Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. Who are the Friends of Cuban Libraries?

  2. What are the goals of the Friends of Cuban Libraries?

  3. What is the origin of Cuba's independent library movement?

  4. Why would the Cuban government feel threatened by uncensored libraries?

  5. What about claims that the independent libraries are not "real libraries" staffed by "real librarians?"

  6. What kinds of books are found in the independent libraries?

  7. How are the Friends of Cuban Libraries funded?

  8. Under Cuban law, is it illegal to donate books to the independent libraries?

  9. Why do the Friends focus their attention only on Cuba?

  10. How severe are violations of intellectual freedom in Cuba?

  11. What is the position of the Friends on the U.S. trade embargo?

 

1. Who are the Friends of Cuban Libraries?

We are an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting intellectual freedom in Cuba, regardless of whatever government may be in office.  Since the Friends of Cuban Libraries were founded in June, 1999, our members around the world have been especially concerned with defending a group of volunteers who are opening uncensored libraries throughout the island, with the goal of providing public access to reading materials reflecting all points of view.  The innovative creation of independent libraries to challenge a system of censorship is a uniquely Cuban contribution to the worldwide human rights movement. As documented by respected organizations such as Amnesty International, the Cuban government is subjecting the independent librarians to a campaign of systematic persecution. 

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2. What are the goals of the Friends of Cuban Libraries?

We are an organization concerned exclusively with defending intellectual freedom.  We oppose censorship and all other violations of intellectual freedom, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regardless of what administration may be in office in Cuba.  Although our members hold a range of opinions on many other issues, we are united in believing it cannot be a crime to read a book, to oppose censorship, or to open a library, in Cuba or any other country.

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3. What is the origin of Cuba's independent library movement?

In response to a public statement by President Fidel Castro that "There are no prohibited books in Cuba, only a lack of money to purchase them," Cuba's first independent library, named in honor of Felix Varela, was opened in 1998 in the city of Las Tunas.  The Felix Varela Library was established in the apartment of Berta Mexidor, an economist, and her husband, Ramon Colas, a psychologist.  Approximately 100 independent libraries, located in the homes of volunteers, now flourish in Cuba despite an unprecedented campaign of harassment, threats, intimidation, police raids, arrests, physical assaults, evictions and confiscations.  Most of the libraries are affiliated with the project begun by Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor, while others have been established by groups of teachers, journalists, religious denominations, etc.  In addition to offering public access to uncensored books, Cuba's independent librarians also sponsor uncensored debates, seminars, public meetings, art exhibits, literary contests and children's programs, all free of government control.

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4. Why would the Cuban government feel threatened by uncensored libraries?

The Cuban government tries to exert control over many aspects of its citizen's lives, and the independent librarians are seen as a danger because: (1) They challenge the government's system of censorship, and (2) The independent libraries anger the authorities by offering a public space, free of government control, where Cubans can attend uncensored debates, seminars, film showings, public meetings, art exhibits and children's programs.

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5. What about claims that the independent libraries are not "real libraries" staffed by "real librarians?"

This argument is an effort to distract attention from the real issue: intellectual freedom as a universal human right.  A library is a library, regardless of its size or whether it is sponsored by a government agency or a private organization.  All libraries have a right to exist, no matter what any government may claim to the contrary.  It cannot be a crime to open a library, any more than it can be a crime for "unofficial" authors to write books or for "unofficial" journalists to publish a newspaper.  Directors of libraries are commonly referred to as librarians, whether or not they have a university degree in the field.  For example, neither the director of Cuba's National Library nor the U.S. Librarian of Congress has a degree in librarianship.  We believe volunteer librarians without a degree who endure persecution for opposing censorship are more "professional" than librarians with a degree who fail to support intellectual freedom, the cherished core principle of librarians throughout the world.

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6. What kinds of books are found in the independent libraries?

In contrast to the island's official librarians, Cuba's independent librarians are committed to promoting intellectual freedom by providing materials which reflect all points of view.  Due to police raids and the confiscation of incoming book donations, however, a large majority of the materials in the average independent library are books published in Cuba, which reflect the official ideology.  The subjects of the book collections offered by the independent librarians cover a wide range of topics, comparable to public libraries in many countries, although some of the libraries focus on specific areas such as women's studies, labor issues, agriculture, political science, religion and children's literature.

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7. How are the Friends of Cuban Libraries funded?

We are funded entirely by our members.  We do not seek or accept funding from other sources.

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8. Under Cuban law, is it illegal to donate books to the independent libraries?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone in the world the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers," so any Cuban law attempting to ban donations of books is invalid under international law.  Cuban libraries, both official and independent, currently exercise their right to accept donations of books from foreign sources, whether from individuals, NGOs or governments.

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9.Why do the Friends focus their attention only on Cuba?

While censorship exists in every country to varying degrees, Cuba is unique in being the only country in the world where librarians are being systematically persecuted.  Just as anti-racism activists felt it necessary to focus on the Apartheid regime in South Africa, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries believe the fierce, all-pervasive, but little known system of censorship in Cuba merits special attention on the part of the international community.

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10. How severe are violations of intellectual freedom in Cuba?

The intensity of Cuban censorship is summarized in President Fidel Castro's sweeping remark that "All criticism is opposition and all opposition is counterrevolutionary."  According to Amnesty International, "[F]reedom of expression, association and assembly are severely restricted in law and in practice [for Cuban citizens].... Those who attempt to express views, organize meetings or form organizations that conflict with government policy are frequently subjected to punitive measures."  The Committee to Protect Journalists names Cuba among the world's "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press."  Reporters Sans Frontieres has declared Cuba to be among the world's "Twenty Worst Enemies of the Internet."  A global coalition of organizations advocating freedom of the press has denounced "the complete lack of freedom in Cuba" and cautioned members of the international community that "by ignoring the situation existing in Cuba, which amounts to a crime against humanity, they make themselves accomplices."  To read detailed reports on Cuba and the independent libraries by internationally renowned human rights organizations, refer to our section on Documentation.

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11. What is the position of the Friends on the U.S. trade embargo?

We do not comment on the U.S. trade embargo because we focus exclusively on intellectual freedom issues.  It is not widely known that under U.S. law informational materials such as books, newspapers, magazines, films, sound recordings, art works and broadcasts are exempt from the trade embargo.   Cuban informational materials are sold and transported without hindrance to other countries, including the U.S., but books and other materials sent to Cuba from other nations, including the U.S., are often confiscated upon arrival.  It is sometimes alleged that Cuba suffers from an "information blockade," but in reality the only information blockade in Cuba is the one imposed by the Cuban government on its own people.

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Copyright 2001  Robert Kent. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/21/07.