STOCKHOLM, March 7, 2002 (Liberal Party press release) - The Liberal Party of Sweden has decided to award its Lars Leijonborg Democracy Prize to Berta Mexidor and Gisela Delgado, as representatives of independent libraries in Cuba....
Police ban library conference (Oct. 7, 2011)
Librarian in clandestine video (Sept. 14, 2011)
Jail threat over children's program (August 14, 2011)
Eliades Acosta exits Cuba (July 28, 2011)
Cuba Debate Roils Academic Conference (April 27, 2011)
Library leader threatened, harassed (April 25, 2011)
Library raid in Pinar del Río (April 9, 2011)
New secret agent-librarian revealed! (Feb. 27, 2011)
Nat Hentoff: "Endless shame of the spineless ALA" (Jan. 13, 2011)
Another gay library raided (Nov. 17, 2010)
At Book Institute, panicky informers working overtime (Sept. 22, 2010)
Librarian in Palma Soriano threatened with imprisonment (Sept. 1, 2010)
Gay Foundation libraries seized by police (May 25, 2010)
Independent library raided in Cienfuegos (May 19, 2010)
ALA candidates speak on Cuban library issue (March 16, 2010)
Appeal for hunger striker sent to ALA (March 11, 2010)
Library director disclaims knowledge of repression (Nov. 6, 2009)
Police seize books donated by Spanish embassy (Feb. 11, 2009)
Cuba's independent libraries: books that refuse to die (Feb. 8, 2009)
Eliades Acosta purged, reports claim (Jan. 9, 2009)
Czech group asks IFLA to take action on Cuba (August 5, 2008)
Allard fails to cover up Eliades Acosta's "heresy" (July 31, 2008)
Dowling's Cuba Update: more "invisible book burning" (June 25, 2008)
"Invisible book burning" re-ignites ALA controversy (June 22, 2008)
Eliades Acosta CENSORED (April 17, 2008)
War declared on Library of Congress by Venezuela (April 10, 2008)
ALA censoring guest speaker, critics say (March 8, 2008)
LEAKED MEMO: "Invasion of the Library Snatchers" (Dec. 12, 2007)
Laura Bush meets Cuban librarians in video conference (Nov. 28, 2007)
Gisela Delgado and Hector Palacios Arrive in Spain, Ordeal Described (Nov. 6, 2007)
Thirty books seized in Morón (Oct. 10, 2007)
Nat Hentoff: Castro's useful idiots (March 4, 2007)
Miami censorship opposed by Friends, Freadom (Feb. 22, 2007)
Open Letter: The ALA's book burning scandal (Jan. 17, 2007)
Photos: Librarians injured by mob (Oct. 31, 2006)
Swedish aid flows to Cuban libraries (Sept. 11, 2006)
New wave of library raids in Cuba (August 17, 2006)
Library visitor threatened by police (August 11, 2006)
Cuba attacks Albright for ALA speech (July 2, 2006)
Crisis Among "Internet Police" Revealed in Video (June 1, 2006)
Cuba rebukes Gorman, makes "Dracula" charge against Codrescu (March 19, 2006)
Friends respond to Gorman's "defamation" charge (Feb. 8, 2006)
U.S. librarians fail to speak out for oppressed peers (Feb. 1, 2006)
ALA convention shocker: Keynote speaker Codrescu slams Cuba policy scandal (Jan. 22, 2006)
Labor library confiscated (Dec. 14, 2005)
Cuba, Iran lash out at Internet freedom (Nov. 18, 2005)
Two libraries raided, librarian sentenced for "dangerousness" (Oct. 27, 2005)
Saving a life: Open letter to ALA president (Oct. 20, 2005)
Oslo: Secret documents inspire librarians' revolt on Cuba policy (August 10, 2005)
Ray Bradbury warned of bookburning cover-up in Chicago (June 20, 2005)
Polish librarians add Cuba to IFLA agenda (June 5, 2005)
Librarians convicted of being "dangerous" (May 6, 2005)
Che Guevara's grandson endorses uncensored libraries (April 26, 2005)
New library defies censorship (March 2, 2005)
Benjamin Franklin Library raided (Feb. 28, 2005)
New York Times: A Cuban revolution, in reading (Feb. 22, 2005)
Freedom To Read! - A new movement to send a caravan of uncensored books to the people of Cuba (Feb. 14, 2005)
More Spanish support for Cuban libraries (Jan. 26, 2005)
Czechs join protest against library repression (Jan. 19, 2005)
LIBRARIAN RELEASED: "We're not going to retreat a single millimeter..." (Jan. 13, 2005)
Regime enraged by Latvian backing for independent librarians (Jan. 12, 2005)
Wall St. Journal: Castro's jailed librarians (Dec. 23, 2004)
Polish librarians demand release of jailed Cuban colleagues (Dec. 15, 2004)
Vermillion, South Dakota, Library sponsors a Cuban library (Dec. 7, 2004)
Nat Hentoff: Castro's Gulag and American librarians (Oct. 10, 2004
Librarian accused of espionage and terrorism (Sept. 28, 2004)
Commentary on a commentary (Sept. 28, 2004)
East Europeans protest library raids in Cuba:
call on world’s librarians to challenge Castro (Aug. 10, 2004)
Text of letter to IFLA signed by Vaclav Havel, Elena Bonner, et al (Aug. 10, 2004)
Cuban librarians in need - where's ALA? (June 24, 2004)
Appeal for jailed librarians sent to ALA (June 21, 2004)
Colás and Mexidor receive People for American Way award (June 3, 2004)
"Digital apartheid" - Cuba tightens access to the Internet, e-mail, telephones (May 19, 2004)
Paris sponsors the independent libraries of Havana (March 26, 2004)
French city sponsors Cuban libraries (March 19, 2004)
Pinar del Río family besieged: mother, child require medical care (March 5, 2004)
CUBA CAGES LIBRARIANS: But there's still not a dissenting word from America's book publishers and literati (March 5, 2004)
CENSORED: the Havana Book Fair, Cuban officials and German "dissidents" (Feb. 13, 2004)
Two more libraries raided: "They aren't going to get away with it" (Jan. 29, 2004)
Nat Hentoff renounces ALA award in protest over Cuba (Jan. 29, 2004)
Cuba says Internet ban deters "satanic cults" (Jan. 27, 2004)
IFLA protests Cuban Internet crackdown (Jan. 19, 2004)
U.S. librarians 'fail' jailed Cubans (Jan. 16, 2004)
Call to conscience: Library group is shamefully silent on Cuba (Jan. 9, 2004)
The ALA: "Castro's favorite librarians" (Dec. 24, 2003)
Nat Hentoff: The ALA's "shameful silence" (Dec. 8, 2003)
Library books burned by court order (Sept. 28, 2003)
Le Monde: "If you travel to Cuba, take a book" (July 24, 2003)
The forgotten 14: The American Library Association embraces Castro (July 22, 2003)
ALA hypocrisy slammed: "It's always 1984 in Cuba" (June 29, 2003)
ALA leaders to New York Times: Repression in Cuba? What repression? (June 28, 2003)
Library Association excludes Cuban independents from meeting (June 20, 2003)
CUBA'S JAILED LIBRARIANS GET NO SUCCOR FROM THE ALA (June 20, 2003)
Nat Hentoff Blasts ALA on Persecution of Librarians in Cuba (June 5, 2003)
Angry Cuba expresses contempt for FAIFE critique (May 10, 2003)
OUTRAGE: librarians sentenced to 196 years (April 30, 2003)
List of convicted librarians and their sentences
CRACKDOWN: Librarians targeted in massive sweep (April 6, 2003)
Librarian identified as secret police agent (April 6, 2003)
List of detained librarians (April 6, 2003)
Cuban book seizure furor continues (March 9, 2003)
Librarian assaulted, others threatened (Feb, 22, 2003)
Internet is "instrument of the devil:" student leader (Feb. 5, 2003)
Uncensored reading: the 2002 Annual Report of Cuba's independent library movement (Jan. 16, 2003)
Angry response as Cuba disrupts book fair event (Dec. 12, 2002)
Bookburning in Havana: another chapter (Sept. 21, 2002)
BBC program features Cuban libraries (August 27, 2002)
Journalist/Librarian awarded Hellman-Hammett prize (June 14, 2002)
Jimmy Carter promotes uncensored libraries in Cuba (May 30, 2002)
"Tiny, renegade libraries offer view of world:" Atlanta Constitution (May 15, 2002)
ABC broadcasts interview with Cuban librarian (May 13, 2002)
Library director assaulted
Libraries raided, blind activist beaten and arrested (March 17, 2002)
Cuban librarians win Swedish human rights award (March 7, 2002)
Police ban library conference
HAVANA, Oct. 7, 2011 (Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez/CihPress) - On the morning of Oct. 6, the Cuban political police began to repress a group of independent librarians attempting to hold a conference. The conference was scheduled to take place at 9:00 on Friday morning; it was convoked by the College of Independent Cuban Teachers (CPIC, initials in Spanish) at the organization's headquarters located at #10 Nomar Avenue in Havana's Guanabacoa neighborhood, which is also the home of Evidio Emilio Ulloa, a veteran guerrilla fighter of the Revolution.
"On Thursday morning about 20 librarians from different parts of the country had gathered at the headquarters, but an army of [secret police] agents besieged the place, preventing others from entering," declared Yacer Pineda Alfonso, a leader of the CPIC, in a telephone conversation with Hablemos Press.
Pineda said that "two agents of the political police who seemed to be chiefs of the operation said the Ministry of Education had indicated it would not permit any independent activity."
"After we replied that we would go ahead with the conference anyway, they said we would see them later," noted Pineda. He added: "They returned with more agents and posted them at the entrance to the [teachers' organization] headquarters, impeding the arrival of additional librarians and invited guests."
The CPIC's membership now includes about 100 teachers fired from their jobs for disagreeing with the educational system established by the Communist Party in 2000. The majority of them currently have independent libraries in their homes where they teach classes and carry out various activities with neighborhood children....
Last year the authorities permitted the CPIC to hold a conference of teachers at the same place; more than 80 persons were in attendance.
At the present time it is not known if any of the librarians trying to attend the conference were arrested.
Librarian in clandestine video
WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 14, 2011 (Capitol Hill Cubans) -
Cuba's Hope, an underground video released on the Internet by In Altrum
Productions, is featured on the Capitol Hill Cubans blog.
The clandestinely filmed documentary is hosted by Lilvio Fernández, an independent librarian who gives a video tour of the modest library located in his home before leaving to interview several young Cubans. A little after minute 17:00, Lilvio Fernández interviews an anonymous University of Havana professor who praises the independent library movement for allowing him and other Cubans to read books banned in the state libraries.
The link to the brief documentary can be found at:
Here is the introduction to Cuba's Hope:
"In 2008, Fidel Castro handed over control of Cuba to his younger brother, Raul. Since then, experts have predicted significant changes in the lives of the Cuban people -- especially in the lives of young Cubans. While hope springs eternal, the Cuban government's continued use of laws that violate basic standards of international human rights makes it almost impossible for citizens to openly voice their desires for change. Despite the obstacles, many young people in Cuba risk their lives to work for a better, more just future. In the spring of 2011, Lilvio, an independent librarian and Cuban youth leader, visited five people: a blogger, a student, a professor, a journalist and a musician. Cuba's Hope tells their stories. "
Jail threat over
REGLA (Havana), August 14, 2011 (Iván Sañudo Pupo/Agencia Libre Asociada) - Aini Martín Valero, a librarian and independent journalist, was threatened today in the doorway of her home in Regla by two agents of the State Security police.
The agents, one of them named Antonio, went to her house early in the morning to threaten Martín Valero with several years of imprisonment if she continues her Sunday activities with neighborhood children. "They told me they knew that I don't speak about politics with the children," she stated, " but [they said] I am a known counterrevolutionary, and my ideas could be slowly transmitted to the kids. I am very disgusted and indignant; things like this should not happen."
For several years Aini Martín Valero has maintained the Luis Quevedo Remolina Independent Library [in her home] . Every Sunday she holds programs for neighborhood children in which she teaches about nature, educational improvement, and the promotion of children's literature; [her goal] is to provide instruction about healthy living, countering the violence and poverty that afflict Cuban families.
"This Sunday I have suspended the [library] activities; I need to care for the children and their families who trust me; but these activities will continue, although the consequences may be harmful to me; I am not doing anything bad and they (i.e., the secret police) know it, but they are violating all kinds of human rights."
Eliades Acosta exits Cuba
NEW YORK, July 28, 2011 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Dr. Eliades Acosta, the former director of Havana's National Library and chief spokesperson for the persecution of Cuba's independent library movement, has left his homeland for the Dominican Republic. It is not known if his departure is temporary or permanent. Officially, Dr. Acosta is residing in Santo Domingo to study the Trujillo dictatorship and Dominican links to Cuban history. He reportedly has no known means of support other than occasional essays in a Dominican newspaper distributed without charge on weekends.
News of Dr. Acosta's exit from Cuba was contained in an article in the "Havana Times" by Haroldo Dilla on the emigration of Cuban intellectuals. Prof. Dilla, a Cuban who lives in the Dominican Republic, is often critical of human rights violations by the Castro government.
Dr. Acosta had a decidedly checkered career before taking up his new post as an occasional essayist for a free weekend newspaper in the Dominican Republic. For a number of years, while serving as the director of Havana's National Library, he vehemently denied the existence of censorship in Cuba while branding the island's independent librarians as liars, foreign agents and "informational terrorists." But in 2008, after being promoted to the Cuban Communist Party's ideological department, he gave an interview in an online Cuban journal contradicting his previous public stand. In the interview, Acosta affirmed pervasive censorship in Cuba and demanded freedom of expression for the Cuban people. The interview disappeared from the Web the day after its publication, and Dr. Acosta soon lost his high-level government post, falling into relative obscurity. [See: "Eliades Acosta Censored," April 17, 2008, in the Recent News section of the Friends' website.]
Prof. Dilla's opinion of Acosta, as expressed in his "Havana Times" article, is mixed. While excusing Dr. Acosta from charges that he was an ideological hard-liner, Dilla also describes him as "an apparatchik who enjoyed high positions in Cuban politics... until his muffled defenestration in 2008.... He was frequently involved in scandals unleashed by Cuban delegations at book fairs in Mexico and Santo Domingo." [See: "Angry Response as Cuba Disrupts Book Fair Event," Dec. 12, 2002, on the Friends' website.]
While condemning Dr. Acosta's "attacks, with ideas and organized mobs" against "people who think differently," Prof. Dilla seems to offer hope that Eliades Acosta will use his prolonged stay in the Dominican Republic, whether permanent or temporary, to reflect upon Cuba's long history of intolerance: "Perhaps he could apply to himself something he wrote in one of his weekend articles: 'Nothing changes human character more than the impotent contemplation of injustice....' "
Cuba debate roils
NEW YORK, April 30, 2011 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Academic conferences are usually sedate affairs, with minimal controversy or verbal sparring, but this staid pattern was broken at a three-day conference on "Cuban Futures" held from March 31 to April 2 at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center in New York City.
An April 2 conference session on the theme of Cuban culture was marked by a spirited disagreement over Cuban libraries and the alleged nonexistence of censorship and repression in the island nation. The disputed event featured a presentation by Rhonda Neugebauer and Dana Lubow on a project to send a bookmobile, stocked with reading materials, to the official library system of Cuba's Granma Province.
Neugebauer and Lubow are members of an ALA faction which
is accused of denying and covering up Cuban censorship and the persecution of
the island's independent library movement, founded in 1998 to challenge
government control of information. [See below Nat Hentoff's Jan. 13 column:
"Endless Shame of the Spineless ALA."] While defying persecution and the
court-ordered burning of entire book collections, Cuba's free library movement
has founded hundreds of uncensored libraries throughout the island, including
Granma Province where the bookmobile was dispatched.
Neugebauer and Lubow began their presentation with a review of the bookmobile project's origins, along with a claim by Lubow that Cuba's independent library movement was "organized by the United States." A slide of former Cuban National Library director Eliades Acosta was shown by Neugebauer when describing his support for the project. (She did not mention Mr. Acosta's former role as head of the campaign to brand the independent librarians as "informational terrorists," or his fall from grace in 2008 when, in a quickly suppressed interview, he abruptly reversed course by condemning Cuba's ironclad censorship and demanding freedom of expression for the Cuban people.)
Neugebauer illustrated her talk with slides of smiling children, attired in their obligatory "Pioneer" uniforms (schoolchildren who refuse to wear them are expelled) reading glossy new books in the bookmobile, along with information on library programs for adults and teenagers. In closing, she attributed the bookmobile's success to cooperation from Cuba's "mass organizations" which "link the Party to the masses."
The question and answer period following the presentation sparked a lively debate. Ms. Neugebauer was asked by a member of the Friends of Cuban Libraries why she testified during an ALA investigation that she has been unable to find any evidence of censorship in Cuba during her visits to the island over the past twenty years.
Visibly annoyed, Ms. Neugebauer at first tried to stonewall the issue by declaring, "This question does not deserve an answer!" But a few moments later, possibly after reflecting on the bad impression imparted to the audience by her refusal to answer the question, she said: "The people here should know that Robert Kent traveled to Cuba nine times with U.S. government money provided by Freedom House!" [Editor's note: Robert Kent is a co-chair of the Friends of Cuban Libraries; Freedom House is a human rights group, co-founded by Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1940s, which receives U.S. grants to aid civil society groups around the world.] In her response, Ms. Neugebauer made no mention of her own receipt of funding from the Venezuelan government, or U.S. government funding of the ALA, or why this topic is relevant to discussions of book burning and other forms of censorship.
She then accused the Friends of Cuban Libraries of claiming that she censors books donated to the Granma bookmobile, and she claimed the Granma bookmoible is stocked with numerous books by authors allegedly banned in Cuba. During her last trip to the island she verified that these reputedly banned books are still on the bookmobile's shelves, she said.
Later in the session, a separate question was directed to Dana Lubow. After stating that Cubans were becoming more outspoken about the evils of censorship, the questioner quoted Eliades Acosta's suppressed 2008 interview in which he declared, "We aspire to a society that speaks openly of its problems without fear, in which the news media report on life as it really is, without triumphalism, in which errors are publicly ventilated in order to explore problems, in which people can express themselves honestly," and asked Dana Lubow why she continues to deny the existence of censorship in Cuba. Before she could reply, the session's presiding officer declared that time had run out. A last, hurried question presented to Dana Lubow and Rhonda Neugebauer, demanding to know "Why is Cuba the only country in the world which persecutes librarians?," did not receive an answer.
Sources: reports from Cubadebate, Miami Herald and Cuban Colada compiled by the Friends of Cuban Libraries
Library leader threatened, harassed
HAVANA, April 25, 2011 (Ana Aguililla/Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez) - Omayda Padrón Azcuy, the national coordinator of the Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña Library Network, complains that she is being threatened and harassed by the State Security police. Every Wednesday her library hosts literary discussions with intellectuals and neighborhood residents. The library, located in her home at #5 18th St. in the Vedado district, holds about a thousand volumes, many of them by authors censured in Cuba, including Álvaro Vargas Llosa, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas and Carlos Alberto Montaner.
In a phone conversation with reporter Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Ms. Padron said her home was visited by two police agents on April 13. "They told me they knew all about the meetings, and that they were not going to permit them any more. They said they knew everything about the foreigners who come to visit me, that I am involved with them." She said the police "want the world to see that we are mercenaries for receiving visits from foreigners." She was warned of unspecified "consequences" if she does not cease her activities.
The next day, she said, a group of vigilantes in civilian clothes "controlled her movements and harassed her wherever she went." On April 19 police agents visited her house again. When Omaida Padrón complained that they were subjecting her to repression, one of them reportedly answered: "No, if I was really repressing you, I would break down the door and drag you outside right now."
Ms. Padrón told reporter Ana Aguililla that on April 20 the police seized her identity card when she was traveling with a librarian colleague to attend a film debate at another independent library in the Capdevila district of Havana. [Editor's note: ID cards are essential for Cubans because they must be presented during such basic activities as buying rationed food or tickets for trains and inter-provincial buses.]
Compiled and translated by the Friends of Cuban Libraries
Library Raid in Pinar del Río
HAVANA, April 9, 2011 (Mario Hechavarría Driggs/www.miscelaneasdecuba.net ) - José Ramón Rivera, the director of an independent library in Pinar del Río Province, complains that a State Security major named Rafael and two police agents entered his house at #655 Garmendia St. and, without showing a warrant, took away four boxes of books, a tape recorder and an unconnected fax machine. The event occurred when he was not at home.
