A letter to Cuba’s American prisoner

Armando Valladares Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission
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Editor’s Note: The author was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He was later awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal.

Alan P. Gross
Havana, Cuba

Dear friend:

That is how I am compelled to address you, because even though we have never met, we share a common bond: I too lived behind the iron bars now surrounding you in Cuba — in my case for 22 years.

Like you, I was convicted by the Cuban authorities without a single shred of evidence against me.

I know the anguish of interminable days and endless nights, the feeling of helplessness when you know yourself to be innocent. I also know the painful sense of the lack of solidarity from outside the prison walls.

I have no doubt that your greatest pain right now must be the realization that the U.S. government has turned its back on you. There was a time when the words “I am an American citizen” meant something. They meant all the more when the individual declaring that was the target of abuse outside of the United States. It meant: “I have rights and they are recognized by the government of my country and they will ensure that you, too, respect my rights.”

It gives me great sadness to say that inside the Communist boot that now tramples upon your dignity is the foot of the American president, Barack Obama.

The more Castro’s thugs oppress you and make your family suffer, the more your jailers torture you, the harder things get for you — the more this administration seeks to reward them with new concessions. How is it that in 53 years of Cuba’s brutal dictatorship it was only months after Obama came to the presidency that the Castro brothers first decided to take an American citizen hostage?

How is it possible that the American administration has turned its back on you?

The pronouncements by the U.S. Department of State that U.S. officials are doing “everything they can” to secure your freedom are absolutely false. They are hypocritical statements not backed by any real action. Under any previous U.S. administration, Democrat or Republican, you would not still be in jail.

Your case has no precedent in the history of the United States. You are in prison because of the supreme cowardice of the American president and his secretary of state. Whether they know it or not, the key to your cell is inside President Obama’s pocket.

The White House has abandoned you. It does not matter to them that you may be very ill and slowly dying.

It does not matter to them that your daughter has cancer, or that your wife, too, is ill.

The American president, who has made a habit of publicly bowing to foreign powers, bows to your torturers and would-be executioners. Meanwhile, the adult daughter of Cuba’s dictator recently visited the U.S. to applaud and show her support for President Obama. She receives a visa to come to the United States and a Secret Service escort. And you? You suffer the torture of imprisonment.

The Obama administration must step up its efforts to press for your release through its diplomatic channels. Should those diplomatic efforts fail, then they must be followed by real action, including the suspension of flights and remittances to Cuba until such time as you are allowed to return to the United States. If the Obama administration even threatened to do this it is my considered judgment that you would be on the next flight back to your home in Washington, D.C.

Only with real action will your freedom be secured. Unfortunately, if past is prologue, such action is unlikely to ever happen with this administration.

After I was released from prison, President Ronald Reagan appointed me as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. During my tenure at the U.N., we managed to expose to the world, for the first time, Cuba’s systematic violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. You know these violations all too well. They are now marked on your own flesh. You will have your day in the international court, too. You will have the opportunity to expose your jailers and the suffering they have imposed on 11 million people for more than half a century.

Please do not lose faith. You are not alone in that cell. God is there with you, along with the love of your brave wife and the firm commitment of those of us who continue to fight for your freedom. Do not give in to despair or to the treachery of those who have abandoned you. I am convinced, from my own experience, that you will return home, against all hope

You are always in my prayers.

Armando Valladares