In light of the news regarding the release of Alan Gross and America’s re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, we thought it useful to provide some insight into what life has been like under the Communist Castro regime in the decades since the island’s 1959 revolution.

The horrors of the Cuban system are perhaps best illustrated in Armando Valladares‘ “Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag,” which was published in 1986.

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, in the rain for a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. The handshake between the leaders of the two Cold War enemies came during a ceremony that's focused on Mandela's legacy of reconciliation. (AP Photo)

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, in the rain for a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. The handshake between the leaders of the two Cold War enemies came during a ceremony that’s focused on Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation. (AP Photo) 

First, a note of warning: For those made squeamish by the contents of the recently released so-called “torture report” from the Senate Intelligence Committee, you will likely not be able to make it through this book, describing Valladares’ experiences as a political prisoner, or “enemy of the regime,” for 22 years from 1960 to 1982.

Here is the conclusion of “Against All Hope,” describing Valladares’ thoughts the day he was set free:

The hour of my departure arrived. The procession of several cars headed down Rancho Boyeros Avenue toward José Martí International Airport. The plane was scheduled for seven in the evening. The setting sun dyed the afternoon pomegranate-red. My heart sent up a hymn of thanks to God, and I prayed for my family, who hadn’t been allowed to come to say goodbye, and for my friends remaining behind in the eternal night of the Cuban political prisons.

As the cars sped along, a flood of memories rushed over me. Twenty-two years in jail. I recalled the two sergeants, Porfirio and Matanzas, plunging their bayonets into Ernesto Díaz Madruga’s body; Roberto López Chávez dying in a cell, calling for water, the guards urinating over his face and in his gasping mouth; Boitel, denied water too, after more than fifty days on hunger strike, because Castro wanted him dead; Clara, Boitel’s poor mother, beaten by Lieutenant Abad in a Political Police station just because she wanted to find out where her son was buried. I remembered Carrión, shot in the leg, telling Jagüey not to shoot, and Jagüey mercilessly, heartlessly, shooting him in the back; the officers who threatened family members if they cried at a funeral.

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I remembered Estebita and Piri dying in blackout cells, the victims of biological experimentation; Diosdado Aquit, Chino Tan, Eddy Molina, and so many others murdered in the forced-labor fields, quarries, and camps. A legion of specters, naked, crippled, hobbling and crawling through my mind, and the hundreds of men wounded and mutilated in the horrifying searches. Dynamite. Drawer cells. Eduardo Capote’s fingers chopped off by a machete. Concentration camps, tortures, women beaten, soldiers pushing prisoners’ heads into a lake of shi#, the beatings of Eloy and Izaguirre. Martín Pérez with his testicles destroyed by bullets. Robertico weeping for his mother.

And in the midst of that apocalyptic vision of the most dreadful and horrifying moments in my life, in the midst of the gray, ashy dust and the orgy of beatings and blood, prisoners beaten to the ground, a man emerged, the skeletal figure of a man wasted by hunger, with white hair, blazing blue eyes, and a heart overflowing with love, raising his arms to the invisible heaven and pleading for mercy for his executioners.

“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And a burst of machine-gun fire ripping open his breast.

Valladares, an artist, writer and poet would be named U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission by President Ronald Reagan, a position he used to continue speaking out against the Cuban regime. He would also receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest award given to a civilian in the U.S., and the Superior Award by the U.S. Department of State.

While today’s Cuba may be less totalitarian, judging by the grim depiction of life in the island’s largest city, Havana, from this 2014 City Journal article, one imagines that tragically, things are not altogether different from the Cuba Valladares left behind.

 

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