According to the librarian, this action, which took place on Thursday, March 17, was an abuse of authority and a robbery because the authorities are required to present a judge's order [before conducting a raid], with two witnesses to the confiscation and in the presence of the homeowner, which did not happen in this case.
José Ramón Rivera, the director of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Library, was summoned to appear before Lieutenant Ricardo at the local police station at 9:00 A.M. on March 19.
Translated by the Friends of Cuban Libraries
New secret agent-librarian revealed!
NEW YORK, Feb. 27, 2011 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On Feb. 25 Cuba's official TV network aired "Pawns of the Empire," a documentary on two members of civil society groups who revealed their true identity as underground agents of the State Security police. One of the newly unveiled agents, Carlos Serpa Maceira (AKA "Agent Emilio"), identified himself as the director of the Ernest Hemingway Independent Library, located on the impoverished Isle of Youth, south of Cuba's main island. The documentary and Cuba's official newspapers emphasized Serpa's infiltration of independent press agencies and the Ladies in White, an award-winning group of women who hold public demonstrations demanding the release of imprisoned family members. Worldwide publicity for the Ladies in White is credited with pressuring the Cuban government to release, and send into exile, numerous prisoners of conscience, including independent librarians sentenced to 20-year terms in 2003.
Serpa is the fourth member of Cuba's independent library movement to unveil his true identity as an agent of the secret police. Describing his infiltration of civil society organizations, Serpa declared: "There are those who continue to underestimate us, but one thing is very clear. The organs of Cuban [State] Security have been, are, and will be present at the right place and time. The enemies of the Revolution [...] have just not learned the lesson." Some observers believe the Cuban regime's infiltration of the independent library movement, which continues to expand despite ongoing police raids and persecution, is a tribute to the "danger" presented by this pioneering effort to oppose Cuba's once airtight system of censorship.
Inadvertent testimony for the influence of the expanding library movement was rendered by Serpa himself during his undercover career. In a 2006 interview with an independent reporter looking back on the Hemingway Library since its founding in 2003, Serpa declared: "Our greatest merit in these three years of work is that the people know that the Library exists; they visit it, they ask us for books and magazines; the readers have received threats from the Political Police and from supporters of the government to keep them from visiting the Library, but the visits have not diminished; every day they increase...." The Ernest Hemingway Library is one of twelve independent libraries serving the public on the tiny Isle of Youth.
On Feb. 27, two days after the TV extravaganza revealing Serpa's true identity as "Agent Emilio" of the secret police, the official government website Cubadebate highlighted Serpa's return to Nueva Gerona, the capital of the Isle of Youth. The article praised what it termed the "apotheosis" of the townspeople as they greeted Serpa: "Hundreds of inhabitants, waving [placards] with slogans, singing revolutionary songs and with eyes wet with emotion, congregated in C Street... to pay heroic homage to this combatant who, during many years, has risked his life in an anonymous form to destroy the empire's plans against the Cuban Revolution...."
According to dissidents, the fervent and apparently spontaneous welcome given to Carlos Serpa in Nueva Gerona was stage-managed by the government in a part of town inhabited largely by Communist Party officials and other relatively affluent government supporters. At press time, the leaders of Cuba's independent library movement had no comment regarding Serpa's infiltration of their project, but a leader of the Ladies in White said she pitied him and forgave his transgressions.
Compiled by the Friends of Cuban Libraries from press reports in Cubadebate, the Miami Herald and Cuban Colada.
Endless shame of the spineless American Library Association
NEW YORK, January 13, 2011 (Nat Hentoff/Galesburg Register-Mail) - In April 2003, the security police of Fidel Castro arrested and imprisoned 75 journalists, members of opposition parties, and owners of independent libraries. The charge: "crimes against national sovereignty." The librarians had been making available to Cubans books that were banned in the state's libraries for containing "terrorist" material. Among them were a biography of Martin Luther King Jr....
During the one-day trial, Castro's judges ordered that all printed volumes confiscated during the raids of the libraries be burned. I obtained copies of those incendiary court rulings that then, and now, characterize the Cuban "revolution...."
At first, I had expected immediate protests about the caged independent librarians from the American Library Association. The core credo of this largest national library association in the world has been "the freedom to read" -- for everyone everywhere.
Why should you care? Because banning books and imprisoning librarians mean banning literature, ideas -- thought -- and critically wounding freedoms that should be as essential as oxygen to citizens and a society.
In the many columns I've written since about the abandoned Cuban librarians, I've cited the ALA's refusal to demand the release of these librarians. In June 2003, for one of many examples, Michael Dowling, then director of the ALA's International Relations Office, said: "There has been no definitive evidence that books are banned and librarians harassed." There had been international press on the raids.
As my documented stories on these and future imprisonments went on, I was targeted by the director of Cuba's National Library Eliades Acosta: "What does Mr. Hentoff know of the real Cuba?" My public reply: "I know that if I were a Cuban, I'd be in prison...."
But, in yet another appeal to the ALA on March 11 last year, the American-based Friends of Cuban libraries sent a letter to then-president of the ALA Camila Alire, "asking for your urgent and compassionate aid in saving the life of a fellow library worker, Guillermo Fariñas (director of the Dr. Roberto Avalos library).
"Mr. Fariñas has refused to consume food or fluids since he began a hunger strike" at his home in Santa Clara for the release of 26 Cuban prisoners in poor health, including "Ricardo Gonzalez, the director of the Jorge Manach Library, and Ariel Sigler Amaya, who was condemned to a long prison term for, among other alleged crimes, gathering books for a library collection." Both have been named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International....
This plea for the life of Guillermo Fariñas was ignored by the American Library Association.....
HAVANA, Nov. 17, 2010 (by Aliomar Janjaques Chivaz, Cuban LGBT Foundation) - On November 10 the Arenas Independent Library, located in East Havana, was confiscated by State Security and officers of the National Revolutionary Police, when leaders of the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation were meeting to show a documentary film.
"We were together, watching the documentary 'A Force More Powerful,' when René said the whole block was occupied by State Security officials; we barely had time to shut the door when two officials, accompanied by two armed policemen, entered by pushing their way in. They insulted us, shoved us around, and took away the literature that we had, in addition to CDs and the DVD," said Henri Solís Estévez.
They took away a lot of materials printed from the Internet, many were printouts from the Web de Colegas [a Spanish-language gay Internet resource], stated Lucia Acosta, an art history student, who noted that 19 gay youths were attending the meeting, and all of them were arrested.
Virtudes Linaza, José Luis Sánchez and Oscar Benítez were deported by train to the interior of the country on Monday morning because they do not have legal residence in the City of Havana. The deportees were fined 300 pesos in Cuban currency.
Source: http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/article.asp?artID=30585, http://www.colegaweb.org
At Book Institute, panicky informers working overtime
HAVANA, Sept. 22, 2010 (www.cubanet.org/Adolfo Pablo Borrazá) - At the publishing house of the Cuban Book Institute, located on Carlos III Avenue, the workers are wasting no time in denouncing each other for whatever reason, with the goal of keeping their jobs following the announcement by Raul Castro that half a million Cuban workers will be laid off.
Those who once called each other "comrade" are now sworn enemies. The situation is getting difficult, and there is no room left for loyalty among friends. Anyone can be thrown out into the street. It doesn't matter if an employee is a good worker; it is enough to get someone fired if an informer reveals some criticism made against the government, or some other indiscreet remark....
This atmosphere of uncertainty, corruption and informing is what is happening today in our workplaces. The workers don't seem to have believed Raul Castro when he gave assurances that "nobody will be abandoned...."
The speed with which they are undertaking the process of laying off half a million workers is impressive in a country where the liberation of fifty prisoners has been delayed for four months.... Clearly, our leaders want to "perfect socialism" at an accelerated rate, but I doubt if they will achieve it. After all, the Commander-in-Chief recently said that "the model doesn't even work for us any more."
Librarian in Palma Soriano threatened with imprisonment
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Sept. 1, 2010, (Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez/Hablemos
Press Agency) - On August 25 independent librarian Rolando Reyes Brin was
threatened with imprisonment by the [police] chief of the sector, according to
the librarian's wife, Yuleisis Garcel Pérez.
"This forms part of the strong repression directed against my husband and family," said Ms. Garcel Pérez. "We are threatened, mobbed and repressed by the military in the locality where we live, and principally by the chief of the sector."
"To be an independent librarian in a closed society is very risky; you can go to prison for providing the neighbors with information that the regime considers censored," she added.
Rolando Reyes Brin is the director of the Mario Chanes de Armas Independent Library, located at 119 Máximo Gómez Street, in the Santiaguero district of Palma Soriano.
( http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/article.asp?artID=29625 )
Gay Foundation libraries seized by police
HAVANA, May 25, 2010 (LGBT Cuba News Today/Mario José Delgado González) - Last Monday, May 17, at approximately 11:23 A.M., the complete LGBT book holdings of Henry Solís Estévez, coordinator of the Gay Freedom Party, Dunia Ortega, lesbian activist, and Aliomar Janjaque were confiscated by the State Security police during raids of their homes.
According to Dunia Ortega, "The first thing they did was to dismantle our libraries. Many gays and lesbians would ask us to loan books. We had all kinds of books, but the ones that caused the most annoyance [to the police] were the collected works of the emblematic author Reinaldo Arenas. Each of us had built up a mini-library in our houses which were collected with great effort. They [the secret police] respect nothing; the only thing that interested them was messing us up and being a wet blanket. But we will reconstruct [the libraries] again, little by little...."
Independent library raided in Cienfuegos
HAVANA, May 19, 2010 (www.periodistas-es.org/Aini Martin Valero) - The Mario Chanes de Armas Independent Library in Cienfuegos was raided by the political police on Friday, May 14.
Bartolo Joaquin Palomares Sánchez, the director of the library, provided information by telephone that agents of the State Security police carried out a search of his residence and confiscated 360 books and some office materials.
In the presence of his small children and his elderly grandmother, a dozen officials entered his home at 6:00 A.M. and arrested him; they took him to the Department of Technical Investigations in Cienfuegos.
The State Security agents issued him a warning notice for being "an enemy of the revolution," which he refused to sign. He was released 24 hours later.
The independent library is located at 69 Logia St., between Vila and Citrico Streets, Cienfuegos Province, and is part of the Cuban Independent Library Project, which is directed by Gisela Delgado Sablon.....
speak on Cuban library issue
NEW YORK, March 16, 2010 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Sara Kelly Johns and Molly Raphael, candidates for ALA president, spoke on March 8 at the office of New York City's METRO library organization.
Both candidates affirmed their respect for intellectual freedom as a core value of the ALA, but a specific question from the audience about the Cuban independent library issue identified their contrasting views on intellectual freedom as a matter of policy.
Critics of current ALA policy say that past ALA investigations and panel discussions on Cuba have overlooked or ignored the repression of Cuba's independent library movement, founded in 1998 to oppose censorship. According to journalists and human rights organizations, Cuba's independent library workers have been subjected to police raids, arrests, 20-year prison terms and the court-ordered burning of confiscated book collections. Amnesty International has named Cuba's jailed independent librarians as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their release.
In the only opinion poll of ALA members on the Cuba issue, conducted by AL Direct, 76% of respondents voted for the ALA to condemn the repression Cuba's independent library movement.
During the question period at the March 8 presidential candidates event in New York, a member of the Friends of Cuban Libraries complained that several ALA investigations and panel discussions of this issue had allowed only one side of the controversy to be fairly heard. The questioner asked Sara Kelly Johns and Molly Raphael to guarantee that, under their leadership, diverse views on the Cuban library controversy would be fairly represented in future ALA considerations of this issue.
Sara Kelly Johns responded to the question by noting that she has paid close attention to the Cuban library issue. She gave assurances that, under her leadership, diverse views on controversies would be heard within the ALA and that the Cuban library issue would not be permitted to "go under the table."
If brought to Council by a Council committee, the issue would be discussed.
In contrast, Molly Raphael said that the ALA has already established its Cuba policy on several occasions, and she stated it is not the role of the ALA president to challenge settled policies. With regard to the ongoing controversy over Cuba's independent libraries, she stated it is not a "yes or no question."
In contrast, the Friends of Cuban Libraries believe book burning is very much a "yes or no question."
Appeal for hunger
striker sent to ALA
NEW YORK, March 11, 2010 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Introduction: Today the letter appended below was sent to Ms. Camila Alire, the president of the American Library Association, by the Friends of Cuban Libraries.
Dear Ms. Alire:
We write to you in your capacity as president of the American Library Association, asking for your urgent and compassionate aid in saving the life of a fellow library worker, Guillermo Fariñas.
Mr. Fariñas, the director of the Dr. Roberto Avalos Library and the national coordinator of the largest group of independent libraries in Cuba, is on a hunger strike at his home in Santa Clara to win the release of 26 Cuban prisoners who are in poor health.
Mr. Fariñas has refused to consume food or fluids since he began his hunger strike on Feb. 24, following the hunger strike death of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Guillermo Fariñas is growing weaker, and Cuba's official newspaper "Granma" has indicated that the government will make no effort to save his life after his health declines to the point of unconsciousness.
Among the prisoners for whose health Guillermo Fariñas has gone on a hunger strike is Ricardo González, the director of the Jorge Mañach Library, and Ariel Sigler Amaya, who was condemned to a long prison term for, among other alleged crimes, gathering books for a library collection. Both have been named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
On an urgent basis, we ask you to please contact the Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations, Mr. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, to request that efforts be made to save the life of Guillermo Fariñas. The e-mail address of the Foreign Ministry is: (email@example.com).
Today the Parliament of the European Union passed a resolution expressing concern for Mr. Fariñas, and we hope the American Library Association will rapidly join the worldwide effort to help in saving his life.
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries
Library director disclaims knowledge of repression
NEW YORK, November 6, 2009 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Dr. Eduardo Torres Cuevas, a distinguished Cuban historian and the director of Havana's National Library, spoke today at a Forum on Cuban Libraries held at New York City's Hunter College. During his presentation, Dr. Torres Cuevas denied any knowledge of the existence of Cuba's independent library movement and declined to answer questions about it.
Before the forum began, the Friends of Cuban Libraries distributed flyers to the audience, welcoming Dr. Cuevas Torres to New York and noting Cuba's "unique status as a nation where library workers are being systematically persecuted." The flyer stated, "Dr. Torres Cuevas did not create this unfortunate situation, but New York City librarians have a right to respectfully ask him about Cuban censorship and how Cuba's librarians, both 'official' and independent, are fulfilling their duty to defend intellectual freedom...." The flyer included a list of questions to which the speaker was invited to respond. (The list of questions is appended at bottom of this report.)
Following his presentation, the first question presented to Dr. Torres Cuevas was: “What can be done to bring about reconciliation between Cuba’s official Library Association and the island’s independent library movement?” Dr. Torres Cuevas said he did not know what the question meant. Upon being reminded that human rights groups such as Amnesty International are concerned about the persecution of people in Cuba who have opened independent libraries providing uncensored reading materials for the public, he responded that the questions listed on the Friends’s flyer would take too much time to answer.
Moving on to the substance of another question on the Friends of Cuban Libraries flyer, he denied that copies of George Orwell’s books have been burned in Cuba. As proof, he showed the audience a slide of the cover of Orwell’s “1984" from the National Library’s collection. Actually, the Friends’s flyer had noted that Orwell’s books seized from the independent libraries, not the National Library, have been burned by order of the Cuban court system, as proven by official documents removed from the island and published on the Internet. In the National Library, access to banned books such as "1984" is restricted to a small number of patrons considered trustworthy, in accordance with the Soviet model on which the National Library was reorganized after 1959.
Dr. Torres Cuevas assured the audience, “I would never burn a book or authorize it.” The guest speaker's interpreter then stated that other people in the audience should be allowed to present questions, at which point it was asked: “What about the court documents proving books were burned?” This question was ignored by the speaker, who declared "We are trying to engage in a civilized dialogue among academics rather than polemics." It is the position of the Friends of Cuban Libraries that academic freedom and freedom of expression are legitimate topics for courteous discussion.
In closing his discussion of Cuba's library system, Dr. Torres Cuevas said Havana's National Library cooperates with international library associations and declared he has not heard of the association previously referred to, meaning Cuba's independent library movement.
A Google search conducted after the event, however, indicates that Dr. Cuevas Torres was present at a televised panel discussion in Havana during which other speakers condemned the independent libraries as "agitation and propaganda centers against the Cuban nation." And previous to Dr. Cuevas Torres's tenure at the National Library, the institution's online journal, Librinsula, often criticized the independent librarians as "foreign agents" and "informational terrorists." But the Friends of Cuban Librarians are heartened by an end to such attacks after Dr. Cuevas Torres assumed the directorship of the National Library, and we welcomed an opportunity to engage in polite dialogue with him during the November 6 forum at Hunter College.
List of Questions on Flyer Distributed at Hunter College Forum on Cuban Libraries:
“What can be done to bring about reconciliation between Cuba’s official Library Association and the island’s independent library movement?”
“What can the international community do to encourage the release of Cuba’s jailed independent librarians?”
“While the cases of jailed Cuba librarians are being reviewed, what can we do to obtain medical care for prisoners whose health is failing, such as Jose Luis García Paneque?”
“While a fiberoptic cable to the island is being completed, will the Cuban National Library lobby for legalization of access to the World Wide Web?”
“What is the National Library doing to dismantle the Soviet-based library model, which bans access to books such as “Animal Farm,” “1984," and the works of renowned Cuban authors such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante?”
“In October 2009 it was reported that Raydel, a National Library employee, was accused of being a “terrorist” and fired from his job because he criticized the failure of the official library union to address staff complaints. What is being done to correct this injustice?”
“Can you clarify the situation of Mr. Eliades Acosta, the former National Library director who was reportedly purged in 2008 after he called for an end to government censorship?”
“What does the Cuban Library Association’s Code of Ethics say about intellectual freedom, and how is the Code of Ethics being implemented?”
Czech group asks IFLA to take action on Cuba
PRAGUE, August 5, 2008 (People in Need) - [Introduction: The
Czech human rights organization People in Need has sent an open letter to IFLA
president Claudia Lux, asking her to initiate a review of the world library
association's Cuba policy.]
Open Letter to IFLA
Dear Ms. Lux: [August 5, 2008]
On August 10, 2004, People in Need sent a letter to IFLA's intellectual freedom committee (FAIFE) regarding the situation of Cuba's independent library movement. The group letter, signed by Vaclav Havel, Markus Meckel, Elena Bonner, Adam Michnik and other leaders, concerned IFLA's commitment to defend freedom of _expression_ and expressed appreciation for IFLA's landmark 1999 report which condemned the repression of Cuba's independent librarians.
But our letter also noted a slackening in IFLA's response to library repression in Cuba after 1999 and asked IFLA to once again focus on the deteriorating situation on the island. Unfortunately, our 2004 letter did not receive a substantive response, and since then the repression of Cuba's independent librarians has intensified. Numerous reports continue to be received from Cuba of the repression of library workers, including threats, mob assaults, police raids, physical attacks, arrests, 20-year prison terms, and the seizure or burning of library collections.
While we recognize IFLA's limited resources, every organization has a need to prioritize, and Cuba's status as the only nation in the world where library workers are being systematically persecuted merits a long-term focus on the part of IFLA. Numerous human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, International PEN and Human Rights Watch, speak out against the repression of Cuban library workers on an ongoing basis, but IFLA's silence on this topic is a matter of concern. Regrettably, IFLA's integrity as an impartial defender of freedom of _expression_ is called into question by FAIFE's continuing silence and inaction regarding Cuba.
With a view to correcting this situation, we would like to respectfully ask IFLA to name a commission to study and correct FAIFE's silence and inaction with regard to ongoing library repression, censorship and book burning in Cuba. The assistance of IFLA's leadership in conducting such an inquiry would go far to correct this unfortunate situation.
Thank you for IFLA's consideration of this urgent request for action, and appended below are specific questions to which we would be pleased to receive a detailed response, leading to concrete actions by IFLA to impartially defend everyone's right to freedom of _expression_.
Head of Cuban projects section
People in Need
Questions Regarding IFLA's Handling of the Cuban Library Issue
* (1) What has FAIFE done, on an ongoing basis, to implement its 1999 report which established IFLA's policy of opposing the Cuban government's systematic repression of library workers?
* (2) Consistent with the unprecedented nature of Cuban library repression and book burning in today's world, why hasn't IFLA introduced a resolution on this subject at any of its annual conferences?
