Press Release

Never before seen writings, art by Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares spent 22 years in Castro’s gulags for standing up for his beliefs

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – In two weeks, 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 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 and burnt nylon. 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 (available here). 

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 in a windowless and mosquito-infested cell, where guards regularly doused him with buckets of human excrement. He was tortured with relentless beatings and endured several hunger strikes, one of which left him wheelchair bound for years. Martha led an international campaign for his release, and Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He was released in 1982 thanks to the intercession of French President Francois Mitterrand.

He  recently wrote: “America, perhaps more than any other nation in the world, understands and defends the sanctity of the human mind and the beliefs that flourish and guide it. We are still a beacon to the men and women that languish in their jail cells for holding steadfast to their beliefs and for refusing to violate them despite intimidation in places where tyrannical thugs or ISIS zealots reign with terror.”

“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 boasts the most distinguished religious leaders and advocates of religious liberty throughout the world. Notable guests include Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial for the Little Sisters of the Poor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Elder Gary E. Steveson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This year’s black-tie gala will be held on 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. Reserve your ticket online at

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.

If you are a member of the press interested in covering the exhibit or Gala, contact Ryan Colby at for a complimentary ticket.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket 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).