Friday, May 31, 2013

Jorge Valls and a Conspiracy of Hope

Prisoners of conscience at a rock concert

The year was 1986. The Berlin Wall would not fall for another three years, the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen square massacre had not happened yet and the Cold War still raged on. Nevertheless, or because of it, Amnesty International organized six benefit concerts starting on June 4th and ending on June 15, 1986 to observe the 25th anniversary of their founding while seeking to attract a new generation to letter writing for the release of prisoners of conscience.

The shows were headlined by U2, Sting and Bryan Adams and also featured Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, and The Neville Brothers. The last three concerts featured the reuniting of the British rock band The Police who would not play again on stage until 2003.

At the end of the concert broadcast over MTV on June 15, 1986 former prisoners of conscience appeared on stage holding their hands together and lifting them high. Among them was Jorge Valls, a poet and a Cuban prisoner of conscience who had unjustly spent 20 years and 40 days in prison. He'd fought against two dictatorships and in favor of human rights and dignity and paid the price for being a free man with a conscience.
Like Mr. Castro, I wanted a radical change in Cuban society, but I also knew that authority would never become legitimate unless the pure power of violence was submitted to reason, and strict respect for individual rights was guaranteed.

Without civil rights, the best intentions turn into a trap, and societies become prisons and asylums. There is a danger that we become as alienated and as fierce as the evil we think we are fighting.

That is what happened in Cuba under the Castro regime. In 1964, I was convicted of "conspiracy against the state," because I testified against the Castro government in a political trial, and I spent 20 years and 40 days in jail. I don't regret my time there, because I was defending this essential respectability of the human person.
 At 1 hour and 1 minute and 13 seconds into this video of the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope tour there appears among a row of prisoners of conscience on stage wearing a blue t-shirt the Cuban poet and former prisoner of conscience Jorge Valls. He reappears again at 1 hour 2 minutes and 2 seconds in the same video and briefly stares into the camera.

Jorge Valls in 2013
 This should serve as a reminder as we watch all these talented and courageous Cubans traveling the world and speaking truth to power that others have come before them. First, to appreciate the good works done in the past and also what they too can accomplish.

Finally, one should appreciate the powerful moral authority and legitimacy that prisoners of conscience have. Sadly and proudly there are many Cuban prisoners of conscience young and old that are available to tell their history and unlike at other times there are many that want to listen.

It truly is a conspiracy of hope.


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