* (3) What action has FAIFE taken since 1999 to investigate numerous reports of library repression in Cuba? An example would be the alarming photos of injuries inflicted on two Cuban librarians, Orestes Suárez and Nancy González, who were allegedly attacked by a government-led mob in October 2006. See: (http://bitacoracubana.com/desdecuba/portada2.php?id=3166)
* (4) Even if IFLA does not have the resources to thoroughly investigate all complaints, how often does it take the minimal action of making inquiries to government officials and Cuban library associations, both the official and independent ones, when reports of human rights violations are received?
* (5) Recognizing IFLA's limited resources, and in accordance with IFLA's policy of working with other human rights organizations, has IFLA failed to act upon the results of investigations conducted by groups such as Amnesty International, which since 2003 has campaigned for the release of jailed Cuban library workers whom it has named as prisoners of conscience?
* (5) In 2003, following a crackdown on the island, IFLA expressed "deep concern" for jailed Cuban librarians. But since 2003, has IFLA fulfilled it duty to follow up this statement by publicizing the unjust imprisonment of the Cuban librarians now serving 20-year terms?
* (6) During his term in office, ex-IFLA president Alex Byrne attended a library conference in Cuba. In keeping with IFLA's commitment to human rights and transparency, will IFLA make public details of his visit, such as his response to requests to discuss library repression during encounters with Cuban officials, and to visit imprisoned Cuban librarians or their families?
* (7) Pending the release of the jailed Cuban librarians, what has IFLA done to publicize, and call a halt to, inadequate health care and mistreatment which have imperiled the lives of several of the prisoners?
* (8) In keeping with IFLA's principle of transparency, will IFLA release the details of FAIFE's yearlong study of the situation of one of the imprisoned librarians, Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, whose health is reportedly failing due to inadequate health care and beatings by common criminals placed in his cell to punish him?
* (9) The Cuban court documents on the trials of numerous dissidents, including several librarians, were removed from the island and published on the Internet (http://www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu). What action has IFLA taken to publicize the contents of these alarming documents, such as their confirmation that Cubans are being imprisoned for the alleged crime of opening uncensored libraries and the court-ordered burning of entire library collections? Doesn't the scale and intensity of these alarming human rights violations merit intensive actions by IFLA?
Human Rights and Democracy
People in Need
Sokolska 18, 120 00 Praha 2
Czech Republic, Europe Telephone: +420 226 200 469
Fax: +420226 200 401
books donated by Spanish embassy
HAVANA, Feb. 11, 2009 (www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/Mario Hechavarria Driggs) - [Introduction: Books donated to Cuba's independent library movement by the Spanish Embassy have reportedly been confiscated. Judging from the Embassy's website, the Spanish diplomat identified as "Sr. Javier" in the article below, translated by the Friends of Cuban Libraries, may be Francisco Javier Hergueta Garnica, the Councilor for Cultural Affairs.]
Frank Delgado Macías, a delegate of the Corriente Martiana in the capital, complains that agents in patrol car number 461 forcibly confiscated a box of books from him which had just been donated by the Embassy of Spain.
"I was intercepted by the car about two blocks from the Embassy on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 10. The agents threatened to take me to the police station if I did not give them the books I was carrying."
The books, a donation to the Independent Libraries, were provided by Sr. Javier, the embassy official for Press and Culture. Our source assures us that no warrant was issued for the seizure, an act which he considers a theft.
independent libraries: books that refuse to die
SANTIAGO DE CHILE, Feb. 8, 2009 (El Mercurio/ VÍCTOR M. MANDUJANO) - "In a brave challenge to censorship, about 200 independent libraries operate throughout Cuba. They are located in private houses and possess between 250 and 6,000 books, many of them banned, which can be read in the library or taken from the homes of the librarians, who are harassed, threatened and in some cases imprisoned after one-day trials. Ten of them are now serving sentences, and their books were burned or destroyed under the pretext of recycling the paper," says Robert Kent, a librarian in New York who traveled about 10 times to Havana until, in 1999, he was arrested on a charge of being a CIA agent. Today he is co-director of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, an organization that supports these private institutions with books that, fundamentally, are delivered by volunteer tourists "because Cubans [returning to the island] are subject to rigorous inspections, while the government isn't interested in harassing tourists, since tourism is a source of income which is indispensable to the country."
Question: If a directory of these libraries exists, with addresses and the names of the staff, why doesn't the government shut them all down to prevent the circulation of prohibited books?
Answer: "The librarians are proud to operate in an open and public manner, as if they lived in a free society, and the government [doesn't shut them all down because it] is sensitive to bad publicity. The government is afraid that the entire world will find out about the system of censorship there. Foreigners who visit the libraries do not have problems, but Cubans do. Although the National Library holds copies of banned books, they are kept in closed shelves and access to them is restricted to trustworthy persons."
Kent adds that several countries support the Independent Libraries in Cuba (the U.S., Spain, Sweden, Mexico, Holland, France and the nations of Eastern Europe), "and the books sent to the island are transformed into true jewels
for the Cubans. Visitors to the humble but important libraries are welcome at any hour of the day," concluded Kent.
This panorama is reminiscent of the novel "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury (1953), converted into a film in 1966, and the movie "The Lives of Others" (2006) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Oscar 2007), which reveals the crude repression applied by the secret police against intellectuals in the former East Germany.
On the website www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org one can find a listing of the main Independent Libraries of Cuba, their addresses and the names of the directors. Also, at www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu/documents-santiago-6s.cfm one can read the unusual sentence pronounced by a People's Court against a librarian in Santiago de Cuba, Julio Antonio Valdés Guevara (tried in April 2003), whose books, personal belongings and medicines were confiscated. He was imprisoned until recently freed "for reasons of health."
An authorized voice
Teresita Castellano García (a technician in Economics and Law) maintains the Julio Castellés Independent Library, containing 350 volumes, in the Playa district of Havana. "Although I would like to have some, I do not hold books by Chilean authors. The most requested books here are works in the areas of politics, society, education and religion." She adds that "although some librarians are not harassed, they are always kept under surveillance. Today a certain tolerance exists, but that is not to say this is an activity welcomed by the government, especially when we circulate books not issued by government publishers. On this island the people are required to consume what the government gives them. For this reason we [the independent librarians] constitute an alternative. I do not receive a salary; I carry out this activity because it is a necessity, and I am open to receive help that anyone can offer because a library should hold books by as many authors as possible."
"My house is not well-equipped [for many visitors]; for this reason I loan out books for a period of 15 days, which can be extended."
Translation by the Friends of Cuban Libraries
Eliades Acosta purged, reports claim
NEW YORK, January 9, 2009 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Two news reports offer additional evidence of former National Library director Eliades Acosta's fall from official grace, indicating he is the victim of a slow motion purge or may face legal problems related to funds allegedly missing from Havana's National Library. After leaving the library in 2007, Mr. Acosta was promoted to preside over Cuba's cultural affairs as the head of the Communist Party's cultural department.
Mr. Acosta's problems apparently began on Nov. 27, 2007, when he published a startling interview in Cubarte, a government-owned journal, which condemned Cuban censorship and called for greater freedom of expression in his homeland. (See "Eliades Acosta CENSORED" on the Friends of Cuban Libraries website, April 17, 2008.) Previous to this interview he had adamantly denied the existence of censorship in Cuba and the persecution of the island's independent librarians, whom he condemned as "informational terrorists" and "foreign agents." On the day following its publication, Acosta's interview disappeared from the government-owned Cubarte website. Soon afterwards, Mr. Acosta became unemployed after abruptly resigning from his position as the ruling Party's cultural secretary.
According to a report by Guillermo Fariñas, Eliades Acosta is once again being subjected to censorship. Fariñas writes that authorities in the province of Villa Clara have removed from sale a recent book by Acosta entitled "The Apocalypse According to St. George," even though the publication expresses orthodox views on foreign policy issues. Fariñas cites sources who claim that government authorities have gradually withdrawn Acosta's book from sale to disguise the former official's fall from favor. Fariñas also says that for more than two months Acosta has not appeared in public, even though previously he had often been invited to speak at public events.
Soon after his abrupt departure from power, some analysts attributed Acosta's slow motion purge to his public adoption of dissident views, as expressed in the censored Cubarte interview. But a different interpretation of his apparent downfall has been presented by Raymundo Cerero in the Madrid-based journal "Encuentro en la Red." According to Mr. Cerero, for several months operations at Havana's National Library have been hampered by a broken booklift and a lack of resources to replace it. Mr. Acosta's former colleagues at the National Library are said to hold Eliades Acosta accountable for a lack of funds to fix the problem. "[U]nder the leadership of Eliades Acosta," wrote Raymundo Cerero, "embezzlement at the Library was major and systematic. It is even said that the dismissed official (i.e., Eliades Acosta) built himself a house in Havana... with resources assigned to improving the National Library.... To summarize, the proof was such and the scandal was so great that the indicted person felt obligated to resign from his position as Cultural Secretary of the Party...."
Sources: ("Book by Communist Leader Removed from Sale," http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/article.asp?artID=18466, Nov 11, 2008)
("Eliades Acosta and the Booklift," http://penultimosdias.com/2008/11/13/eliades-acosta-y-el-montacargas/], Nov.. 13, 2008)
Allard fails to
cover up Eliades Acosta's "heresy"
NEW YORK, July 31, 2008 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - We in the Friends of Cuban Libraries are honored by the Cuban government's latest attempt to discredit our work, an article by Jean-Guy Allard published in Cuba's main newspaper, Granma ("'INDEPENDENT' LIBRARIANS FINANCED BY CIA," July 30). Past attacks on us were usually confined to less prominent venues, so Jean-Guy Allard's error-filled article in Granma is another sign of the government's realization that it is losing ground in its effort to slow Cuba's process of change.
Mr. Allard's latest attack is an effort to distract attention from growing external and internal support for intellectual freedom in Cuba. The most notable example of the latter, unreported by Allard, is the startling public repudiation of Cuban censorship by Mr. Eliades Acosta, the former director of Havana's National Library, followed by his resignation from his job with the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, of which Mr. Allard's newspaper proudly proclaims itself to be the "official organ."
As evidenced by Allard's Granma article and his conspicuous silence on Mr. Acosta's "heretical" turnaround, the Cuban government is being compelled to go public with its failing effort to persuade defenders of intellectual freedom around the world, ranging from Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein to Ray Bradbury and Vaclav Havel, that their support for Cuba's independent librarians is part of a uniquely sinister "CIA plot" to "overthrow the government" by, of all things, reading books.
Jean-Guy Allard doesn't want the world to know that moral and material aid for the island's free library movement is being sent to Cuba from many nations, not just the U.S. Regarding his claim that Cuba's independent librarians are the paid agents of a foreign government, this charge has been examined and dismissed by Amnesty International, which has named all of Cuba's jailed library workers as prisoners of conscience. And to the alarm of the Cuban regime, publicity on the mistreatment of imprisoned librarians, such as José Luis García Paneque, is gaining worldwide attention.
Veterans of IFLA's 2005 conference in Oslo, where Eliades Acosta teamed up with Mr. Allard to vehemently deny the existence of Cuban censorship, are aware of the latter's unusual brand of "journalism" and his attacks on reputable human rights groups such as Reporters Without Borders. On the eve of the Oslo conference, Allard published a fictional claim that U.S. customs agents had just confiscated books being sent from the U.S. to Cuba, including classics such as Saint-Exupéry's "Little Prince." Mr. Allard's report of this alleged book seizure was a figment of his imagination.
Now, in an effort to distract attention from growing internal and external support for intellectual freedom on the island, including Eliades Acosta's abrupt repudiation of Cuban censorship, Mr. Allard is trying the same tactic in advance of IFLA's 2008 conference in Quebec City. As for the substance of Allard's charges regarding corruption in a Cuban aid program administered by Frank Calzon, people reading this press release are free to conduct a Google search to discover the truth of the matter, which is far removed from Mr. Allard's erroneous account. Such a Google search, taken for granted elsewhere, is almost impossible in Cuba, where surfing the Web is a criminal offense.
Thanks to international aid programs and the courage of the independent librarians, hundreds of uncensored libraries opened throughout Cuba are thriving, and their influence is growing. Opposition to Cuba's system of censorship has spread to the island's "official" library workers, as confirmed in a recent newspaper article on the dismissal of Yuricel Pérez Rodríguez (http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0725/p01s02-woam.html).
It appears that in Cuba, as occurred in South Africa under the apartheid regime, the enforcers of orthodoxy are themselves being converted by the very people they have been assigned to repress.
A prime example of this turnaround is Eliades Acosta, the former director of Havana's National Library and spokesperson for the repression of the independent library movement. In early 2007, as a reward for his diligence in this role, he was named the head of the Cuban Communist Party's Cultural Department.
But in November 2007 Mr. Acosta broke with his past orthodoxy in a startling interview published on a government-run website, Cubarte. In the interview, he denounced Cuban censorship and advocated passionately for "a society that speaks openly of its problems without fear, in which the news media report on life as it really is, without triumphalism, in which errors are publicly ventilated in order to explore problems, in which people can express themselves honestly..." On the day following its publication, Acosta's interview was abruptly removed from the Cubarte website. Extended excerpts ("Eliades Acosta Censored," April 17, 2008) can be read in the Recent News section of our website (http://www.friendsofcubanlibaries.org).
On July 17 the Penúltimos Días weblog reported that Mr. Acosta has "resigned" from his position as head of the Communist Party's Cultural Department and may be leaving Cuba to live abroad. Mr. Acosta's apostasy, in conjunction with growing worldwide support for Cuba's embattled independent library movement, marks another setback for Jean-Guy Allard's clumsy efforts to distract attention from the Cuban people's progress toward a civil society in which intellectual freedom is honored and respected.
Dowling's Cuba Update: more "invisible book burning"
NEW YORK, June 25, 2008 (Friends of Cuban
For ALA members, dedicated to defending intellectual freedom as the core
principle of our beliefs, the only thing worse than burning books and
persecuting library workers is trying to ignore it.
In keeping with its mandate to defend intellectual freedom around the world, the ALA has studied the Cuban library issue for many years. Now, in June 2008, a resolution has been introduced in the ALA Council which condemns the repression of Cuba's independent library movement, calls for the release of imprisoned Cuban library workers, takes note of the court-ordered burning of library collections on the island and calls for the return to their lawful owners of confiscated library books which have not been burned.
Soon afterwards, Michael Dowling, director of the ALA International Relations Office, hurriedly published a "Cuba Update for ALA Annual 2008." This document claims to be an accurate summary of the ALA's handling of the Cuban library issue. As an employee of the association, Mr. Dowling has a duty to provide information on international library issues to the ALA Council which is fair, accurate and principled.
The conclusion of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, after examining its contents, is that Michael Dowling's "Update" is a continuation of a decade-long effort by a faction within the ALA to ignore, distort and cover up a grim reality: Cuba is the only country in the world where library workers are being systematically persecuted.
In a nation where access to the World Wide Web is effectively criminalized, Cuba's independent librarians are engaged in an innovative effort to challenge government control of information by founding libraries offering public access to uncensored books. Their goal is to provide reading materials which reflect all points of view, from Marx to Orwell. They are being subjected to harassment, mob attacks, 20-year prison terms and the court-ordered burning of confiscated library collections.
Continuing a sad tradition of flawed ALA committee reports which ignore or distort these realities, the first page of Michael Dowling's Cuba Update chooses to stress, with highlighted text, selective information on U.S. aid for Cuba's independent librarians, as if there is something sinister about open, publicly announced government programs to defend intellectual freedom in a nation where libraries are being raided and burned. Mr. Dowling chooses to ignore the U.S. programs funding libraries in other countries around the world, nor does he seem to regard as "sinister" U.S. funds for the ALA. In fact, both of Cuba's library systems - the harshly censored state-run institutions as well as the independent libraries - receive aid from abroad, a reality which is omitted from Dowling's report.
Below are a few of the more glaring errors and omissions in Dowling's chronological account of Cuba's independent library movement and the ALA's handling of this issue:
* Regarding IFLA/FAIFE's pioneering 1999 report on Cuba, Mr. Dowling omits any mention of the fact that IFLA's investigation confirmed every instance of library repression reported by the Friend of Cuban Libraries. In a letter to President Castro, FAIFE condemned this campaign of repression and urged other library associations around the world to do likewise. The ALA's International Relations Committee (IRC) ignored the IFLA report, as if it does not exist. It was only after people such as Al Kagan, the ALA's representative to FAIFE, began charging that the independent librarians are a "CIA conspiracy" that IFLA began to take a less rigorous stand on the historically unprecedented library persecution occurring in Cuba.
* Mr. Dowling notes the ALA's first effort, made by the IRC in 2001, to inquire into this issue. Testimony was given on both sides of the issue. One group presented to the subcommittee evidence from respected sources such as Amnesty International and the Washington Post. Contrary testimony was given by people who made the absurd claim that there is "no censorship in Cuba." Saying it could not make up its mind which side to believe, the IRC subcommittee tried to end any future ALA consideration of this issue, as if it is not important to find out whether or not there really is a nation in the world where library workers are being systematically persecuted.
* The Update notes that in 2002 the founders of the library movement, Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor, "emigrate[d] from Cuba to Florida." But Mr. Dowling fails to mention that, before going into exile, members of this family had been subjected to repeated arrests, firing from their jobs, a beating, the confiscation of their library collection, eviction from their home and internal exile to a remote village. The family endured all of this repression until forced to leave their homeland when their daughter was subjected to Orwellian "struggle sessions" at her school.
* Mr. Dowling notes that at the ALA's 2003 conference in Toronto his office obtained a grant to bring five "official" Cuban librarians for a panel discussion. He fails to mention that his office crafted the grant to specifically exclude any of Cuba's independent librarians from the panel. The exclusion of anyone who did not possess a library degree was the pretext for this censorship. When it was brought to the attention of ALA president Mitch Freedman that Eliades Acosta, one of the "official" librarians invited to be on the panel, also lacked a library degree, he decided to go ahead with Acosta's inclusion anyway, even as he maintained the ban on participation by Ramon Colas, who was also in Toronto.
* The Update notes the joint IRC/IFC investigation of the Cuba library issue, resulting in the reformulation of the association's Cuba policy in 2004. When the committee began its work, the chair publicly promised to evaluate Cuban court documents on the one-day trials of Cuban librarians held in 2003; the documents had been removed from the island and published on the Internet. These court records prove in the words of the Cuban government itself that the library workers were convicted, among other spurious charges, for the "crime" of opening uncensored libraries. The court documents also ordered the burning of confiscated library collections. Among the burned library books catalogued in these court documents are classics of freedom such as "Animal Farm," a biography of Martin Luther King and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But Mr. Dowling omits any mention of the fact that the completed IRC/IFC committee report ignored the existence of these crucial court documents, as if they do not exist.
* Despite repeated efforts within the ALA to minimize or ignore the repression and book burning in Cuba, the issue has been kept alive by renowned icons of freedom who have issued public appeals during ALA conferences for the ALA to honor its own ideals regarding the situation in Cuba. At the ALA's most recent conference, held in Philadelphia, Anthony Lewis told his audience: "I think there can't be anything worse than putting librarians in prison because of their being librarians and giving people books to read.... Cuban librarians who have been in prison are entitled to the utmost support from this organization." Yet this clarion call from Anthony Lewis to the ALA is ignored in Dowling's Update, just as he ignores similar appeals made during ALA conferences by Madeleine Albright, Andrei Codrescu and Ray Bradbury.
* Mr. Dowling ignores, as if it does not exist, photographic evidence of government-directed mob attacks against Cuban library workers. To see the evidence which Mr. Dowling doesn't want the ALA Council to see, go to: (http://bitacoracubana.com/desdecuba/portada2.php?id=3166)
In conclusion, Michael Dowling's Cuba "Update," like the flawed ALA committee reports which precede it, ignores key facts and principles related to the Cuban library issue. The Cuba resolution, to be voted on at the upcoming Anaheim conference, offers an opportunity for the ALA Council to finally declare principled support for intellectual freedom by condemning the repression of Cuba's brave independent librarians. As Nat Hentoff declared before renouncing the ALA's Immroth Award for intellectual freedom: "It would be astonishing and shameful if the American Library Association does not support - and gather support for - the courageous independent librarians of Cuba, some of whom have been imprisoned by Castro for very long terms for advocating the very principles of the freedom to read and think that the American Library Association has so long fought for in this country."
