidation by dogs; firing squad simulations; beatings, forced labor; confinement for years in dungeons called gavetas; the use of loudspeakers with deafening sounds during hunger strikes; degradation of prisoners by forced nudity in punishment cells; withholding water during hunger strikes; forcing prisoners to present themselves in the nude before their families (to force them to accept plans for political rehabilitation); denial of medical assistance for the sick; and forcing those condemned to die to carry their own coffins and dig their own graves prior to being shot."

Armando Valladares experienced and witnessed all that during his 1960-1982 interment in Castro's gulag.

In his well-received speech at the March 15 event, Valladares remarked that although Castro's horrid gulags were behind him, "hundreds and hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba even today languish in the same torture cells where my friends and I were tortured."

He cannot forget the case of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, president of a pro-human rights organization "considered illegal by the Cuban government."

Dr. Biscet, who is black, has been arrested many times, and on Feb. 25, 2000, he was sentenced to three years. Dr. Biscet has been enduring all kinds of tortures, depravations and denial of medical assistance. He has lost a lot of weight, his health has deteriorated, and many fear that he might die in prison.

Dr. Biscet is not the only black in Cuban prisons. The black inmate population is a disproportionate 80 percent.

Valladares talked about Marta Beatriz Roque, a Cuban independent economist who has already served time in jail for her participation in a 1997 socioeconomic analysis critical of the Castro regime. On Jan. 26, she was arrested for "her refusal to allow government officials to enter her house to spray insecticide."

Martiza Lugo, 40, "has been arrested more than 30 times" for disagreeing with the regime. Lugo was allowed to emigrate to the U.S. on Jan. 11, 2002, with her two children. But her husband, Rafael Ibarra Roque, is serving in jail "the eighth year of a 20-year sentence" for his pro-democracy stand.

Valladares said that the valiant Cuban pro-democracy advocates on the island are taking great risks and in spite of reprisals maintain "their peaceful resistance against the dictatorship by facing Castro's forces. Amnesty International has documented all of these cases and hundreds of cases of political prisoners. The abandonment of these dissidents, not remembering their names, is to abandon the Cuban people."

Valladares manifested his disagreement with the idea of a "dialogue with Castro." He believes that any formula that includes Castro moving toward freedom for the people of Cuba is nothing more than an illusion. "It would be like putting a respectful and humanitarian solution for the Jewish people in the hands of Hitler, or to put the fate of black Americans in the hands of racist extremists.

"Unfortunately, as long as Castro continues in power, the situation won't change. Castro declared again about three weeks ago, for those who want a change, 'They should sit and wait for the changes, because in Cuba there is nothing to change.' "

There you have it, clearer than water.

He criticized Mexico for the Feb. 28 incident in its embassy in Havana where 21 people sought refuge. (This went unreported by the three major U.S. networks.) Valladares said, "It isn't new, the policy of collaboration of the Mexican government with the Cuban dictatorship.

The embassy of Mexico in Cuba has a long history of returning the politically persecuted to Castro's police. I remember my fellow inmate Reinaldo Aquit, who escaped from the prison, and Gilberto Bosque, then ambassador of Mexico, informed against him."

Valladares said that he wasn't surprised by the Mexicans asking Castro's secret police to evict the asylum seekers. "Since the day President Fox declared that in Cuba there was no dictatorship and denied that Castro was a dictator, I knew that anything could happen.

"The embassy of Mexico in Havana continues as a subsidiary of Castro's police and his most loyal accomplice. About two weeks ago, an international terrorist conference was held in Mexico called by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with the approval of President Fox.

Why is this country that should be an ally of the U.S. and an ally of the Cuban people instead allied with the Cuban dictator?"

He also mentioned William Raspberry's recent visit to Cuba and his resulting column in the Washington Post. Raspberry wrote, "I felt free walking the Cuba streets."

Valladares asked, "How is it possible that a person of his intellect could go to Cuba and not learn about Cuba, could go to Cuba and drink a piña colada without thinking for a moment, without visiting a prison, without talking to dissidents?"

The dramatic story of Valladares' willpower, resistance and survival against all the humiliations, tortures and inhumanities of Castro's gulag is not the exception but the rule. All who defy Castro's regime have to go through the same nightmare.

Updating and bringing attention to this book in 2002 is applicable for today's world, where a handful of tyrants has been causing so much harm to millions of innocent people.

"Against All Hope," though it opened many eyes to the hidden realities of Castro's gulag, did not receive enough acceptance in academic circles of the U.S., among the members of the U.S. media and in Hollywood.

When I first read the book, I thought that now Hollywood has a powerful story of epic proportions to bring to the screen. Like the multiple stories they have done about the Holocaust.

But as it usually happens with the cultural and information mass media in the U.S., it is very much controlled by the zeal of the left. They walk the extra mile to cover up any unflattering portrayal of Castro and all other communist tyrannies

Sixteen years after the release of the 1986 English version of "Against All Hope," the continuing struggle for democracy and human rights in Cuba goes on.

Hopefully this new release will bring some overdue attention to the ongoing tragedy of Cuba. Hopefully the Castro regime will eventually end up in the garbage can of history. Cubans belong to the human race. They deserve the same freedoms Americans enjoy and take for granted.

Agustin Blazquez is author, with Carlos Wotzkow, of the book "Covering and Discovering" and producer/director of the documentaries "Covering Cuba," "Covering Cuba 2: The Next Generation," and the upcoming "Covering Cuba 3: Elian"

© 2002 ABIP