Press Release

Never before seen writings, art from Castro’s gulags

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday an art exhibit of over 30 never before seen paintings and writings by Cuban artist and poet Armando Valladares will be displayed at the Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City. Valladares, this year’s recipient of Becket’s highest honor, spent 22 years imprisoned in Castro’s gulags for refusing to put up a placard on his desk that said “I am with Fidel.” (watch video here).

“There’s nothing dictators fear more than artists, especially poets,” said Armando Valladares. “Poetry had become a weapon to transcend, to leave prison to the external world and denounce the crimes and violations of human rights committed in the jails of Cuba.”

While in prison, Valladares painted using any materials available to him, such as medicines, burnt nylon, and even his own blood. The Canterbury Medal Dinner art exhibit will include these original paintings – some the size of postage stamps — as well as writings that were smuggled out of prison, and later out of Cuba, by his wife Martha who published them to critical acclaim. This year 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 languages. 

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.” He spent 22 years in prison for that simple act of dissent. Eight of those years he spent naked in solitary confinement cell. He was tortured with relentless beatings, endured 16 hunger strikes, one of which left him wheelchair bound for years, and lived in constant fear of being randomly shot. Martha led an international campaign for his release, and Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He was released in 1982.

“While in prison, Valladares hand wrote his book of poetry over 20 times. Only one copy survived the smuggling process. Those writings were published in France igniting an international campaign on behalf of the human rights of thousands of political prisoners in Cuba,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of Becket. “His work is an inspiring testament to the power of the human spirit.”

The Canterbury Medal Dinner is attended by the most distinguished religious leaders and advocates of religious liberty throughout the world. Notable guests this year include Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The black-tie gala will be held this Thursday, May 12, 2016 at the Pierre Hotel on 2 East 61st Street at 5th Avenue, New York City hosted by this year’s gala chairs Anthony and Christie DeNicola. For more information visit

Past Canterbury Medalists  include Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,  Prison Fellowship founder – the late 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. Medalists all share a common devotion to liberty and freedom of conscience for people of all faiths.

Member of the press interested in covering the art exhibit or dinner, contact Ryan Colby at 0r 202-349-7219 for press credentials and a complimentary ticket.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket Fund attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at or 202.349.7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.


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).