"Invisible book burning" re-ignites ALA controversy
NEW YORK, June 22, 2008 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Cuba has once again been catapulted to the top of the American Library Association's agenda. On the eve of the ALA's annual conference in Anaheim, California, three members of the ALA's governing Council have introduced a resolution condemning Cuba's repression of the island's independent library movement and urging the release of Cubans serving 20-year prison terms for the "crime" of opening uncensored libraries. The resolution, introduced by Councilors Barbara Silverman, Shixing Wen and Cristina Ramirez, also takes note of the court-ordered burning of library collections in Cuba and urges the return to their lawful owners of confiscated library books which have not yet been destroyed.
According to critics, a "pro-Castro" faction within the association which denies the existence of repression or censorship in Cuba has controlled ALA policy on this issue over the past decade, resulting in a series of "seriously biased" ALA investigations and Council resolutions which failed to condemn, or even acknowledge the existence of, systematic library repression on the island, including government-led mob attacks against libraries, 20-year prison terms for library workers and the court-ordered burning of library collections confiscated by the secret police.
The introduction of the Cuba resolution by Councilors Silverman, Wen and Ramirez mobilized vigorous countermeasures from ALA members who oppose any change in the association's policy on Cuba. The first barrage in this effort (actually published before the new Council resolution was made public) is an article by Peter McDonald ("ALA's Stand on Cuba's Independent Libraries") in the June/July issue of "American Libraries," the association's primary magazine. As the showdown over the proposed Cuba resolution draws near at the Anaheim conference, members of the association's alleged pro-Castro faction, who have reportedly dominated the ALA's Cuba policy for the past decade, praised McDonald's article as a "nuanced" review of this "complex" issue.
When the editor of "American Libraries"
declined to publish an article responding to McDonald, the Friends of Cuban
Libraries posted an analysis of his article on listservs. Printed below is the
text of our response to McDonald's article:
Response to Peter McDonald's Article in "American Libraries"
by the Friends of Cuban Libraries
June 12, 2008
Peter McDonald ("ALA's Stand on Cuba's Independent Libraries," June/July 2008) seems puzzled as to why this controversy continues. He asserts that the ALA's "nuanced" reports and resolutions on Cuba show an "abiding understanding" of this "complex" issue.
In reality, there is nothing "nuanced" about the decade-long effort within the ALA to ignore the appalling truth: Cuba is the only country in the world where library workers are being systematically persecuted.
There is nothing "complex" about the burning of library collections, mob attacks against librarians and 25-year prison terms for the alleged crime of operating a library, all of which the ALA and Mr. McDonald are trying to ignore. If Mr. McDonald doesn't believe reports by Amnesty International, People for the American Way and other human rights groups protesting these outrages, he can refer to the Cuban government's own court records on the one-day trials held in 2003. Mr. McDonald, like the ALA's Cuba researchers over the past decade, ignores these damning documents as if they do not exist, even after copies were obtained by Amnesty International and published on the Internet.
Sadly, until now the well-meaning but complacent majority on the ALA Council has been maneuvered into passing resolutions blaming other nations for Cuba's human rights violations while expressing vague regret over the arrest of unnamed Cubans for unnamed offenses, in the platitudinous style of beauty contestants who "want the whole world to be happy." In sharp contrast, 76% of respondents to the only ALA membership poll on Cuba called for a condemnation of the repression in Cuba. When will the Council begin to listen to the evidence-based concerns of the membership?
Celebrated speakers at ALA conferences have repeatedly urged the association to honor its principles with regard to Cuba. At the ALA's most recent conference, speaker Anthony Lewis told the audience: "I think there can't be anything worse than putting librarians in prison because of their being librarians and giving people books to read.... Cuban librarians who have been in prison are entitled to the utmost support from this organization." And Mr. McDonald is wrong in implying that Anthony Lewis has retracted his comments. After the event, he told Nat Hentoff that he was "proud and happy with what he had said."
Mr. McDonald claims that the Friends of Cuban Libraries engage in "politics." Like the anti-racism activists around the world who organized to oppose apartheid in South Africa, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries believe the unprecedented repression of library workers in Cuba deserves international attention. Our members hold a range of views on many issues, but we are united in believing it cannot be a crime to oppose censorship or to open a library, in Cuba or any other country. Our efforts to defend intellectual freedom and to oppose book burning are a matter of principle, not partisan politics.
We continue to defend Cuba's brave and innovative independent library movement, a uniquely Cuban contribution to the worldwide struggle for human rights. As for the ALA's failure to oppose book burning and library repression by the Castro regime, we agree with the statement Nat Hentoff made before renouncing the ALA's Immroth Award for intellectual freedom: "It would be astonishing and shameful if the American Library Association does not support - and gather support for - the courageous independent librarians of Cuba, some of whom have been imprisoned by Castro for very long terms for advocating the very principles of the freedom to read and think that the American Library Association has so long fought for in this country."
The Friends of Cuban Libraries
Eliades Acosta CENSORED
NEW YORK, April 17, 2008 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On November 29 a government website, Cubarte, published a startling interview with Eliades Acosta, the former director of Havana's National Library, in which he called for tolerance and greater freedom of expression in Cuba. Until now, Acosta has vehemently denied the existence of censorship in his homeland, even while serving as the spokesperson for the repression of Cuba's independent librarians, whom he has long denounced as mercenaries, traitors and "informational terrorists."
But in an apparent turnaround, Acosta used his Cubarte interview to point out serious problems in Cuban society, comparing them to "red lights indicating a need for changes," and declared: "We aspire to a society that speaks openly of its problems without fear, in which the news media report on life as it really is, without triumphalism, in which errors are publicly ventilated in order to explore problems, in which people can express themselves honestly..."
On the day following its publication, however, the article was removed from the Cubarte website, causing whispered speculation among readers as to why it had vanished down the Memory Hole in the style of "1984," the famous novel by George Orwell which is banned in Cuba and, for this reason, one of most popular titles in the island's network of independent libraries.
By way of context, in July 2007 Raúl Castro approved a series of limited workplace debates on the subject of Cuba's failing economy, aiming to generate support for modest reforms which deviate from the Soviet model enacted decades ago by his ailing brother. But as Acosta noted in the now-vanished Cubarte article, "when you introduce change in one sector, it reverberates throughout the entire system." Instead of limiting their comments to economic matters, Cubans impatient for change have begun to broaden their complaints to forbidden topics such as censorship, free elections, independent trade unions and the ban on Internet access. At present only a small number of people, including the independent librarians, dare to voice dissenting views in public. But increasing numbers of Cubans, some of whom even use their real names, evade official censorship by e-mailing messages to foreign websites such as the Madrid-based Kaosenlared (http://www.kaosenlared.net/cuba), where lively debates take place regarding human rights, future reforms and the achievements and failures of the Cuban Revolution.
Four months after the disappearance of Eliades Acosta's interview (fortunately copied abroad before its early demise), questions are still being asked about his motives. In making an appeal for open debate and pluralist reforms, was he acting as an opportunist who merely went too far while implementing the new Party line? (See the article below, "Secret Memo: 'Invasion of the Library Snatchers,'" Dec. 12, 2007) Or, during the course of the long, one-sided battle he has waged with Cuba's brave independent librarians, has Acosta been quietly converted to their vision of a free society? The censorship of his interview offers evidence that another Cuba is possible and that Cubans, regardless of their views in the past, are capable of peaceful reconciliation and the realization of Jose Martí's long delayed dream of a free, sovereign and prosperous homeland, where everyone's right to freedom of expression is honored.
Printed below are translated excerpts from Eliades Acosta's interview :
"Cuban Intellectuals Support Revolutionary Changes," interview with Eliades Acosta by Isachi Fernández, November 29, 2007 (Cubarte)
Full Spanish text re-printed at: (http://www.kaosenlared.net/noticia.php?id_noticia=46585)
"One in a while it is healthy to re-think what has been done, to calibrate how society has evolved, because when you introduce change in one sector, it reverberates throughout the entire system."
"Criticism can help to resolve our problems, silence never solves anything. Given a choice, we should opt for criticism. We should leave behind this practice of silencing problems, which isn't always aimed at helping the Revolution but rather is aimed at protecting jobs or positions, accomodationist positions that are harmful to the ethical climate of a society."
"A kind of self-censorship syndrome was created in Cuba: 'I'm going to get into trouble if I talk about a sensitive subject;' 'To avoid problems, I'll just go along with the majority.' This has caused a very dangerous vacuum, and although society can grow economically [under these conditions], it decreases morally. Silences are are fatal in a society...."
"Raúl [Castro] himself... has told the people that this is the moment to discuss our problems... but what do we find? There is reluctance, there is inertia, the people aren't prepared [to engage in criticism] because many years have gone by and it is hard for them to overcome the psychological barrier. But if we read the press and also the great non-institutional press, e-mail messages, which are here to stay, we see that the people are participating. One notes the very healthy activation of the civic spirit in Cubans."
"We aspire to a society which openly speaks of its problems without fear, in which the news media report on life as it is, without triumphalism, in which errors are publicly ventilated in order to explore problems, in which people can express themselves honestly, where the economy functions, where public services function, where Cubans do not feel themselves to be second class citizens in their own country because of some measures that once were essential but are not obsolete or unsustainable, a society where there is much and varied information, with products of a high cultural level, where we can be in communication with the world in a natural manner..."
"We are in a moment which all Cuban society is crossing which requires a leap to another level. We are dealing with that moment of collapse and revolutionary transformation, which is dialectic. The world isn't going to come to an end because people make lots of complaints. There is a feeling of share disquiet which is temporary in the sense that the molds which imprison us are being broken and we are finding new expression for what we ourselves have created."
"There are many material problems relating to salaries and law which are like red lights, and they indicate a need for change."
"It is necessary for people to do a lot of listening in order to carry out these policies [leading to change.] The first step in making an honest decision concerning human beings is to know how to listen and to be humble; if you begin with this premise, the people will contribute, participate, and any errors [resulting from this process] will be minor."
Declared on Library of Congress by Venezuela
NEW YORK, April 10, 2008 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Historian Fernando Báez, appointed on April 1 as the director of Venezuela's National Library, has declared war on the Library of Congress.
In a speech delivered to staff of the National Library soon after taking office, Báez gave assurances he has a "blank check" from Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to launch a global campaign against the influence of the Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C. Under his leadership, declared Báez, Venezuela's National Library will "assume a leading role in Latin America and the world because the U.S. Library of Congress has been converted into one of history's greatest enemies of libraries."
In outlining his campaign against
the renowned Washington institution, Baez dismissed the Library of
Congress as a "dangerous influence" for allegedly sowing cultural imperialism
throughout the world.
In the process of shaping Venezuela's National Library into "the axis of a
struggle... against the cultural imperialism of the U.S.," said Báez, it will be
necessary to transform the role of Venezuela's librarians by means of a "a
social revolutionary commitment" consistent with "the extraordinary project
being carried out by Hugo Chávez."
A key part of Fernando Báez's plan is the establishment of numerous "popular and community libraries" in heavily populated areas of Venezuela. Báez visits Cuba frequently, and to some observers his effort to establish mini-libraries throughout Venezuela is similar to a confidential plan enacted by the Cuban government to eradicate and supplant the island nation's pioneering independent library movement, created in 1998 to challenge government control of information (see below: "Leaked Memo: 'Invasion of the Library Snatchers'")
In 2003 the repression of Cuba's independent libraries was stepped up, and a number of the volunteer librarians were sentenced to 20-year prison terms. All of them have been named as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, which is demanding their release. Following the 2003 library raids, entire library collections, including classics such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm," were burned by order of the Cuban courts.
At a time when President Chávez is silencing or shutting down
opposition newspapers and television stations, some critics suspect that
Venezuela's newly declared animosity toward the Library of Congress is actually
aimed at the Washington institution's World Digital Library, available to anyone
in the world with access to the Internet.
In response to Baez's declaration of hostilities, Matt Raymond of the Library of Congress stated: “The purposes of the World Digital Library are to promote international and inter-cultural understanding and awareness, to provide resources to educators, to expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet, and to contribute to scholarly research. Nations that share these goals will benefit from a remarkable body of knowledge that will be made available to people everywhere around the globe. It is Jeffersonian in its truest sense, and it is the antithesis of imperialism.”
ALA censoring guest speaker, critics say
NEW YORK, March 7, 2008 (Friends of Cuban
charge that comments by Anthony Lewis, a distinguished guest speaker at the
American Library Association's January conference in Philadelphia, are being
censored by the ALA. At a sold-out ALA conference event held at the National
Constitution Center on Jan. 14, Lewis spoke about his long career defending
civil liberties and his new book, "Freedom for the Thought That We Hate."
A notable feature of Anthony Lewis's speech was his call for the ALA to defend members of an independent library movement who are imprisoned in Cuba. In a challenge to government control of information, since 1998 volunteers in Cuba have opened more than 200 libraries offering public access to uncensored books. Following secret police raids and one-day trials, several of the librarians are serving 20-year jail terms. Cuban courts have ordered the burning of book collections seized from the independent librarians, including classics such as Orwell's "Animal Farm."
"I just urge you not to take that lightly," Anthony Lewis told his ALA audience. "I think there can't be anything worse than putting librarians in prison because of their being librarians and giving people books to read. So please don't ignore the issue. That's from my point of view, even if you don't like the librarians or you don't like Cuba or whatever it is you don't like, its 'freedom for the thought that we hate.'" In a question-and-answer period following his speech, Lewis added: "Cuban librarians who have been in prison are entitled to the utmost support from this organization."
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International PEN are demanding the release of the jailed library workers.
In contrast, the ALA has refused to condemn the repression of the Cuban librarians or the court-ordered burning of their books. Critics say the ALA, which often takes a stand on international issues concerning intellectual freedom, is guilty of hypocrisy on the Cuba issue. The critics assert that the ALA's "refusal to take meaningful action" on Cuba is due to the seizure of key ALA offices by a pro-Castro faction which refuses to condemn or even acknowledge the existence of censorship, library raids, book burning and a ban on Internet access in Cuba.
In post-conference coverage of the Philadelphia event, no ALA publication has mentioned Anthony Lewis's criticism of the library group's Cuba policy. Two ALA journalists were present at Anthony Lewis's Jan. 14 speech, and according to a witness they promised to report on Lewis's Cuba-related comments. But the only mention of Cuba in ALA publications since the conference has been a link in "AL Direct," the ALA's online magazine, to a reprint of a 2-year old article attacking Cuba's independent librarians and their defenders abroad. Critics question the accuracy of the article's author, John Pateman, who was awarded a medal by the Cuban government for his past denials of human rights violations on the island; Pateman also denies that the Khmer Rouge were responsible for mass killings in Cambodia.
In addition to Anthony Lewis at the January conference, other speakers at past ALA conferences have spoken out on the ALA's Cuba controversy. Andrei Codrescu, Ray Bradbury ( the author of "Fahrenheit 451") and Madeleine Albright have also used ALA conferences as a venue to call for an end to library repression in Cuba. But critics complain that "entrenched pro-Castro zealots" in the ALA have steadfastly ignored appeals on behalf of Cuba's embattled independent library movement.
"It is sadly ironic," said Robert Kent, a spokesperson for the Friends of Cuban Libraries, a support group for the jailed Cubans, "that zealots within the ALA, an organization which upholds opposition to censorship as its highest ideal, are suppressing comments made by Anthony Lewis at, of all places, an ALA conference. Sadder still, many rank-and-file ALA members are completely oblivious to this travesty of justice and the need to restore the ALA's damaged honor and integrity."
"Invasion of the Library Snatchers"
NEW YORK, Dec. 12, 2007 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Many fans of science fiction are familiar with a classic movie from the 1950's, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," involving a nefarious scheme by space aliens to take over a remote town by replacing the inhabitants, one by one, with cloned replicas.
But at the end of the film justice triumphs when the awakened townsfolk foil the plans of the alien evildoers. A variation on this theme, which could be entitled "Invasion of the Library Snatchers," is unwinding in Cuba.
Javier Gómez, a correspondent for the Madrid-based publication "Encuentro en la Red," has obtained details of a secret memo written by the island's Ministry of Culture, known as "MINCULT" in Cuba's Orwellian terminology. The memo outlines a plan to forcibly shut down branches of Cuba's thriving independent library movement and replace them with government-run clone libraries stocked with censored books. For understandable reasons, the MINCULT official who provided this information to Gómez wishes to remain anonymous.
The MINCULT memo calling for a "confrontation with the independent libraries" was devised at the urging of the newly-created cultural department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, headed by Eliades Acosta. Mr. Acosta is the former director of Havana's National Library, in which post he served as the spokesperson for the repression of Cuba's pioneering independent library movement, founded by volunteers in 1998 to offer public access to uncensored reading materials not available in the island's official library system. A heavy blow was struck against the indie libraries in 2003 when many of them were shut down during police raids. The detained librarians were sentenced to 20-year prison terms, and their library books were burned by court order. Additional indie libraries closed during this period when frightened directors bowed to government pressure to abandon their work.
But in recent years the movement has undergone a resurgence, resulting in the creation of more than 200 independent libraries. Javier Gómez was told by his MINCULT source that the Castro government is once again "worried by the spread of independent libraries throughout the country" and wants to intensify police raids against them to "replace every one of the independent libraries after they have been shut down." Funds for new books and electronic games have been appropriated to found a network of new government-run libraries and programs in the neighborhoods where indie libraries formerly existed.
"Statistics on the number of independent libraries now functioning in Cuba as well as details on the libraries already dismantled by the secret police, the names of their directors and even a listing of the books confiscated from them, are included in the document being discreetly circulated among government officials," emphasized the source. Internal memos written by MINCULT staffers in 2008 have focused on young people who are unemployed and not attending school, "a category which exactly describes the kind of people who patronize the independent libraries and encourage their growth," emphasized the anonymous MINCULT official.
"The pretext given for this plan by the government is the promotion of reading through innocuous-sounding programs with names like 'Let's Read More' and 'Friends of Reading Clubs,' said the source, "but the real purpose for orquestrating the plan is to counter the growing influence of the independent libraries."
Laura Bush meets Cuban librarians in video conference
NEW YORK, Nov. 28, 2007 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On
November 27 Laura Bush held a video conference with members of Cuba's
independent library movement. Since the founding of Cuba's independent library
movement in 1998, volunteers on the island have established more than 200
uncensored libraries in an innovative challenge to government control of
information. According to human rights monitors, the Cuban government has
responded to the free library movement with police raids, arrests,
confiscations, mob attacks, physical assaults and the court-ordered burning of
entire library collections. Several Cuban librarians arrested during a 2003
crackdown are serving 20-year prison terms. All of them have been adopted as
prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, which is calling for their
The Cuban librarians in Havana who conversed with Mrs. Bush by video conference on November 27 were Noelia Pedraza Jiménez, Roberto de Miranda, Iraida Rivas and Nereida Rodríguez. According to a White House statement, during the conversation Mrs. Bush "spoke of her admiration for the work of the independent librarians in Cuba who provide a source of uncensored information to their countrymen at great personal risk, and expressed solidarity with them and their cause."
A photo of Mrs. Bush during the video conference can be seen at: (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/11/images/20071127-3_p112707sc-0344-515h.html).
Laura Bush is the only First Lady who has chosen librarianship as her career. In April 2005 she was honored by the American Library Association for promoting reading and libraries. ALA president Carol Brey-Casiano praised Mrs. Bush as a "tireless supporter of libraries and library workers during her tenure in the White House.... Librarians and library users everywhere owe her thanks."
In contrast to Laura Bush, however, the ALA has declined to speak up in defense of Cuba's independent librarians or to acknowledge their persecution by the Castro government. Human rights groups such as The Friends of Cuban Libraries complain that key ALA offices are dominated by pro-Castro activists who ignore, deny and cover up library repression and documented book burning in Cuba. Critics of the ALA say the library association has "contemptuously ignored" appeals on behalf of Cuba's embattled independent librarians by human rights groups and celebrities such as Ray Bradbury (author of "Fahrenheit 451"), Vaclav Havel, Elena Bonner, Nat Hentoff, Andrei Codrescu and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Gisela Delgado and Héctor Palacios arrive in Spain, ordeal described
NEW YORK, Nov. 6, 2007 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Gisela Delgado and her husband, Héctor Palacios, have arrived in Spain on a 3-month medical pass. Ms. Delgado is the director of the Independent Libraries Project, the largest group of non-state libraries on the island. Her husband is a prominent dissident who was arrested in March 2003 during a police raid on their home, which also serves as the site of the Dulce María Loynaz Library. After a one-day trial, Héctor Palacios received a 25-year sentence and was named as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He was released early due to health problems arising from the harsh conditions endured during his imprisonment.
