To the Editors:
I am writing about the case of the Cuban poet and political prisoner, Armando Valladares. Although he took part in the struggle against the Batista dictatorship, Valladares was imprisoned in 1960. He refused to wear the uniform of a criminal prisoner or to submit to Castro’s re-education program, and he smuggled poems out of prison. As punishment he was denied food—once for a period of several weeks; and he is currently suffering from polyneuritis as a result of bad treatment received in prison.
His case first received attention outside of Cuba in 1976, when his wife arranged for publication of From My Wheelchair, a collection of his poems with an introduction describing his illness and punishment by starvation. In December 1977, forty-seven US Senators signed an appeal for his release, and Amnesty International has taken up his case.
In 1979 a new book of Valladares’s poems appeared in Paris. Translated by Pierre Golendorf, a former member of the French Communist Party, Prisonnier de Castro (Paris, Grasset, 224 pages) contains a conclusion by the Soviet dissident, Leonid Plyushch. Following the publication of this book, Valladares has been denied medical attention.
Dedicated to “his brothers in prison,” many of these new poems describe their suffering. There is Esteban Ramos Kessel, Ibrahin Torres, and Jose Ramon Castillo, who “died victims of torture while the sky remained blue and indifferent”; Roberto Lopez, without water and light, “harassed by rats…dying in the smallest corner of his cell”; and the women, “Berta, Ann Lazara, Maria Amalia, Esther, Miriam…roses amidst barbed wire…beaten by the guards.”
Although Castro has recently released a number of political prisoners, very few have been the more serious dissidents, some of whom, like Valladares, were leaders in the struggle against Batista. Valladares can receive neither letters nor visitors, and he is allowed no medical attention, although his illness can only be cured if it is treated at a relatively early stage. Messages concerning permission to visit or medical care that could help him regain the use of his legs should be addressed to President Fidel Castro, Havana, Cuba.
Human Rights, Inc.
June 14, 1979