I believe I first saw Armando Valladares’s name in National Review. He was the Cuban poet who had been imprisoned for more than 20 years in Castro’s gulag. He had written a memoir called “Against All Hope.” Some people were referring to him as “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.”
Reagan named Valladares his ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. That was so like Reagan. (It was like George W. Bush, too. I admire that kind of president.)
I remember for sure when I first saw Valladares himself: It was at Harvard in the mid-1980s, and the school would not let him speak alone: They had him paired with a professor, Jorge I. Dominguez, whose role, it seemed, was to contradict Valladares and give a Castro-friendlier view.
He was on good behavior that night, however — Armando wrote this to me in an e-mail yesterday. On that occasion, at least, there was not an abundance of excuses for the Castro dictatorship.
The other day, I saw that Professor Dominguez had told CNN that “the number of political prisoners is effectively zero” — in Cuba, he meant. My friend Mauricio Claver-Carone wrote a post in response. At the end of it, he supplied a list of nearly 100 political prisoners.
Over and over, I have heard Cubans say some version of the following: “If people in free countries don’t care about us and want to ignore us, fine. But they should at least have the decency not to lie about us and the dictatorship that persecutes us.”
A college professor has great power. A Harvard professor has a hundred times more power than the average professor. I remember the Q&A at that Valladares event, long ago. Dominguez may have been on good behavior. But the students, some of them, were something else. They lectured Armando on the glories of Cuban health care and literacy and the like. The effect was stomach-turning.
Where had they picked up that nonsense? Reading Granma? No, they had learned it from their teachers (and probably from the media at large). “You’ve got to be carefully taught,” wrote Oscar Hammerstein. And when you are taught to believe lies, you are, in a sense, a victim. But there are greater victims, plenty of whom languish in the Castros’ jails.