Press Release

Former Cuban political prisoner receives 2016 Canterbury Medal Poet and artist Armando Valladares spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for standing up for his beliefs

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Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

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New York City, NY – Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet and artist, spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for refusing to surrender his beliefs. Last night he was honored with the Canterbury medal, Becket’s highest honor, at the 21st annual Canterbury Medal Gala for his unfailing defense of the freedom of conscience (watch video here).

“Armando personifies the goals, the ideals of what this medal represents. He believes in the word conscience,” said Nobel laureate Holocaust survivor and fellow Medalist Elie Wiesel, who presented Valladares with the Canterbury Medal at The Pierre in New York City. “Conscience embodies what we want for humanity. Whatever is good, whatever is noble is linked to conscience.”

“My story is proof that a seemingly small act of defiance can mean everything to the enemies of freedom. They did not keep me in jail for 22 years because my refusal to say three words meant nothing. They kept me there that long because it meant everything,” said Armando Valladares in his speech (full transcript here). “Though my body was in prison and abused, my soul was free and flourished. My jailers took everything from me, but they could not rob me of my conscience.”

Valladares was arrested and imprisoned at the age of 23 for refusing to display a placard on his desk that said: “I am with Fidel.” Because of this simple act of dissent, he was imprisoned for 22 years, where he suffered tortures, labor camps, hunger strikes and spent eight years naked in a solitary confinement cell where he was regularly doused with human excrement.

While in prison, Valladares painted and wrote poetry using any materials available to him, such as medicines, burnt nylon, and even his own blood. The Canterbury Medal Dinner showcased these original, never before seen paintings – some the size of postage stamps — and writings that were smuggled out of prison, and later out of Cuba, by his wife Martha who published them to critical acclaim. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of his New York Times bestselling memoir, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag, which has been translated to 18 different languages.

Becket’s annual gala is a black-tie event held at the Pierre Hotel in New York and is attended by the most distinguished religious leaders and religious liberty advocates throughout the world. This year’s gala chairs were Anthony and Christie DeNicola. Notable guests included Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, New York Times bestselling author and New York University Professor Jonathan Haidt, and 2011 Canterbury Medalist and New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas.

The Canterbury Medal recognizes courage in the defense of religious liberty and is given to a leading figure who champions a robust role for religion in society. Past Canterbury Medalists include Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,  Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, LDS Elder Dallin H. Oaks, financier Foster Friess, Barbara Green of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Archbishop Charles Chaput and the former Ambassador to the Vatican, James R. Nicholson, among others.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Melinda Skea at media@becketlaw.org or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

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Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditionsand has a 100% win-rate before the United StatesSupreme Court.For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including  Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).