Imaginary Persons, Imaginary Prisons

By Shorris, Earl | The Nation, December 20, 1986 | Go to article overview

Imaginary Persons, Imaginary Prisons


Shorris, Earl, The Nation


Imaginary Persons, Imaginary Prisons

Armando Fernando Valladares Perez, the Cuban prison memoirist, has become the center of a controversy in which he plays no part. His life and history have been reduced to certainties, and he has suffered an ancient and perhaps honorable demise, death by abstraction.

I was one of his assassins.

To discover how I and others conspired against Armando Valladares and killed him, it is necessary to study the facts, many of which might seem, at first, unrelated to the case. To determine the meaning of his murder we must begin with what the victim said of himself.

In his memoir, Against All Hope, Valladares said he served twenty-two years in Cuban prisons because he opposed communism. During his imprisonment, he said, he was beaten, starved, subjected to the worst tortures ever used against human beings, finally paralyzed, and only saved from further suffering and perhaps death by becoming a poet whose works led various groups and individuals to press the Castro government for his release.

Although he was charged with terrorism, Valladares said no evidence was found to support the accusation. Near the time of his release, records were made public by the Cuban government showing that he was a member of Fulgencio Batista's political police. He claimed the reports were forged.

Everything about Valladares has been disputed, even his age and the color of his eyes; his very existence lingers between dubitable and dubious, giving credence to his story in a cockeyed Cartesian way.

The literary value of his poetry is not in doubt: there is none.

The literary value of his memoir is in doubt, and I claim the right as one who is related to the victim by murder to judge the value of his work: it is not beautiful, not entirely credible, not deeply affecting. The victim is neither a hero nor an artist; the victim is a victim.

The immediate cause of Valladares's death was an inflationary spiral of self-righteousness. He died slowly, becoming more and more abstract, until he disappeared from life. I was not alone in killing him. Here is a partial list of those who helped: Elliott Abrams, Alexander Cockburn, John Corry, Armando Hart Davalos, Warren Hinckle 3d, Reed Irvine, Hilton Kramer, Mary McGrory, Aryeh Neier, Ronald Radosh, David Reiff, R. Emmett Tyrrell. We are the ancient alliance of enemies; we will not be satisfied until both Hector and Achilles are dead. As Homer explained:

Each side has a mass

of bitter words to say: no deepsea ship

could take that load, even a hundred-bencher.

Men have twisty tongues, and on them speech

of all kinds; wide is the grazing land of words,

both east and west. The manner of speech you use,

the same you are apt to hear. By what necessity

must we goad one another face to face

with provocations? like two city women

ruffling into the middle of a street

to wrangle, bitten by rage,

with many a true word--and some false, for anger

calls out those as well.

And Helen is soon forgotten in her human life, abstracted, lost, paler than death. When Odysseus seeks to rally his men, Athena advises him to tell the men not to abandon the siege of Troy, because "The dead do not wish it.'

The opportunity to watch a murder in progress was provided to the readers of the New York Times Op-Ed page recently by Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs:

Mr. Castro has been shaken by the international attention given to Mr. Valladares. Yet other nations' policies toward Cuba have not altered: governments seldom change policy in reaction to belated disclosures of past abuses. But they're more likely to change policy in reaction to ongoing abuses. This is what Mr. Castro fears--disclosures that will affect not only what people think about his tyranny but also what other governments will do to express their revulsion. …

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