At the request of the Spanish government, the Cuban authorities have permitted the couple to leave the island so that Hector can receive medical treatment. They plan to return to the island when their 3-month permit expires, assuming they are allowed to do so by the Cuban regime.
Here is a portion of an article by Carlos Alberto Montaner, one of the first journalists to interview the couple after their arrival in Spain, describing Héctor's ordeal in prison:
"What did they do to him in prison? Héctor Palacios is 6 feet 3 inches tall, a corpulent man. For two years, he was kept in a metal-and-concrete box, 5 feet 4 inches high, 5 feet 10 inches long, and 4 feet wide. The cell, a kind of catafalque shaped like an igloo, built by the Russians in the 1960s, sits in the yard of a prison known as Kilo 5.5 in Pinar del Río province. It has no windows and the Cuban sun turns it into an oven. Héctor lived semi-recumbent and in semi-darkness. He lost 88 pounds. He breathed through the door slit. His company were the rats and the cockroaches that emerged from the hole into which he defecated. Eventually, he became indifferent to these vermin. In effect, he became indifferent to life and several times thought he was dying.
"Once a day, for a few minutes, his jailers ran a water hose inside, so he could drink and flush the unsanitary toilet hole. Héctor was able to mentally resist, because he is a psychologist and was prepared for that calvary. Physically, however, his organism shattered; the immobility, thirst and bad food destroyed his circulatory system. When he left that hell, he suffered from cardiac insufficiency and his weakened leg veins could barely pump blood. All the valves in his return circulation were damaged. When I saw him, I asked: 'Did you think you would pull through?' Without boasting, he answered something else: 'What's important is that they couldn't crush me.' I didn't know what to say."
Thirty books seized in Morón
MORÓN, Cuba, Oct. 10, 2007 (Félix Reyes Gutiérrez/ Cubanacán Press) - On October 7 the secret police seized about thirty books from the William Morgan Independent Library in Morón, Ciego de Avila Province. Celina Casadebal Carabeo, the mother of the Morgan Library's director, Rolando García Casadebal, said that at about 6:00 P.M. three members of the secret police, dressed in civilian clothing, appeared at the family's home at 102 Margarita Street in Morón, which also serves as the location of the independent library.
When the police, who refused to identify themselves, entered the house, they went to Rolando's room and confiscated about 30 library books. Among the seized titles were "How the Night Arrived" by Huber Matos and "The Cubans: A History of Cuba in One Lesson" by Carlos Alberto Montaner. They also confiscated volumes such as "Open Eyes," published by the independent libraries project, the manual of librarianship also produced by the library movement, and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Before leaving the house, the police agents warned Ms. Casadebal that her son would be arrested if he did not cease his dissident activities. The William Morgan Library was inaugurated in June 2006 and held about 300 volumes before the raid.
Nat Hentoff: Castro's useful idiots
D.C., March 4, 2007 (Nat Hentoff/Washington Times) - Although the American
Library Association proclaims its commitment to the "Freedom to Read"
everywhere, its leadership abandons Cuba's independent librarians whom Fidel
Castro had locked into his gulags, under brutal conditions, because of their
courageous insistence that the people of Cuba should also have the freedom to
read books the dictatorship has banned. A majority of the ALA's rank-and-file
members disagree with their leadership.
Among the many organizations demanding that Castro and his successors release these courageous Cubans -- who have opened their homes and libraries to offer books censored in the Cuban state libraries -- are such groups as the library associations of the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia and Poland. All these librarians, finally freed from communism, agree with their colleagues in the Polish Library Association, who say in their declaration: "The actions of the Cuban authorities relate to the worst traditions of repressing the freedom of thought and expression." Also calling for the liberation of Castro's many prisoners of conscience, including the librarians, are the Organization of American States, Amnesty International and Freedom
However, the top officials of the American Library Association -- as well as the majority of its Governing Council -- speak derisively of these "so-called librarians" in Castro's gulags.
It's true that these prisoners, many brutalized and in failing health,in their cells, don't have master's degrees in Library Science; but as poet-novelist-educator Andrei Codrescu told last year's ALA Midwinter Conference: "These people have been imprisoned for BEING librarians!" Why dismiss them "as 'so-called librarians' when clearly there is no one (in that dictatorship) to certify them." So bizarre is the ALA leadership (along with a cadre of Castro admirers on the Governing Council) in its abandonment of their fellow librarians that it refuses to post on its "Book Burning in the 21st Century" Web site the extensive, documented court transcripts of the "trials" that sent the librarians to prison. Those judges ordered the "incineration" of the prisoners' libraries, including works by Martin Luther King Jr. and George Orwell's "Animal Farm." But these sentencing documents are verified on the Web sites of Amnesty International, the organization of American States and Florida State University's Center for the
Advancement of Human Rights. Officials of the ALA -- conjuring up a fake conspiracy by the Bush administration to overthrow Castro by using the independent librarians -- disdain this verification of the book burnings. They insist, for example, that the Florida State University Web site is funded by grants from the U.S. government.
Yet, that Rule of Law and Cuba Web site project doesn't get a dime from the U.S. government. Says director Mark Schlakman: "We place a premium on our independence." Recently, I left a long, non-adversarial, detailed message for the president of the ALA, Leslie Burger, director of the Princeton, N.J., public library. I asked for her reasons and the ALA's for this refusal of support for the imprisoned librarians. (Some are in cage-like enclosures.) I have received no response from her; but, indicating she will not speak to me, Michael Dowling, director of ALA's International Relations Office, fielded my call by referring me to the ALA's 2004 expression of "deep concern" for Castro's prisoners, which carefully omitted any mention of the independent librarians among them.
But, acting out of "a moral obligation," the small Vermillion, S.D., public library has made the independent Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana a sister library -- sending books to it, including a collection of freedom writer Mark Twain. (Other libraries and readers around the world send books to the independent libraries.)
As for rank-and-file American librarians: In January 2006, American Libraries Direct -- an online newsletter of the ALA's own magazine, American Libraries -- published a poll of its members in which 70 percent answered "Yes" to the question: "Should ALA Council pass a resolution condemning the Cuban government for its imprisonment of dissident 'independent librarians?'" A key ALA official, Judith Krug, heads its office of Intellectual Freedom. In my many years of reporting on the ALA's sterling record of protecting American librarians from censorship, I often quoted her in admiration. But now, she said at an ALA meeting about supporters of the caged librarians, "I've dug in my heels... I refuse to be governed by people with an agenda." The Cuba issue, she continued, "wouldn't die," though she'd like to "drown it."
The agenda, Miss Krug, is freedom. "Every burned book," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "illuminates the world." But ALA's leadership refuses to bring light to the cages of these Cuban prisoners of conscience. The ALA's membership booklet proclaims "the public's right (everywhere) to explore in their libraries many points of view on all questions and issues facing them." An issue facing all members of the ALA is their leaders' shameful exception of the Cuban people's freedom to read.
Miami censorship opposed by Friends, Freadom
22, 2007 (Ketty Rodriguez/El Nuevo Herald) - National organizations that condemn
the "kidnapping" of the books Discovering Cultures, Cuba and Vamos a Cuba will
send a copy of each to the school library from which they were taken, along with
others which, according to them, will serve as a counterweight to the challenged
facts in the books being held by the Cuban exile organization in Miami.
The groups, Freadom and The Friends of Cuban Libraries, which defend libraries, human rights and intellectual freedom in
Cuba, strongly criticized the actions of the Committee of Concerned Cuban Parents of Miami (CCPP), which removed a copy of the books from the Norma Butler Bossard elementary school.
The CCPP has stated that it will keep the books in "a legal limbo," and it will not return them to the school.
At the same time, these organizations, which said they are not connected to political groups, want to replace the removed books and also contribute others, such as the latest book by Armando Valladares, Los Niños de Cuba, and the classic Animal Farm, by George Orwell, which criticize communism and [other] totalitarian systems.
"The best way to counter books considered objectionable is to offer library patrons access to books expressing diverse points of view, and in this manner the readers can examine the evidence and draw their own conclusions," affirmed [Robert Kent], a co-chair of the Friends of Cuban Libraries.
Nevertheless, the spokesperson for the Miami-Dade public school system, Felipe Noguera, noted that any person or organization that wants to add a book to the school libraries should follow established procedures.
"Just as no one should take away books without following the rules, neither can we permit the introduction of books without following the rules," declared Noguera.... In this respect, the two organizations that want to replace the texts assured the Nuevo Herald that they will comply with the established procedures.
"We will be pleased to follow the rules of the system to replace the books," assured Robert Kent, co-president of The Friends of Cuban Libraries, an entity which has its headquarters in New York.
The activist stated that he was "saddened" by the manner in which the CCPP removed the books, and he noted: "They are doing the same as the Castro regime."
On the other side, Kent explained that the efforts of some Cuban Americans who censor books found in school libraries are "distracting attention from the sad situation in Cuba, where the secret police attack [independent] libraries, burn thousands of books and condemn librarians to 20-year prison terms."
Emilio Izquierdo, of the CCPP stated: "Any action which doesn't result in the removal of lying books, which distorts reality and is used as a message of the enemy, constitutes a [political] maneuver." Also, Izquierdo urged other parents to go "into school libraries, to remove [challenged] books and to place them in a legal limbo."
The Freadom group will send a copy of Animal Farm, for which it gave assurance that it had been in contact with the librarian of the Norma Butler Bossard elementary school.
Nevertheless, Noguera indicated that although Animal Farm is a classic..., "it is not necessarily appropriate for the students of elementary schools."
Skold, and activist and librarian, stated that Animal Farm is a book "easily read and adequate for elementary school students," and that many primary schools in the U.S. have a copy of the book in their libraries.
"It is important for American children to know that in Cuba books like Animal Farm have been burned in recent years, and that no freedom exists there to protest the censorship imposed by the government," said Skold.
[Translated by The Friends of Cuban Libraries]
Open Letter: The ALA's Book Burning Scandal
NEW YORK, January 17, 2007 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -
Dear Ms. Burger: January 17, 2007
The midwinter meeting of the American Library Association in Seattle (Jan. 19-24) is the first conference at which you will serve as ALA president. The conference will also provide an opportunity to take decisive action to restore the ALA's principled role as an unbiased defender of intellectual freedom in the U.S. and around the world.
Since 1998 the ALA has been mired in a profound ethical crisis due to the efforts of a small, militant pro-Castro faction to ignore, deny, cover up, and lie about the systematic persecution of Cuba's independent library movement, an innovative challenge to government censorship which has opened hundreds of libraries offering public access to books reflecting all points of view. The Castro regime has responded to the independent library movement, founded by Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor, with an unceasing campaign of persecution. The ALA has now conducted three (3) official investigations of the cruelties being inflicted upon Cuba's volunteer librarians. All three (3) of the ALA investigations have been dominated by a small faction which has tried to ignore, cover up and lie about the repression of Cuban library workers, including the Castro regime's use of threats, mob attacks, secret police raids, 20-year prison terms and the court-ordered BURNING of thousands of library books.
During a meeting with a representative of the Friends of Cuban Libraries in June 2006, you were presented with information on Cuban sentencing documents proving the court-ordered burning of thousands of books seized from the independent librarians. As noted during the meeting, the existence of these damning documents, along with reports by Amnesty International and other reputable human rights groups which were based on these key documents, has been studiously ignored by the persons conducting the ALA's three (3) investigations of Cuba.
In their zeal to deny, ignore, cover up and lie about the repression in Cuba, the ALA's pro-Casto faction insists '''there is no censorship in Cuba," just as it contemptuously ignores appeals for justice on behalf of Cuba's independent librarians made by living icons of freedom such as Ray Bradbury, Nat Hentoff, Andrei Codrescu, Vaclav Havel and Madeleine Albright.
As pyres of burning library books have blazed more intensely in Cuba, as library workers are assaulted by government-directed mobs, and as reputable human rights groups such as Amnesty International vigorously condemn the persecution and demand the release of the jailed volunteer librarians, all three (3) of the ALA's fraudulent investigations have failed to condemn, or even acknowledge the existence of, these outrages. Instead, the ALA's three (3) investigations have limited themselves to brief and vague expressions of general concern, without even deigning to note the names of any of the Cuban library workers enduring life prison terms for the alleged crime of opposing censorship. Sadly, the well-intentioned but unfocused majority on the ALA governing Council has accepted, virtually without question, the fraudulent reports stage-managed by the ALA's pro-Castro faction, despite an ALA membership poll in which 76% of the respondents called on the ALA to condemn the repression in Cuba.
Ms. Burger, you did not create the book burning scandal in which the ALA has become embroiled, but as ALA president you now have not only an opportunity but a duty to put an end to this scandal. You did not create the current ALA policy toward Cuba, founded on lies and deception, but you are under no obligation to defend the ongoing cover up or to repeat the pro-Castro faction's lies as if they are the truth. On the contrary, you have not only a right but a duty to tell the truth and to defend victims of injustice. In the 1930's ALA members forthrightly condemned the Nazi regime for hurling thousands of library books into the flames, and we can do no less today when the Castro regime commits the same outrage.
Accordingly, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries respectfully ask you to use your authority as ALA president to restore the ALA's reputation as an honest, impartial and principled defender of intellectual freedom in the U.S. and the world. We specifically ask you to:
* Declare the paramount duty of the ALA to impartially defend intellectual freedom everywhere, with an emphasis on those nations where governments are committing the ultimate outrage of burning books and persecuting library workers,
* Remind the well-meaning but distracted majority on the governing ALA Council of their responsibility to safeguard the honesty of investigations conducted under ALA auspices,
* Order the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom to quit stalling and post on its anti-book burning website the Cuban court documents which ordered the burning of confiscated library books,
* Use the president's authority to re-focus the ALA's annual conference by mandating speakers, panel discussions and other events centered on book burning in the contemporary world,
* Organize an unbiased ALA committee which will restore the ALA's integrity by telling the truth about book burning, censorship, the repression of library workers, and the criminalization of computer ownership and Internet access in Cuba.
Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries
Photos: Librarians injured by mob
NEW YORK, Oct. 31, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -
On October 10 the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society (APSC), a dissident
organization in Cuba, began a series of meetings at independent libraries
affiliated with APSC. Cuba's award-winning independent library movement
challenges government control of information by offering public access to
uncensored books. The Friends of Cuban Libraries have received reports of a
major campaign launched by the Cuban government to prevent the APSC library
meetings from taking place. Actions to block the meetings have included threats,
interrogations, police raids, arrests, the confiscation of library collections
and acts of violence. Photographs of injuries inflicted on two people who
attended one of the library meetings have been published on the Internet:
Pictured in the photos are facial injuries inflicted on Orestes Suárez and his wife Nancy Suárez García, directors of the Diosdado Manrique Independent Library. According to news reports, on October 10 the couple attended an APSC library meeting held in Santa Clara at the house of Noelia Pedraza Jiménez. The house was besieged by a group of government supporters known as a "Rapid Response Brigade." The leader of the mob was Yormany Junco, a martial arts instructor. Rapid Response Brigades are government-organized mobs assigned the task of harassing and sometimes assaulting dissidents.
When the ten persons assembled at Noelia Pedraza Jiménez's house tried to leave at the end of the library meeting, they were attacked by the pro-government mob. Accompanied by several of their persecutors, Orestes and Nancy Suárez were forced into a taxi and driven to their home in Ranchuelo. During the taxi ride they were again assaulted by members of the Rapid Response Brigade, inflicting cuts and bruises on the victims. Orestes Suárez also suffered three cracked ribs. Upon arrival in Ranchuelo, members of the Rapid Response Brigade refused to allow Orestes and Nancy Suárez to leave their home or to receive medical attention. The photographs of their injuries were taken a week after the attack.
The October campaign launched against the APSC-sponsored meetings marks the first major offensive against Cuba's independent library movement since 2003, when numerous libraries were raided, thousands of books were seized or burned by court order, and about a dozen librarians were sentenced to 20-year prison terms. The independent librarians jailed during the 2003 crackdown have been named as Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International, which is calling for their immediate release. Cuba's innovative independent library movement also receives the support of Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, International PEN and Pax Christi. With the goal of providing public access to uncensored books, the first of a network of independent libraries was formed in Cuba in 1998 by Ramon Colás and Berta Mexidor. Despite ongoing harassment and persecution, hundreds of independent libraries have been established on the island.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: The Friends of Cuban Libraries are asking people around the world to express concern over the brutal attacks on Orestes Suárez and Nancy Suárez García. Please send messages protesting the repression of Cuba's independent librarians to Mr. Felipe Pérez Roque, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs. His e-mail address is: (firstname.lastname@example.org) with COPIES to (email@example.com) and (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(http://www.PayoLibre.com), Oct. 12, 2006
Swedish aid flows to Cuban libraries
STOCKHOLM, Sept. 11, 2006 (www.miscelaneasdecuba.net) -
Introduction: On Sept. 2 Erik Jennische, the secretary general of the Swedish
International Liberal Center (SILC), was interviewed on a cultural program
broadcast by Swedish National Radio. Much of the program dealt with SILC's
support for Cuba's independent library movement. Printed below are excerpts from
the interview, translated from the Spanish version published by Alexis Gainza,
editor of the online journal Miscelaneas de Cuba:
The power of literature consists of opening the eyes of people and making them aware of the situation in which they live. In totalitarian countries it is impossible to obtain uncensored books and magazines. For this reason, reading materials have to be brought into the country clandestinely. SILC, the Swedish International Liberal Center, dedicates itself to this purpose. SILC helps to send books to Cuba clandestinely. The secretary general of SILC is Erik Jennische....
Erik Jennische is showing me books written by [Cuban exiles]. For Cubans living on the island, it is in principle impossible to have access to them. The books are not necessarily of a political nature; they can be any type of literature, says Erik, and he believes the intention of these authors is not to criticize Cuba, but rather their goal is to freely describe the country and what is happening there. In Cuba there are two types of libraries: the [state-run] public ones and the illegal ones, free libraries, also known as independents. The books by authors whose works are sent to Cuba by SILC wind up on the shelves of the independent libararies. In the public libraries it is impossible to find works by authors who question the ideology of the Cuban regime, he says....
"The independent libraries in Cuba and our collaboration with them," says Erik Jennische, "began with a statement made by Fidel Castro at the Havana International Book Fair in 1998. He said that there are no prohibited books in Cuba, only a lack of money to buy them. We took him at his word.... We have plenty of books, and we send them to Cuba. We have gathered hundreds of books in Sweden through donations, and we have collected a lot of money to buy even more; we send them with tourists and other persons traveling to Cuba, who then deliver them to the independent libraries. The Cuba regime claims that it alone has the right to describe what is happening in Cuba. Only one version of the truth is allowed in Cuba, the image put forward by the regime, and it is this version which is being challenged by the dissident literature [supplied to the independent libraries]...."
The word "smuggler" isn't used very often these days. We say we are "supplying books," says Erik Jennische, who thinks "smuggling" is a crime, but that in a country like Cuba... there is nothing wrong with violating laws [which make it a crime to read uncensored books].
In principle, anyone can take books to Cuba. They make a telephone call to SILC, say they are traveling to the island, and then pick up between 15 and 20 books and magazines. They also receive a list of addresses indicating where the books can be delivered. Of course, one can run into problems in Customs. The Customs officials may ask why the books are being brought into the country and how they are going to be used; in such a case, one can reply that they will be given to a friend....
Interviewer: "I am very curious about this because I know that people going to Iran have hidden compact discs or other things of this kind; but you're talking about simply placing books in your suitcase and entering the country with them."
Jennische: "I believe that after tourism began to expand enormously in Cuba in the early 1990's, the Customs officials have been much less active, which means they are searching luggage less thoroughly...."
Interviewer: "What risks are run by the persons who clandestinely take books to Cuba?"
Jennische: "In my opinion, they run very little risk. Nevertheless, we can't say that there is no risk. In theory, for example, it could happen that the books are prevented from being allowed into the country. This is more likely when a person has traveled to Cuba many times. But until now no one has gone to jail for this reason, and no one has even been expelled from the island [for bringing in books]....
The independent libraries are in the houses of people who take on great risks. For example, they can be sentenced to 25 years in prison, their children can be denied entrance to a university, and their relatives can lose their jobs, says Erik. In the summer of 2003, a wave of arrests took place in Cuba in which 21 libraries were raided and 20 librarians were arrested, according to Erik Jennische.
