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Persecution of a Poet

To the Editors:

The Cuban poet Armando Valladares has spent twenty of his forty-three years in prison. Shortly after his arrest in 1960 he and a group of fellow political prisoners who refused to take part in government “rehabilitation” programs were denied food for forty-nine days. At the end of this period Valladares was an invalid. Since then he has been deprived of adequate medical assistance and continues to suffer from polyneuritis—a condition which requires physical therapy and makes it necessary for him to use a wheel-chair.

In spite of the vigilance of the authorities, Valladares has been sending poems out of Cuba since the early Seventies. In 1976 a volume called From My Wheelchair was published by his wife in the US. One of these verses described a massacre he had witnessed in 1975 in the Boniato prison in Oriente province:

The prisoners were taken out one by one
kicked and shoved by rifle butts
beaten like animals….
Everything was done with perfect order
the dead were perfectly murdered
the wounded were perfectly wounded
the heads were perfectly broken.

As Valladares’s poetry became better known in the West, he was treated even more harshly by the authorities and his family was intimidated. He described this harassment in a letter sent last year to the PEN American center in New York:

My brother-in-law is a former political prisoner. He, his elderly parents, my mother and sister were authorized to request permission to leave Cuba, all based on Castro’s new policy toward political prisoners and ex-prisoners…. When they had all the documents in order—passports, visas, airline tickets, etc., and their baggage packed—they were notified that their departure had been prohibited, although such forbiddance was a breach of the accord signed by the Cuban government and a representative group of exiles. No doubt this was a measure of retaliation as that was the time of publication of both the French edition of my book and a letter in which I denounced the pressures, repression, confinement incommunicado, and inhuman treatment to which I am being subjected….

A high official of the political police has notified me that my family’s departure from the country is entirely in my hands; that for it to happen I have to draft a letter denying my friends among intellectuals and poets abroad; that I have to forbid everyone, including newspapers or organizations, to speak or write about me and my literary works and even mention my name; and that I must disavow and deny every truth they have spoken in defending my situation. To write that letter would be to commit moral and spiritual suicide. I shall never write it!

In the meantime, Valladares’s health became worse and he was taken to a hospital. Then in April, when the government learned that a manuscript of a second volume of poems, El corazon con que vivo (“The Heart With Which I Live”), had been sent abroad for publication, he was transferred to the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. Amnesty International has recently announced a campaign on his behalf, and he has been awarded the “Freedom Prize” of the French PEN Club, but he remains without news of the outside world, in solitary confinement. A few days ago, I received a letter from him, smuggled out of prison.

I have no medical treatment. On April 2nd I was brought to this prison and locked up in a cell of its hospital. They had prepared the scene with parallel bars, a table for physiotherapy, my crutches, the wheelchair that Amnesty International had sent me from Holland, but which until then they had refused to give me. It was all waiting for me here in the cell. They took a lot of pictures. Anyone who sees them would say that I have everything necessary for treatment, but it is not so. The parallel bars and the rest of the equipment is now thrown in a corner…. The pictures were only for propaganda. All you have to do is look at them with a magnifying glass to see that the tires of the wheelchair have no air. They have given me nothing other than the clothes I am wearing, not even a toothbrush, a jug, a spoon—nothing. I am incommunicado and the situation is truly repressive. A colonel in the Security Police named Manuel Blanco Fernandez has promised to annihilate me; to turn me into a rag doll. The measures against my family have worsened. My brother-in-law was thrown out of work. My situation is difficult, but I am not afraid for myself. I am an idealist. Death, for me, is not the end. It is the beginning of true life. I am afraid for my family….

I hope your readers will protest to the Cuban government on his behalf.

Carlos Ripoll

Queens College, New York City

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