A young artist and poet who also happened to be a Christian, Valladares understood the meaning of the request. What he did not know, and could not know, was how far his own government would go to bend him to its will. Soon after his refusal to comply, Valladares was arrested by political police at his parents’ home. Faced with trumped up charges of terrorism — a favorite tactic of the Castro regime for silencing dissent — he was given a 30-year sentence.
Valladares would spend time in different prison camps for the next 22 years. The first, La Cabaña, forged some of the very worst memories. “Each night, the firing squad executed scores of men in its trenches,” he told the Becket Fund, which last year honored him with its Canterbury Prize, given annually to a person who embodies an unfailing commitment to religious freedom. “We could hear each phase of the executions, and during this time, these young men — patriots — would die shouting ‘Long live Christ, the King. Down with Communism!’ And then you would hear the gunshots. Every night there were shootings. Every night. Every night. Every night.”[…]
“I spent eight years locked in a blackout cell, without sunlight or even artificial light. I never left. I was stuck in a cell, ten feet long, four feet wide, with a hole in the corner to take care of my bodily needs. No running water. Naked. Eight years,” Valladares recalled. “All of the torture, all of the violations of human rights, had one goal: break the prisoner’s resistance and make them accept political rehabilitation. That was their only objective.”