"All of the books," says Erik, "from children's literature to dictionaries and political works, were carried away in large plastic bags. Many of the libraries were destroyed; and when scarce books are destroyed, especially when they have an important role in cultural life, when these are destroyed a kind of cultural assassination is taking place, which has a powerful symbolic impact in Europe, where there are persistent memories of books being thrown onto bonfires in Germany in the 1930's."
Interviewer: "The people who take books to Cuba: Are they smugglers or visionaries? What do you say?"
Jennische: "Of course they are visionaries. They are defending the vision that Cubans also have a right to read any book they want. This is primarily a visionary act."
An open letter to library associations
August 12, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -
The Secretary General of IFLA is inviting library associations to join FAIFE-L, the listserv of IFLA's intellectual freedom committee.
FAIFE-L is the main forum where IFLA members can read discussions of the resolutions on Cuba placed on the agenda of the IFLA 2006 conference in South Korea. Subscribing to FAIFE-L is one way for IFLA delegates to become well-informed on this important issue in preparation for deciding how to vote on the Cuba resolutions.
The organization of which I am co-chair, the Friends of Cuban Libraries, invites IFLA delegates to subscribe to FAIFE-L, and we would be pleased to answer your questions and comments regarding this important issue on the IFLA 2006 agenda. In 1999 IFLA/FAIFE published a report which documented and condemned the repression of Cuba's independent library movement. The report can be read at: (http://www.ifla.org/faife/faife/cubarepo.htm). Unfortunately, however, the FAIFE committee has had little to say on this issue since 1999, even though the repression of library workers and book burning have become more severe in Cuba since 2003.
The proposed IFLA resolution on Cuba sponsored by the Latvian Library Association concerns the persecution of the island's independent library movement and the court-ordered seizure or burning of thousands of library books.The Latvian resolution is based on two forms of evidence: (1) Reports by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, which has declared the jailed Cuban library workers to be prisoners of conscience, and (2) Cuban court documents on the one-day trials which sentenced the library workers to 20-year prison terms and ordered the seizure or burning of thousands of library books, including classics such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Cuban government is trying to ignore the existence of reports by respected human rights groups such as Amnesty International, just as it is trying to ignore the shocking Cuban court documents, removed from the island and published on the Internet (http://www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu) which prove, in the words of the government itself, that Cuban citizens are being imprisoned for the alleged crime of opening libraries to challenge censorship. The Cuban court documents also reveal that the Cuban government is ordering the confiscation and burning of thousands of library books. Despite the documentation of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the government's own court documents, the Cuban government claims that intellectual freedom already flourishes in Cuba and that the independent library movement is "a tool of the CIA." At the same time, the Cuban government is trying to ignore the moral and material aid sent to the independent libraries from countries all over the world. Instead, the Cuban government is focusing exclusively on aid openly sent to the independent libraries from the U.S., as if the desire of Cubans to read uncensored books is some kind of crime or conspiracy.
For translations of the Cuban court documents and reports by groups such as Amnesty International, please see the website of our organization: (http://www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org).
New wave of library raids in
NEW YORK, August 17, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - The Friends of Cuban Libraries have received information on a new wave of repression being directed against Cuba's independent library movement since early 2006. Juan Carlos González Leiva, a librarian, lawyer and human rights activist in Ciego de Avila, provided information on the heightened repression to the Independent Libraries Project, directed by Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor.
According to a preliminary report issued by the Independent Libraries Project, Mr. González Leiva states that since early 2006 "the Cuban government... has been carrying out a wave of violent and arbitrary raids on independent libraries and peaceful dissidents throughout Cuba. On repeated occasions, these raids have been conducted by paramilitary mobs during 'acts of repudiation' and at other times by the combined forces of the National Revolutionary Police and the State Security police."
Cuba's independent library movement, founded in 1998, challenges government control of information by opening libraries offering public access to uncensored books. In addition to loaning books, the nationwide network of independent libraries, operating out of private homes, offer public space for uncensored classes, debates, art exhibits, video programs, literary contests and children's programs. The volunteers who staff the libraries have been the target of harassment, threats, raids, assaults, confiscations and arrests.
In a major crackdown against Cuban dissidents in 2003, about ten of the librarians were arrested, subjected to one-day trials and sentenced to 20-year prison terms. According to trial documents taken off the island and published on the Internet, many of the library books seized during the 2003 raids, including classics such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm," were ordered to be burned. The jailed Cuban librarians have been adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, which is demanding their immediate and unconditional release.
In the preliminary report issued by the Independent Libraries Project on the new wave of repression begun in early 2006, details of raids on thirteen independent libraries are presented. Among these incidents was a mob invasion of the library operated by Dr. Arturo Pérez Gómez in Cienfuegos, resulting in vandalism of the library's interior and the confiscation of more than 200 books, many dealing with the subject of medicine. Another raid was reportedly conducted on February 23 against the El Mayor Library in Camagüey. During this incident numerous books were confiscated and the library director, Eduardo González Vásquez, was arrested and held in a darkened, unventilated cell before being sentenced on March 10 to a term of two years under house arrest.
Other institutions reportedly raided in 2006 include the Abraham Lincoln and José de la Luz y Caballero Libraries in Camagüey, the Ernest Hemingway Library on Isla de Juventud, the Félix Varela, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Calixto García Iñiguez and Gastón Baquero Libraries in Holguín, and the Guillermo Cabrera Infante Library in Ciego de Avila.
Library visitor threatened by police
HOLGUIN, Cuba, August 11, 2006 (Liannis Meriño Aguilera, www.cubanet.org) - One of the patrons who visits the Gastón Baquero Independent Library, located in the city of Banes, was intercepted by the police on August 5, according to the library director, Martha Díaz Rondón.
The officials asked the patron for his identity card and made a note of it; they told the library visitor that this information would be sent to the chief of his zone of residence, so that an official warning would be issued, and that he would be prosecuted for the crime of "social dangerousness" if he continues visiting the library.
The Gastón Baquero Library is well-established in the community, and a large number of people visit it to find reliable and uncensored information, but the secret police send agents to harass people visiting the library.
Cuba's independent libraries have developed into a source of information for members of the civil society. In the libraries readers can enjoy literature without restrictions or censorship, and for this reason the government confiscates their books and uses repressive measures to try to prevent people from visiting them.
The library director, Ms. Díaz Rondón, stated that this isn't the first time such intimidation has occurred. On previous occasions readers have been photographed and videotaped while entering and leaving the library. She said this is a maneuver used by the secret police to prevent people in Banes from accessing this kind of information; the police intimidate patrons in an effort to prevent them from returning to the library.
Díaz Rondón declared: "The Gastón Baquero Library is located at 2007 Céspedes Street, between Cárdenas Avenue and General Marrero St., in the city of Banes, and it will continue offering services to the public whether the current government likes it or not."
Cuba attacks Albright for ALA
NEW YORK, July 2, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - The June 30 issue of Librinsula, a weekly magazine published in Havana, contains an article by Cuban National Library director Eliades Acosta attacking Madeleine Albright for a speech she delivered on June 24 at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. Acosta serves as Cuba's spokesperson on library issues.
In her speech at the New Orleans conference, former Secretary of State Albright called on libraries to be "laboratories for freedom" and defended the right of Cubans to loan books and to open independent libraries free of government control.
Some observers believe Albright's June 24 comments implicitly criticized the ALA for failing to condemn the Castro government's repression of a citizens' movement to establish libraries offering public access to uncensored books. Many of the independent libraries founded in Cuba have been raided by the secret police. According to Cuban court documents, the existence of which has not been acknowledged in ALA reports on the situation, among the library books seized and ordered to be burned in Cuba are classics such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. About a dozen of the Cuban librarians, condemned to 20-year prison terms, have been named as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
Critics of the ALA, such as the Friends of Cuban Libraries organization, charge that the ALA's governing Council has inattentively approved reports by ALA committees, allegedly controlled by a pro-Castro faction, which ignore library repression and book burning in Cuba. Some ALA members accuse the independent librarians of being agents of the CIA.
When Madeleine Albright ("this bitter and elegant woman") presented her speech at the library conference in New Orleans, Acosta reported, she spoke "with a scornful grimace, in the style of Betty Davis" [sic], which the author reports she had acquired during her term as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, before being named Secretary of State by President Bill Clinton.
Albright's speech before the ALA, Acosta charged, was intended to "convince American librarians, traditionally friendly toward their Cuban colleagues, that they should 'convert their institutions into laboratories for freedom.'" While discounting Albright's criticism of the Bush administration, dismissed by Acosta as "a hypocritical fig leaf designed by Versace," the author said Albright then "launched directly toward her objective: a call to support the misnamed 'independent libraries', a delicious euphemism with which the CIA has denominated this particular version, in the Imperial style, of the battle of ideas [to overthrow the Castro government.]"
Acosta also charged Albright with a commercial motive for delivering her speech at the ALA conference in New Orleans: "Waving her pedigree as an anti-Communist Czech emigre, Ms. Albright concluded her performance by making astute propaganda for her latest book [on religion and politics] before an audience which has, among its other functions, precisely the task of acquiring books.... I leave it to the readers' sagacity," continued Eliades Acosta, "to imagine the manner in which this pious personage concluded her speech, elevating her eyes toward heaven, as if her well-coifed head, the pride of Washington hair stylists, were surrounded by the divine splendor of a halo, exactly as appears in the paintings of El Greco."
"Ms. Albright failed to achieve her objective," concluded Eliades Acosta, which was allegedly "to poison relations between Cuban and American librarians, despite having employed all of her histrionic skills in the New Orleans theater. There was no change whatsoever made in the traditional position of the ALA toward Cuba." Outside of the hall where Albright delivered her speech, Acosta noted approvingly, members of the ALA's "Radical Reference" group handed out leaflets denouncing the Clinton Administration's ex-Secretary of State as a war criminal.
Following Albright's keynote speech, ALA Councilor Mark Rosenzweig, formerly the librarian for the U.S. Communist Party, demanded that the ALA screen potential speakers to eliminate critics of the association's Cuba policy. Romanian-born author Andrei Codrescu, an invited speaker at the last ALA conference, held in San Antonio in January, had used his speech to challenge the ALA's alleged complicity in the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians.
"Internet Police" revealed in video
NEW YORK, June 1, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -A video filmed at Cuba's University of Information Sciences has revealed a crisis within the elite being trained to administer the island's high-tech industry, including the branch of the security police which tries to suppress access to the World Wide Web. The secret video, filmed on Feb. 18 and designated for restricted viewing among the island's ruling elite, was smuggled out of Cuba and placed on the Internet by La Nueva Cuba, an electronic journal critical of the Castro government. The 58-minute long Spanish language video, entitled "Necessary Point of Reflection," can be seen at: (http://lanuevacuba.com/video_Ucien_info_asp/guerra_cibernetica.wmv).
The video shows a panel consisting of the University's rector, Melchor Felix Gill, and three student leaders, including the head of the local Communist Youth organization, lecturing an assembly of students and faculty. The panel members sternly denounce "serious violations" of university regulations: large numbers of students and faculty members have been detected surfing the Internet, distributing passwords allowing other persons to access the World Wide Web, e-mailing people outside of Cuba without authorization, and setting up clandestine chat rooms. These "serious security violations" are a breach of Cuban laws which outlaw access to the Internet and the possession of unlicensed computers, except for a small number of persons considered trustworthy by the regime.
The secret video contradicts public claims by the Cuban government that the Internet is readily accessible to all Cuban citizens. Many nations devote resources to censoring or blocking individual websites, but the Castro regime is one of the few governments which tries to completely ban all access to the World Wide Web, except for a privileged few. Foreign tourists are allowed to surf the World Wide Web at a few Internet cafes, to which the average Cuban is denied entrance, but the tourists are charged six dollars per hour or more for this privilege. Cuba has been named among the world's "Ten Worst Enemies of the Internet" by Reporters Without Borders.
In addition to criminalizing access to the Internet, Cuba also persecutes a group of volunteers who have opened uncensored libraries throughout the island in an innovative challenge to government control of information. A number of Cuba's independent librarians, now serving 20-year sentences following one-day trials, have been adopted as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which is demanding their immediate release. Thousands of books seized from the independent librarians, including classics such as George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, have been burned by the secret police in Cuba. The American Library Association has been criticized for allegedly failing to defend the Cuban librarians from persecution.
In the video smuggled out of Cuba, the offending students and faculty at Havana's prestigious University of Information Sciences are accused of using their expertise and government-supplied equipment to circumvent the information security laws they are being trained to enforce. The regime is especially alarmed by the fact that these alleged crimes are being committed by the students of an elite university, who are subjected to intense scrutiny by the State Security police before admission; 80% of the students at the University of Information Sciences are members of the Communist Youth organization.
In the course of the video, as the camera scans members of the audience whose facial expressions range from impassivity to defiance, the students and faculty are rwarned that they are banned from surfing the Internet outside of supervised classroom exercises. Details on the cases of four students expelled for breaking the rules, complete with mug shots, are highlighted by the panel members. The assembled students and faculty are told that new legislation will make such security breaches punishable by prison terms of up to five years, and they are urged to serve as informers against any colleagues who commit "crimes" such as surfing the World Wide Web outside of class.
Cuba rebukes Gorman, makes "Dracula" charge against Codrescu
NEW YORK, March 19, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - The March 17, 2006, issue of "Librinsula," the weekly online publication of Havana's National Library, published a lengthy attack against Andrei Codrescu for challenging Michael Gorman over the ALA's Cuba policy. In the first of a connected series of articles, Librinsula republished a scathing Wall Street Journal editorial (Feb. 10) which cited Codrescu's San Antonio speech as evidence of the ALA's hypocrisy in claiming to be a principled defender of freedom. Librinsula praised Gorman's indignant response to the WSJ editorial but, in the process, gently rebukes him for referring to Cuba's independent librarians as dissident librarians. Gorman's error in terminology was a violation of the ALA party line which (in the case of Cuba, unlike other countries) studiously ignores the repression of Cuban library workers on the grounds that they do not have university degrees.
Below is a translation of excerpts from Librinsula's mild rebuke of Gorman, followed by its attack on Andrei ("Dracula") Codrescu and the Friends of Cuban Libraries:
THE ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICAN LIBRARIANS (ALA), CUBA AND THE FRIENDS OF KENT (Librinsula, March 17):
During the past month of February, this bulletin published a re-print of the response of the current President of the American Library Association to a malicious report by Robert Kent celebrating the insulting attitude of the Romanian writer Andrei Codrescu, his new acolyte.
Also in February, [an editorial] appeared in the Wall Street Journal which continues the campaign against the ALA. Unfortunately, in his honest effort to cleanse the image of the Association [in his response to the WSJ], Mr. Gorman, while defending the just and professional posture of the ALA, together with the rest of the world community of librarians affirmed in the 2001 Resolution on Cuba at Boston, mistakenly errs in his argument and seems to accept that [the independent librarians] are Cuban librarians, and not false librarians who represent the political agenda of the U.S. against Cuba, for which they receive salaries. In doing so, he [Gorman] contradicts what was expressed in his letter to Kent, where he states that merely loaning out books does not make a person a librarian: "Mr. Codrescu seems to share the curious illusion that everyone who loans a book to another person is a 'librarian.' Few others do."
"...INDEPENDENT" LIBRARIANS: From the country of Dracula, support for agent Robert Kent
by Jean Guy Allard
CIA collaborator Robert Kent, the inventor of the tiny group "Friends of Cuban Libraries" which is dedicated to disinforming library organizations on the theme of Cuba, has been assigned a new helper. Pursuing his plan of associating himself with Eastern Europeans to attack Cuban socialism, the obsessive New Yorker has carried out his latest operation against the American Library Association (ALA) in the company of the North American poet of Romanian origin Andrei Codrescu.
This individual is the third pseudo-Eastern European recruited by Kent in accordance with his fixed idea of creating a parallel between Eastern Europe and Cuba at any cost, a maneuver that doubtlessly corresponds to a strategy of the anti-Cuban think tank that maintains its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the Central Intelligence Agency. Codrescu is, in fact, the name chosen one day by the Romanian Andrei Perlmutter when he created a new image. A Jew by birth and religion, he judged it convenient - for some reason that only he knows - to eliminate the family name that associated him with his community. He chose another one that identifies him with the nation where he was born, on the 20th of December, 1946, in Sibiu, located in Transylvania, a region famous for a personage whom he is always pleased to refer to: Dracula.
As an adolescent, Perlmutter/Codrescu is already in disagreement with the political regime of his country, which he left in 1965, at 19 years of age, to go to Italy and France, where he tried to establish himself without success before crossing the Atlantic to discover his new homeland. To better set the scene, we remember that it is in 1965, the year of his departure, that Nicholas Ceaucescu will arrive at the leadership of Romania.
In the U.S., where he appears in 1966, the young Codrescu begins his immersion by attaching himself, in New York, to Allen Ginsberg and his crowd, who were then fashionable in the East Village. Then he uses, for the first time, a fictitious identity to publish some poems that are characterized as mediocre. He signs them [using the name] Maria Pardfenie and he will continue using women's names before his ultimate transformation. In fact, it is not his literary exploits that will make the Romanian exile known in the U.S., but rather a program on National Public Radio (NPR) entitled All Things Considered by which he creates a certain fame. Andrei Codrescu will always use to his benefit his status as an "emigre from a communist country" to seek a clientele in a nation where McCarthyism has apparently indestructible roots. He will obtain U.S. nationality in 1981.
It is undoubtedly his virulent anti-communism that procured him opportunities such as his present position as a university professor at the University of New Orleans, despite the fact that he never graduated from an institution of that level. And this explains his presence at the side of a personage like Robert Kent, the itinerant agent of the "Friends of Cuban Libraries."
Two missions in particular have illustrated the political trajectory of Codrescu. In December 1989 the poet-commentator is assigned the task of observing from inside the changes that occurred in Romania. The book that results from this pilgrimage, "The Hole in the Flag," is received with a flood of criticism, especially for the numerous chronological and geographical errors that it contains.
In 1998 he stages a relapse after visiting Havana with "Ay, Cuba: A Socio-Erotic Journey," a rather repugnant work which details his fascination with adolescents. Codrescu, who doesn't even speak three words of Spanish, visited the Island for twelve days to write a text full of contempt and, once again, foolish comments.
MILLIONS FOR THE DIRTY WAR
The U.S. annually spends tens of millions of dollars of the taxpayers' money to attack Cuba. The administration that abandoned the black population of New Orleans is the same one that maintains a costly propaganda apparatus, from the South of Florida, to damage the image of the Island. In executing his campaigns, Kent claims to possess mysterious "support" from Eastern Europe. At the last world Congress of librarians, in Oslo, it became known that a "Czech Connection" which Kent wanted to utilize was composed of a North American military intelligence agent of Czech origin, "Stanley" or "Stan" Kalkus, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1951... The Eastern European connection, of which Kent boasted on various opportunities, is composed of additional personalities such as Silvia Stasselova of the Technical University of Slovakia....
Another Eastern European pal of agent Kent in his anti-Cuban adventures and misadventures is Wojciech Siemaszkiewicz, a Pole from Cracow who was a professional "dissident" in his time. A colleague of Kent at the New York Public Library, he lives in New Jersey, where he is known for extreme right-wing proselytizing. In that state close to New York he tried in 2001 to obtain the Republican candidacy for the Senate. He failed.
The complete Spanish text of the Librinsula article may be found at: (http://www.bnjm.cu/librinsula/2006/marzo/115/dossier/dossier201.htm).
Friends respond to Gorman's "defamation" charge
NEW YORK, Feb. 8, 2006 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -
Dear Mr. Gorman: Feb. 8, 2006
Thank you for your letter of January 27 regarding The Friends of Cuban Libraries' report on Andrei Codrescu's speech at the ALA conference in San Antonio. Your response to our numerous attempts to communicate, belated as it is, offers added proof that the effort by a small extremist faction within the ALA to deceive, cover up and lie about the systematic persecution of Cuba's independent librarians, and the burning of their library collections, is finally unraveling. Your letter is an indirect acknowledgement that the ALA is beginning to repair and reclaim its proud heritage as an impartial defender of intellectual freedom as a universal human right.
> Your "report..." is entirely typical of your many utterances in
> the past and of the behavior of your friend Mr. Codrescu. That > is, it is tendentious, riddled with inaccuracies, defamatory, and > motivated by the kind of foaming right wingery that is, alas, all > too common in political discourse these days.
