Real life accounts of people who have bravely stood up against injustice are inspiring. Whether it is from the past or from the present, I have found these narratives of interest as they put my own life’s experiences into perspective. I have hoped that some of the courage of these gutsy battlers will provide me with the grit needed to face my own struggles.
In the times that we are living in, stories of these courageous warriors take on a greater importance. I have been focussing some of my posts here, on the people who provide assurances that it is possible to act against tyranny. Through their actions, wisdom, willpower and personal experiences they remind us not to lose hope; for all is not lost.
Here is one such story.
Armando Valladares is a former political prisoner who spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for refusing to place a sign on his desk in support of Fidel. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison without due process. While in prison he became a “Plantado”—a prisoner who refuses to wear a common prison uniform. For refusing to sign a document admitting he was wrong and the Revolution was right, he was brutally tortured, spent 8 years in solitary confinement and underwent several hunger strikes which left him paralyzed for many years. During this time, he wrote numerous poems which his wife smuggled out of Cuba and had published to critical acclaim. Valladares was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.
In 1982 Valladares was released thanks to an international campaign on his behalf. Upon release, he wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir, Against All Hope, which was translated into 18 languages.
On May 12, 2016, the 21st Canterbury Medal Gala honored Armando Valladares, at New York City’s Pierre Hotel.
Excerpts from his acceptance speech at the award ceremony (emphasis added).
If I just said those three words [I’m with Fidel], I would have been released from prison.
My story is proof that a small act of defiance can mean everything for the friends of liberty. They did not keep me in jail for 22 years because my refusal to say three words meant nothing. In reality those three words meant everything.
I am here to tell you that every little act counts. No man or woman is too small or simple to be called to bear witness to the truth. I’m here to remind you that each of you possesses great wealth in the sacred domain of your conscience.
I warn you: Just as there is a very short distance between the US and Cuba, there is a very short distance between a democracy and a dictatorship where the government gets to decide what to do, how to think, and how to live. And sometimes your freedom is not taken away at gunpoint but instead it is done one piece of paper at a time, one seemingly meaningless rule at a time, one small silencing at a time. Never allow the government–or anyone else–to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do or not do.
Finally, I accept this award in the name of my wife. It is really her that deserves it, not me. All of you have heard the story of Penelope, who waited 20 years for Ulysses. Martha is a real life Penelope. But she didn’t stay home knitting. She traveled all over the world campaigning for my release. She waited for me. She always hoped and trusted in God that we would both be reunited Against All Hope.