If Andrei Codrescu and The Friends of Cuban Libraries have engaged in defamation, then a lawsuit is called for. Although I am not a lawyer, to a layperson telling the truth would seem to be poor grounds for a successful defamation lawsuit.
"Every burned book enlightens the world," wrote Emerson, and thanks to the intervention of "foaming right-wingers" such as Andrei Codrescu, Nat Hentoff and Ray Bradbury, at long last the thousands of Cuban library books seized or burned by Castro's secret police are beginning to enlighten the general public, including the well-meaning but inattentive majority on the governing ALA Council who until recently have accepted the assurances of "experts" on extremist-dominated ALA committees that nothing of interest is happening in Cuba. We all know what the public would have thought of fluent German-speaking "researchers" who visited Berlin in the 1930's and proclaimed that they could find no evidence of repression or censorship in Nazi Germany. Did you really believe, Mr. Gorman, that the public would not catch on to the ALA's Spanish-speaking "researchers" who visit Havana and try, with a straight face, to make similar claims about the Communist regime in Cuba?
And, in addition to Andrei Codrescu, Nat Hentoff and Ray Bradbury, let's not forget other "foaming right-wingers" such as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Cornel West and Howard Zinn who have also spoken out against the repression of Cuban dissidents, including the independent librarians now serving life sentences for daring to open uncensored libraries in an historic challenge to a totalitarian regime. All of the librarians convicted after Castro's 2003 crackdown have been adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and other renowned organizations, which is just another of the inconvenient facts systematically ignored or covered up by extremist-dominated ALA committees in their fraudulent "investigations" of Cuba.
> I am old-fashioned enough to think that it is both
> rude and devious to accept an invitation to speak on a topic and > use the opportunity to attack your host (ALA).
Is it really rude to inform one's host that his/her house is on fire? On the contrary: ignoring, lying about and covering up the truth about the rising flames in a host's house would be the true outrage. Nor is it inappropriate to inform ALA members, including the well-meaning but inattentive majority on the governing ALA Council, that they have been deceived by a small, scheming faction of extremists who are trying to destroy the ethical basis of the ALA.
> I have not "repeatedly dodged" questions about Cuba. I have not > chosen to answer your fulminations but, then, I would have no > time for my many other duties if I were to engage in
> correspondence with every half-wit and crackpot who
> communicates with me.
This passage in your letter requires an explanation for the uninformed reader. In October 2005 the Friends of Cuban Libraries issued an emergency report about Victor Rolando Arroyo, a jailed Cuban reporter and independent librarian who was near death due to a hunger strike called to protest prison conditions. Victor, the director of the Reyes Magos Library in western Cuba, was arrested in March 2003 and the 6,000 volumes in the Reyes Magos Library were confiscated by the secret police. After a one-day trial, Victor Rolando Arroyo was sentenced to a 20-year prison term. When his life was in danger because of a hunger strike, we made a public appeal to you, Mr. Gorman, hoping that you would compassionately agree to help save the life of a fellow human being, regardless of his beliefs, real or perceived. Sadly, our hopes were misplaced, as you repeatedly refused to respond to our letters or to make any effort whatsoever to save Victor's life. Fortunately, Victor's life was saved thanks to the intervention of several human rights organizations. Did you act in this way because Victor, too, should be scorned as a "foaming right-winger?" One of the charges made against Victor during his one-day trial was that he had been awarded the Hellman-Hammett Prize, issued by Human Rights Watch to honor victims of repression. The award is named for Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, two more "foaming right-wingers" harassed for their beliefs during the McCarthy era in the U.S.
> Mr. Codrescu seems to share your curious delusion that
> everyone who lends another person a book is a "librarian." Few > others do.
Mr. Gorman, efforts to ignore the facts by taking refuge in semantic quibbling are beginning to fail. It is irrelevant whether a library worker has a library degree or not, as shown by the ALA's championing of Eliades Acosta, the despicable director of Havana's National Library who serves as Castro's spokesperson for the persecution of the independent librarians. Mr. Acosta does not have a library degree, just as many ALA members and the U.S. Librarian of Congress also lack a library degree. It can never be a crime to oppose censorship or to open a library, with or without a university degree, no matter what the ALA's extremist minority may claim to the contrary. The same goes for nonsensical claims that Cuba's independent libraries are somehow not real libraries, even though the ALA's own mandate defends the legitimacy of "all libraries." Is there some aspect of the phrase "all libraries," Mr. Gorman, which is ambiguous? And just as the ALA extremists claim, or pretend to claim, that a library worker is not a library worker and a library is not a library, will they also dare to claim that a book is not a book, just because it is held by an independent library in Cuba? Or can we safely scorn and disregard the existence of a pile of ashes that used to be a book, as has been the fate of thousands of library books seized by the secret police in Cuba?
In summary, Mr. Gorman, the long "reign of error" enjoyed by the ALA's extremist minority is beginning to collapse. In growing numbers, ALA members realize that they have been deceived. We are confident that the majority of well-meaning ALA Council members will now begin to pay overdue attention to this important subject and, acting in a principled and impartial manner, restore the ALA's ethical basis by supporting Cuba's brave independent librarians and their historic defense of intellectual freedom. We also hope that you, after re-assessing the facts, will disavow the elaborate lies and cover ups of the extremists by siding with the vast majority of ALA members who support truth and justice.
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries
U.S. librarians fail to speak out for oppressed peers
SAN ANTONIO , Feb. 1, 2006 (Jonathan Gurwitz/San Antonio Express-News) - Michael Gorman, the president of the American Library Association, was mugged recently in San Antonio. Gorman was in town for the ALA's annual midwinter meeting.
Ordinarily, I would be horrified to hear that a visitor to this fair city had been the victim of such a misdeed. But in this case, it's the ALA that's committing the crime and the truth that fittingly mugged Gorman.
At the ALA's President's Program on Jan. 22, Romanian-born author Andrei Codrescu delivered the keynote address about the importance of books, libraries and librarians.... I was born in a place [Romania] where people were forbidden to read most of what we consider the fundamental books of Western civilization," he told the audience.....
Codrescu spoke about the librarian who changed his life — Dr. Martin, a retired professor who had managed to accumulate a collection of works blacklisted by the communist authorities. "Books forbidden by an authoritarian government are the only reason I am now standing before you," he said.
Codrescu recounted how, in those dark days in Romania, the ALA — along with the ACLU and the Helsinki Federation for Human Rights — offered a beacon of hope for democracy and freedom. Then, by President Gorman's lights, Codrescu's speech turned down a criminal path.
Codrescu recounted the plight of independent librarians in Cuba....
The risks to the librarians were and are real. Human rights groups have deplored the imprisonment of scores of librarians in Cuba's gulag. Amnesty International calls them prisoners of conscience. As early as 1999, the International Federation of Library Associations, based in Denmark, called on the Cuban government to "put an end to the intimidation of the Independent Libraries in Cuba."
Yet the leadership of the ALA, basking in freedom 90 miles away in the United States, has refused to this day to defend their librarian colleagues. Investigations by the ALA have found no conclusive evidence for repression of intellectual freedom in Cuba, no marauded libraries and no imprisoned librarians....
Codrescu, in his speech in San Antonio, chided the ALA. "Am I hallucinating? Is this the same American Library Association that stands against censorship and for freedom of expression everywhere? This organization cannot logically ignore imprisonment and torture of librarians — act against provision 215 of the Patriot Act and approve of Fidel Castro's order 88, which denies all the rights we cherish."
The Library Journal reports the speech "earned strong, if not unanimous applause." It also reports on Gorman's criminal indictment of Codrescu: "I was mugged. He did not deliver the speech he told us 10 days earlier that he would deliver."
"Several librarians congratulated me on saying what needs to be said — kind of whispering congratulations," Codrescu told me in his thick accent. "They should be in solidarity with librarians in Cuba. Cuba is Romania in 1968. Actually, it's worse off, more dictatorial, more of a police state."
There are certainly victims in this story, but Gorman is not one of them. The trespass and the travesty here is that the ALA, under his leadership, has refused to defend the imprisoned Cuban librarians.
ALA convention shocker: Keynote speaker Codrescu slams Cuba policy scandal
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, January 22, 2006 (Andrei Codrescu) - Here
are excerpts from Andrei Codrescu's electrifying keynote speech, "The Make It or
Break It Century," presented at the ALA's Midwinter 2006 conference:
Thank you for – once again - giving me the opportunity and pleasure to address some of my favorite people. I feel that you and I, writers and librarians, along with publishers and booksellers, are keeping the flame of literacy flickering in these pixilated times.....
I was born in a place [Romania] where people were forbidden to read most of what we consider the fundamental books of Western civilization. Not only were we forbidden to read authors like James Joyce, but being found in possession of a book such as George Orwell’s “1984” could lend one in prison for years. My good luck was to meet Dr. Martin in my adolescence. Dr. Martin was a retired professor who had collected and kept in his modest three room apartment the best of inter-war Romanian literature..... Also among his treasures were translations of Sigmund Freud, Robert Musil, Klebnikov, George Orwell, and Paul Claudel..... Dr. Martin’s library could have earned him years of hard labor. In addition to owning them, he lent them to us, young high-school writers, who absorbed them thirstily and read them deeply because we knew what risks our older friend – and ourselves - were taking. Those books influenced me profoundly because they were essential to my intellectual development. I became a writer because I read forbidden books. Books forbidden by an authoritarian government are the only reason I am now standing before you.
I knew about the American Library Association for a long time.... The ALA fight for the freedom to read, against censorship and the Patriot Act has been one of its magnificent accomplishments. Another has been the promotion of human rights and intellectual freedom worldwide. To quote from the ALA policy manual, “freedom of expression is an inalienable human right, necessary to self-government, vital to the resistance to oppression, crucial to the cause of justice, and further, that the principles of freedom of expression should be applied to libraries and librarians throughout the world.”
Given these crystal-clear positions, it was with a great deal of dismay that I learned that the American Library Association has taken no action to condemn the imprisonment of librarians, the banning of books, the repression of expression and the torture of dissidents only 90 miles away from our shores, in Cuba. In March 1998, two residents of Las Tunas, Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor, opened a private library in their home, dedicated to offering Cubans books not officially available. The Félix Varela Library was the first of a network of private libraries that were established by volunteers in Cuba to bring light to the oppressive darkness of Castro’s police state. 103 libraries and 182,000 registered patrons were affiliated with the expanding Independent Libraries Project by the end of 2002. From the very beginning of their existence, the private librarians were subjected to threats, harassment, evictions, arrests, police raids, and the seizure of book collections, books that disappeared so quickly they could have only been burned..... Since then, those “individuals” have been subject to brutal imprisonment and their books have been disappeared. The ALA councilors have remained silent on the issue to this day. Am I
hallucinating? Is this the same American Library Association that stands against censorship and for freedom of expression everywhere? There are some people like the civil liberties columnist Nat Hentoff, and Robert Kent, founder of Friends of Cuban Libraries, who have accused the ALA leadership of a cover-up. I hope not. This organization cannot logically... act against provision
215 of the Patriot Act and approve of Fidel Castro’s order 88, which denies all the rights we cherish.
I went to Cuba in 1997, just before a papal visit later that year, and I was appalled by the lack of books. I was reminded of my poor, sad Romania in the 1950's, a dismal prison where food for body and mind were nearly inexistent. Cubans were literally starving physically and intellectually. Looking through the desultory pages of the Communist Party’s official paper, Granma, reminded me also of the pathetic simulacra of phony writing that stained the pages of Romania’s official papers during the years of the dictatorship.... Cuba today is the Romania of my growing up and I only hope for the sake of the Cubans that a hundred thousand Dr. Martins are ready to rise to take the place of those who had been arrested and tortured by the Cuban regime. I also hope that, in keeping with its tradition and charter of defending the freedom to read and freedom of expression, the American Library Association will immediately pass a resolution condemning the Castro regime for flagrant violations of basic human rights. To not do so is self-defeating and wipes out any credibility the ALA might have in fighting the much milder provisions of the Patriot Act. Not to speak of the fact that it’s much easier to fight for freedom to read in a country where every book is available, while it is much more difficult to make meaningful a statement in a place where books are an enemy of the state.....
Labor library confiscated
HAVANA, Dec. 14, 2005 (Víctor Manuel Domínguez, Lux Info Press
/ www.cubanet.org) - Last Saturday the secret police confiscated approximately
300 books, a typewriter and documents belonging to the Cuban National
Confederation of Independent Workers (CONIC) in the city of Bayamo, according to
telephone reports phoned in from Granma Province.
Francisco Juan Benítez Reyes and Gabriel Díaz Sánchez, provincial delegates of CONIC, reported that the raid occurred at about 8:30 A.M., with the goal of preventing the celebration of International Human Rights Day in the homes of various trade union activists.
The labor library located in the home of Yoandris Montoya Avilés, located at 217 Raúl Gómez García St., Bayamo, was confiscated. Among the seized library materials were books on politics, society, trade unions, labor issues, and pamphlets and manuals published by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization.
According to the CONIC delegate, the illegal seizure of books, documents and other materials was accompanied by threats of imprisonment and "acts of repudiation," such as those carried out in front of labor organizers' houses by government-directed mobs on the eve of International Human Rights Day, which is commemorated every 10th of December....
"We will obtain multiple copies of the books that were confiscated," declared Gabriel Díaz Sánchez. "We will acquire a better quality typewriter, and independent trade unions will flourish in Granma Province with a degree of success beyond the wildest expectations of the authorities of this country who want to make us disappear."
Cuba, Iran lash out
at Internet freedom
TUNIS, Tunisia, Nov. 18, 2005 (Declan McCullagh/CNET Networks, Inc.) - Cuba, Iran and African governments lashed out at the U.S. government this week, charging that the Internet permits too much free speech and that the way it is managed must be reformed immediately.
The U.S. and other Western nations "insist on being world policemen on the management of the Internet," Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who has been the country's leader since 1987, said at a United Nations information society summit here.
"Those who have supported nihilistic and disorderly freedom of expression are beginning to see the fruits" of their efforts, Mugabe said, adding that Zimbabwe will be "challenging the bully-boy mentality that has driven the unipolar world...."
"Fidel Castro, the unflinching promoter of the use of new technologies," believes "it is necessary to create a multinational democratic (institution) which administers this network of networks," said the WSIS delegate from Cuba.
In Cuba, only people with government permission can access the Internet, owning computer equipment is prohibited, and online writers have been imprisoned, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based free speech watchdog group.
Too often, the Internet is used for the "propagation of falsehoods," said Mohammad Soleymani, Iran's minister of communication and information technology....
Two libraries raided, librarian sentenced for "dangerousness"
HAVANA, Oct. 27, 2005 (Assembly to Promote a Civil Society) - At 7:05 A.M. on Oct. 26, three members of the political police arrived at the house of Pedro Castellanos, located at 7504 64th Avenue in the city of Cienfuegos. Pedro Castellanos is a member of the national directorate of the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society (APSC, initials in Spanish). The police detachment consisted of a captain and two young women, dressed in police uniforms. They presented a search warrant and were accompanied by two official witnesses.
During the search they confiscated 130 books, which made up the collection of the José Antonio García Tablada Independent Library. They said the books were subversive. They also seized two radios and a fax machine, and they tried to to take an asthma inhaler belonging to the wife of Pedro Castellanos.
When this operation was over, they moved on to the house of another member of the national directorate of the APSC, Dr. Arturo Pedro Hernández, who is also the head of the Health Commission of the Civil Assembly. They arrived at his house at 10:00 A.M. in police car #414F, driven by a sergeant in an olive green uniform. They were accompanied by two official witnesses, both of whom are members of the block committees known as the Committees to Defend the Revolution.
On this occasion they seized 162 books belonging to the Félix Várela Independent Library. Also 46 magazines, a box of uncataloged newspapers and paperbacks, medicines, a radio, a fax machine, a photo album and a package of loose photographs. They also confiscated 25 issues of Vitral magazine (edited by the Catholic Church in Pinar del Río province) and an undetermined number of issues of Pasos magazine, edited by the church in Cienfuegos. Among the seized books were some purchased at the Havana Book Fair, sponsored by the government.
Dr. Hernández asked them why they didn't take his Bible, too, to which they answered: "What for?" He told them: "So God may forgive you."
The Assembly to Promote a Civil Society would like to make note of the fact that, as stated during its meeting of May 20, 2005, the first nationwide congress of independent libraries is scheduled to be held during the first half of 2006.
In other news, the Oct. 12 issue of Carta de Cuba magazine reported that Pedro González Acosta, a delegate of the Máximo Gómez Civic Movement and director of the Martin Luther King Independent Library, located in the town of San Juan y Martínez, Pinar del Rio province, has been sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of "dangerousness." González was arrested by agents of the State Security police and accused of mounting anti-government posters. The posters criticized the Castro regime and it policies. However, sources told Carta de Cuba that the posters were used as an excuse to cover up the real reason for the arrest of Pedro González, which is to break up the independent library movement.
Saving a life: Open letter to ALA president
NEW YORK, Oct. 20, 2005 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -
Dear Mr. Gorman:
October 20, 2005
On October 3 I made a telephone call to your office to request support for saving the life of an imprisoned Cuban librarian, Victor Rolando Arroyo, who was near death as a result of a prolonged hunger strike. The receptionist who answered the telephone was informed of the emergency nature of the call, and she tried without success to put the call through. But she did say you had promised to return my emergency telephone call.
Sadly, as of today, no return telephone call has been received. This effort to save the life of Victor Rolando Arroyo followed upon an earlier message sent to your e-mail address on September 27. The e-mail message did not receive an answer either.
In March 2003 the Reyes Magos Library, of which Mr. Arroyo is the director, was raided by the Cuban security police, and he was arrested. According to secret government documents smuggled off the island and published on the Internet, the contents of which the ALA refuses to even acknowledge, Cuban courts ordered the confiscation or burning of thousands of library books during the 2003 crackdown on the island's independent librarians. In a similar pattern dating to 1998, when Cuba's innovative free library movement was founded, the persecution of the independent librarians has been systematically denied, ignored and covered up by a group of extremists within the ALA who dominate key committees. Among them are the International Relations Committee and the Intellectual Freedom Committee. This dereliction of duty continues due to ongoing inattention on the part of the well-meaning but complacent majority on the ALA's governing Council, which declines to examine the distorted investigative reports on Cuba issued by extremist-dominated ALA committees, upon which ALA policy is based.
Victor Rolando Arroyo, along with other independent Cuban librarians, is now serving a 20-year jail term and has been named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. In a pattern which is now familiar, the ALA has refused to protest, or even acknowledge the existence of, the Castro regime's ongoing persecution of Cuban citizens for the alleged crime of founding a network of uncensored libraries to challenge government control of information.
Fortunately, thanks to appeals issued by respected human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, the Cuban government finally took measures to save the life of Victor Rolando Arroyo.
We in the Friends of Cuban Libraries would appreciate learning why, as president of the American Library Association, you have not responded to appeals to help save the life of Victor Rolando Arroyo, and why the ALA continues to ignore the Cuban government's bookburning and persecution of librarians.
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries
Oslo: Secret documents inspire librarians' revolt on Cuba policy
NEW YORK, August 10, 2005 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - As librarians from around the world gather in Oslo for the August 14 opening of the annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), a controversy is erupting over Eastern European demands for a resolution condemning the reported persecution of librarians in Cuba.
Since 1998, approximately 200 libraries, independent of government control, have opened across the island nation. The goal of the volunteers opening the libraries is to offer public access to uncensored books. In addition to loaning books not available in government-run institutions, Cuba's independent libraries also provide space for art exhibits, classes, children's programs and uncensored public debates. The librarians complain that they are being persecuted for opposing censorship, while the Cuban government accuses them of being paid agents of the U.S. whose real goal is to overthrow the Castro regime.
In 2003 the government raided a number of independent libraries and sentenced some of the volunteer librarians to twenty year prison terms. The librarians arrested during the 2003 crackdown have been named as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which is demanding their immediate release. Publicity surrounding this issue increased following a June 27 statement made in Chicago by Ray Bradbury, the renowned author of the novel "Fahrenheit 451." Bradbury denounced what he termed the repression of the independent librarians and demanded that President Fidel Castro release the ones now serving prison terms.
The Cuban issue has ignited a controversy within the normally placid world of librarians. In 1999 Cuba's official library delegation protested an IFLA report which condemned the repression of the independent librarians. The dispute within IFLA has grown more intense following the publication on the Internet of secret court documents from the 2003 trials of the Cuban librarians (http://www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu). The court papers reveal that Cuban prosecutors accused some of the defendants of founding libraries containing "subversive" materials, such as books by George Orwell and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After sentencing the independent librarians to lengthy prison terms, the judges ordered the secret burning of thousands of books confiscated from the libraries.
Some Eastern European delegates to the Oslo library conference, concerned by what they regard as IFLA's inaction on Cuba in recent years, are calling for the library association to pass a resolution condemning repression on the island. As the world's librarians gather in Oslo for the opening of the conference, the mood of revolt was expressed in an August 4 statement by the Estonian Library Association, which declared: "Estonian librarians join other Eastern European librarians in support of the independent library movement in Cuba and... protest against the persecution and repression of independent librarians by the anti-democratic [Castro] regime."
Ray Bradbury warned of bookburning cover-up in Chicago
NEW YORK, June 20, 2005 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - As Ray Bradbury, the renowned author of Fahrenheit 451, prepares for a live video interview on June 27 at the Chicago conference of the American Library Association, he is being warned of a reported effort within the ALA to cover up bookburning and the repression of librarians in Cuba. The warning to Ray Bradbury is being issued by the Friends of Cuban Libraries, a support group for volunteer librarians who have opened more than 200 independent libraries throughout Cuba in a direct challenge to the Castro government's system of censorship.
"It would be sadly ironic," stated Radames Suarez, a member of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, "if the author of Fahrenheit 451 takes part in an interview at the ALA conference without knowing that key positions in the ALA have been taken over by an extremist faction that is covering up the Castro regime's raids on libraries, the sentencing of Cuban librarians to life imprisonment, and the seizure and burning of thousands of library books."
The subject of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's famous novel, is a tyrannical government's effort to systematically burn all of a nation's books. But this destruction is thwarted by members of a resistance group who preserve the books by memorizing their contents before they are burned.
In 2003 the government of Fidel Castro conducted a crackdown of dissidents, including members of Cuba's independent library movement. According to leaked Cuban court documents, among the independent library books seized and burned following raids by the secret police were classics such as George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, a biography of Martin Luther King, and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All of the Cuban librarians arrested in the 2003 crackdown have been named as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which is demanding their immediate release. Human Rights Watch, International PEN and Reporters Without Borders are also calling for the release of the jailed Cuban librarians.
The Friends of Cuban Libraries complain that a small extremist faction within the ALA is responsible for the association's refusal to call for the release of the imprisoned librarians or to condemn the raids on Cuban libraries and the burning of their books. "The large majority of the members of the ALA's governing Council are honorable people," declared Radames Suarez, "but they have been naively manipulated by a small extremist faction to vote for resolutions which refuse to recognize the existence in Cuba of censorship, massive bookburning, or the persecution of the island's courageous independent librarians. There is an urgent need for Ray Bradbury to be informed of this shocking cover-up before he speaks at the ALA conference on June 27."
Polish librarians add Cuba to IFLA agenda
WARSAW, June 5, 2005 (Polish Librarians Association)-
RESOLUTION OF THE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF DELEGATES
OF THE POLISH LIBRARIANS ASSOCIATION
Participants of the National Congress of Delegates of the Polish Librarians Association, who have deliberated on June 4-5, 2005, in Warsaw:
* express their protest against the persecution of Cuban librarians, who organize independent libraries,
* demand the release from prison of fellow librarians and the remaining individuals acting for the cause of freedom of expression, intellectual freedom and unlimited access to the intellectual accomplishments of humanity,
* appeal to other library organizations, as well as IFLA, to join efforts in the defense of Cuba's independent librarians and in supporting the formation of independent libraries in Cuba.
Translated by Marta Sobieszek
of being "dangerous"
NEW YORK, May 6, 2005 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Sensitive to growing international concern over reports of human rights violations, in late April the government of President Fidel Castro conducted a secret trial of two Cuban librarians, Elio Enrique Chávez and Luis Elio de la Paz, and sentenced them to prison on a charge of "dangerousness."
The two librarians from eastern Cuba are registered delegates to the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society, a conference of more than 300 non-governmental organizations scheduled to convene in Havana on May 20. If the Civil Assembly takes place, it will be the first nationwide public meeting of non-governmental organizations held in Cuba since the establishment of the Castro regime in 1959. Alarmed by the prospect of this unprecedented challenge to its authority, the government is using threats and arrests to prevent the Civil Assembly from taking place and is pressuring member organizations to revoke their support for the gathering.
The hundreds of organizations planning to meet in Havana for the Civil Assembly are regarded as illegal by the Cuban regime, which refuses to recognize the existence of civic groups outside of its control. Among the associations planning to attend the May 20 conference are several networks of independent libraries, organized throughout the island since 1998 in an innovative project to offer public access to uncensored books. Elio Enrique Chávez is the director of the 20th of May Library, and his cousin Luis Elio de la Paz is the director of the 10th of October Library. Cuba's independent librarians are being persecuted, and more than a dozen librarians arrested in a massive 2003 roundup have been adopted as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which is demanding their immediate release.
In a letter smuggled out of jail, Elio Enrique Chávez and Luis Elio de la Paz provided details to the Executive Committee of the Civil Assembly about their recent trial:
"Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Gómez Vásquez Allen ordered us to be taken out of our cell for an interview," states the letter from the two librarians, "telling us that the trial was on a charge of Dangerousness ("peligrosidad"), that we were going to be convicted and we could say whatever we wanted, but the jury wasn't going to pay attention to anything we said."
A bizarre aspect of this affair, offering additional proof of the regime's sensitivity to adverse publicity regarding its efforts to suppress the Civil Assembly, is the fact that the police told the defendants that their prison terms would be publicized as a government work/study program rather than a form of punishment: "[The colonel said] it would be made known that we are not prisoners, that it [i.e., their prison sentence] was a work/study program of the Revolution; we told him we did not agree, that we weren't going to work or study but that they were sentencing us for our political position and they were violating our rights to Freedom. He told us the police had nothing to do with this and that the officials there had agreed to it, that is to say the trial was the work of Lt. Colonel Vásquez and his gang."
"The jury went ahead and obeyed them," continues the letter from Chávez and de la Paz. "We consider this to be a humiliation and blackmail against the two of us, but we are not going to work for the regime of a decrepit old despot and liar; we're going to serve our sentence behind bars."
After being convicted of "dangerousness," Elio Enrique Chávez and Luis Elio de la Paz were sentenced, respectively, to two and three years in prison. They are being detained in a police station in Manzanillo, Granma Province, awaiting transfer to the national prison system. According to the Executive Committee of the Civil Assembly, "This case demonstrates that Fidel Castro and his regime are employing all their resources and methods to frustrate the preparations and ultimately prevent the General Meeting of the Assembly to Promote the Civil Society in Cuba on May 20th. We are calling the attention of international organizations and the international community in general to the risks facing participants in the Assembly."
Further information about the Civil Assembly, in Spanish, can be found at: (www.asambleasociedadcivilcuba.info).
Che Guevara's grandson endorses uncensored libraries
STOCKHOLM, April 26, 2005 (www.cubanuestra.nu) -
[Introduction: Below is an excerpt translated from Cuba Nuestra, an
online publication based in Sweden. The article ("Exploring the Ditch: A
Libertarian Response to Celia Hart") is by Canek Sánchez Guevara, a grandson of
Che Guevara who has left Cuba and now lives in Mexico. In yet another sign of
the emergence of a civil society within Cuba, Canek Sánchez Guevara has
decisively broken with the Castro regime and has adopted anarchist/libertarian
In this article he is responding to comments by Celia Hart, the daughter of two other high-ranking officials in the Cuban government. Celia Hart had emphasized the need for President Castro to embrace a broader range of supporters on the left, including Trotskyists and anarchists, as long as they profess loyalty to the Communist Party; both groups were persecuted when President Castro seized power in 1959. In criticizing Celia Hart, Che Guevara's grandson expresses an anarchist/libertarian viewpoint on the need for greater freedom of expression and association for the people of Cuba, including an endorsement of uncensored libraries].
Exploring the "Ditch:" A Libertarian Response to Celia Hart
by Canek Sánchez Guevara
We have read with amusement, curiousity and interest your letter regarding my April 5 interview with La Jornada (a Mexican newspaper).... You say you are seeking and perhaps constructing a leftist option, a leftist option for Cuba. We tell you, then, that your concern is shared by us and a great number of people.... But, definitely, what we can't share is your affirmation that "to the left of Fidel lies the ditch...."
The "ditch" is the absence of freedom, equality and solidarity
Ultimately, a leftist alternative for Cuba should emphasize with strength and determination the problem of the most basic freedoms.... Because, tell us: How would a socialist project of construction be affected by the fact that 12 million Cubans - among other prerogatives which can be imagined - had the possibility of expressing, arranging and organizing themselves in the forms that seem best to them? We reproduce one of your comments: "All of the young people who are now asking political questions, the ones worth listening to, are always on the left, anarchists or Trotskyists, etc. But ALL of them are revolutionaries [i.e., supporters of the Communist Party]...." Do you know, or do you not know, that these revolutionaries [in present-day Cuba] don't have a right to open a library to the public, to broadcast a radio program, to hold meetings without permission, to have their own newspaper or to freely defend their viewpoints within trade unions or within groups focused on young people, neighborhood activism, gender, environmentalism, etc.? These things require a degree of freedom which today is nonexistent and which calls for, not the intervention of the State, but rather autonomous authority; they require nothing more or less than the socially guaranteed possibility of every collective group, however they may define themselves - as long as they don't violate the liberty of others - to set their own rules. You enjoy a privileged position, Celia, and you must have noticed the obsession [in Castro's Cuba] with surveillance, control, repression, etc. And freedom is something entirely different.
A leftist option for all Cubans
Demilitarization, individual responsibility, basic freedoms: three minimum elements and three roads to follow in order to construct a leftist alternative in Cuba, and to involve within it not the current ruling elite but rather all the people of Cuba.
New library defies censorship
HAVANA, March 2, 2005 (Roberto Santana Rodríguez /
www.cubanet.org) - The Ibrahim Carrillo Fernández Independent Library, sponsored
by the Independent Teachers College of Cuba, was inaugurated last week in the
home of the peaceful dissident Ramona Rivas; the address is Building 25,
Apartment 13, between 412 and 418, Guanabo, East Havana, stated Marcos de
Miranda, president of the institution's support group.
"The library collection focuses on trade union materials, although it also
has books on other subjects, such as children's literature. We propose to
contribute especially to the education of independent trade union members and other dissidents in the surrounding community," explained Miranda.
According to Miranda, one day before the inauguration of the library an agent of the State Security police appeared at the house and asked why the library possesses children's books, and he said they should be withdrawn. Ramona Rivas answered that the books would not be withdrawn because they are much needed by the children in the community. The agent said he would come back again.
"This library joins the others that already exist in the nationwide network
belonging to the Independent Teachers College of Cuba. In spite of repression by the authorities, the work of the College is moving forward," concluded Miranda.
Benjamin Franklin Library
HAVANA, Feb. 28, 2005 (Lux Info Press/www.cubanet.org) - Two officials of the Department of State Security, identifying themselves as Ahmed and Frank, appeared at the home of María Elena Mir, in Guanabo, East Havana, where the Helen Martinez Independent Library is located, of which Ms. Mir is the director; they seized several boxes of books, copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 25 portable radios.
Afterwards, the same officials went to the home of Professor Reinaldo Cosano Alén, where the Benjamin Franklin Independent Library is located, also in Guanabo, and they confiscated books and a photocopier....
María Elena Mir and Cosano Alén agree that although the behavior of the
officials was polite, and they even asked pardon for their actions, conducted late at night, they behaved in an authoritarian manner in carrying out this repressive act: they were using silk gloves to repress independent thought in Cuba.
The materials confiscated from the independent libraries were donations from the people and government of the United States.
Times: A Cuban revolution, in reading
NEW YORK, Feb. 22, 2005 (New York Times/David Gonzalez) - With all the shirts adorned with the solemn face of the Argentine-born revolutionary Che Guevara being sold in the city's souvenir shops, one would think he had once adopted New York and not Cuba as his home. That thought - not to mention that face - puzzles some Latins in Manhattan whose families had no choice but to leave Havana after the Cuban revolution.
More than 45 years later, these exiles are still here, Fidel Castro is still there, and Che is all over as fashion statement. But a group of these Cuban-Americans - whose politics range from liberal to conservative - decided to make their own statement. At the beginning of this year, members of the Cuban Cultural Center, an arts group that usually sponsors exhibitions and concerts, adopted an independent library in Cuba.
They chose one in Las Tunas, Cuba, the Felix Varela Independent Library, which is named for a Cuban priest famous for his work for immigrants and the Roman Catholic church in Lower Manhattan in the 1800's. The library itself, like some 100 others that have been founded since 1998, offers Cubans an alternative to the official media or state-run libraries. They carry newspapers and magazines from around the world or books considered taboo by the regime - like "Animal Farm" by George Orwell.
"I know firsthand what it is not having something interesting to read," said the jazz saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, who left Cuba in 1980 and who voted to adopt the library. "I know what it is like to have to hide to read something that the government calls subversive."
Almost two years ago, about 11 independent librarians in Cuba were among 75 dissidents, journalists and others arrested and given prison sentences of up to 28 years for essentially collaborating with enemies of the state. Most are still in jail, despite an international outcry.
Although New York is home to magnificent libraries, world-class publishers and fierce champions of free expression, the cultural center is the only group in the city so far to adopt an independent library. They hope their action will send a dual message.
"It's not just about sending whatever books we can, but we want the people in Cuba to know they are not alone and that someone here recognizes what they are going through," said Rafael Pi Roman, an anchor on Channel 13 who belongs to the cultural group. "The dilemma is, we are doing this in a city where people have too often seen Fidel Castro as a romantic figure."
The main advocate for the independent libraries is Robert Kent, a reference librarian at the New York Public Library (whose gift shop drew exile protests last year for selling watches emblazoned with Che's face). He visited Cuba often in the 1990's, and began taking books there, ultimately with the aid of some exile organizations. His work recently led the Cuban government to accuse him of being "Roberto X," a spy conspiring to assassinate a high-ranking official.
"I'm still trying to figure out who's cashing all my C.I.A. paychecks," he said jokingly.
He is earnest, however, in insisting that librarians must defend intellectual freedom or risk tarring their reputation. He and his supporters hope to persuade members of the American Library Association, a national group whose members issued a statement last year that expressed "deep concern" over the dissident arrests as well as over the United States embargo against the island. While the group said the reasons for and conditions of the dissidents' detention should be fully investigated by human rights investigators, it did not urge the dissidents' immediate release.
"You don't throw people in the slammer for expressing ideas," said John W. Berry, the chair of the A.L.A.'s international relations committee. "In this case it was complicated by Cuban law and the notion that some of the dissidents were accused of accepting money and material from the U.S. government in an effort that, in the Cuban government's mind, was seen as undermining their government."
Mark Rosenzweig, a library association member who directs the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, an archive of Communist Party documents, said those arrested were political partisans in cahoots with the United States government.
"These people were caught up in an unfortunate affair set up by the regime change experts in the United States," said Mr. Rosenzweig, whose archive is in the same West 23rd Street building as the Communist Party USA. "I can't say they got what they deserved, but they ended up violating the laws of the Cuban state. They were tried in trials which to the best of my knowledge conformed to the principles of Cuban legality."
Human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - which for years have been denied entry into Cuba - have no doubts about what happened in 2003 and have repeatedly called for the release of people they consider prisoners of conscience. But they know that any criticism they make of the Cuban regime will be countered by praise for Cuba's gains in health and education.
"Cuba continues to violate the fundamental civil and political rights of a good many of its citizens," said William F. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Yet there is considerable ambivalence about Cuban political prisoners in general from those who are often traditionally advocates for human rights victims."
The members of the Cuban Cultural Center have encountered those attitudes. Pablo Medina said that until recent years he faced a frustrating response at the New School University, where he teaches creative writing. "The attitude there, a place which is traditionally known as a neo-Marxist enclave, was a reticence to look at the Cuban question," he said. "It was difficult to open people's eyes or get anyone to listen to you."
He said the arrival of former Senator Bob Kerrey as university president in 2001 signaled a shift at the college, which in the 1930's became a haven for European scholars fleeing totalitarian regimes.
"The response from others used to be 'I don't know what is happening' or that economically the Cuban people were better off," Mr. Medina said. "But after the dissident arrests in 2003, I got a call from Kerrey asking what he could do. So we gave the University in Exile Award to five Cuban dissidents."
Some members of the cultural group think that as more people in traditionally liberal circles begin to see what is happening in Cuba's dissident movement, they will realize that the idea of opposition to Mr. Castro goes far beyond old stereotypes of right-wing tropical exiles screaming for the cameras. The group itself is nonpartisan, and its members range from liberal to conservative.
"I have no idea what the politics are of anybody is in this room," Mr. Pi Roman said. "But none of us would say there should be human rights for Cuba but not for those people who are on the other side. None of us would have supported apartheid. One thing is sure: There is no hypocrisy. If you are for human rights for some, you have to be for human rights for all."
Freedom To Read! - A new movement to send a caravan of uncensored books to
the people of Cuba
NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2005 (Village Voice/Nat Hentoff) - There are individual American librarians who have written letters to Fidel Castro, asking him to release the dissenters he has sentenced to 20 years and more in his gulag. By now, among those imprisoned are more than a dozen independent librarians.
In a story by Kevin Sullivan in the February 14, 2004, Washington Post, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported that about half of these prisoners are in " 'punishment cells' about three feet wide and six feet long, have no windows, little ventilation, and no running water. Prisoners are subjected to extreme heat in the summer and year-round infestation by insects and rats."
The letters to Castro from American librarians—who cannot understand why their national governing [ALA] council has abandoned their fellow librarians in Cuba—have not been answered. And, as reported here last week, only one U.S. public library, in Vermillion, South Dakota, has sponsored and begun to send books to a sister independent library in Havana. That decision has been hailed by library associations in other countries.
This reverberating act of simple decency was started by one person, Mark Wetmore, vice president of the Vermillion library's board of trustees. Wetmore tells me that his impetus for bringing freedom to read to Cuba came from reading my columns here on Castro's brutish repression. But it was Wetmore who actually did something that has brought increased international attention to those prisoners in the three-foot-wide and six-foot-long cells.
Jack Powell, a fellow trustee of the Vermillion library, told the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: "[Mark] kept us on task during all our discussions, kept coming back to the fact that the issue of freedom of access to information was the core concern. As a board, we're happy to be collectively doing this, and we hope other libraries will follow our lead."
Says Wetmore, who shows that one person can begin to strike back at a dictator: "It diminishes all our libraries a little if we know that there are people being persecuted for trying to operate free, uncensored ones and we don't try to do something about it." (Emphasis added.)
Wetmore keeps on keeping on. He has now written a guide, Sponsoring an Independent Cuban Library, that lays out "the steps a library board in this country" can take to join this freedom caravan. In it he tells, with specificity, how the Vermillion Public Library learned how to do it—and much more, including how to ship books to Cuba, and what it costs. (Librarians in other countries have been adding to the shelves of the independent libraries since the Castro crackdown....)
His guide begins: "As a board, trustees should educate themselves on the issues involved.... Trustees need to discuss sponsorship thoroughly among themselves, and with the library director. Unanimity isn't necessary at the beginning of the discussion, only a willingness to consider sponsorship and what it stands for. At least one trustee needs to take the initiative to bring information to the board and keep the discussion alive to the point of a definitive decision . . .
"The Cuban independent libraries exist in a narrow, fluctuating space between government repression and toleration for the sake of international public relations. The Cuban government does seem to care what the world thinks and to some extent is susceptible to world opinion. (Emphasis added.)
"Primary goals can be first, to provide one-on-one, personal moral support and solidarity to the brave people running an independent Cuban library; and second, to add to the movement in this country to follow many European cities and library organizations in demanding freedom for jailed Cuban librarians and freedom for all intellectual pursuits in Cuba....
Enthusiastically supporting the Vermillion Public Library is Anna Maulina, president of the Library Association of Latvia, in Riga. Speaking for "Eastern Europeans who have experienced Communism," she says: "I hope that the time will come for Cuba to become a real isle of freedom where free song will flow over free valleys, where no librarian or any other person will be arrested for disseminating information...."
Czechs join protest against library repression
NEW YORK, Jan. 19, 2005 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) -
Following upon similar recent actions taken by organizations in Poland and
Latvia, the national association of Czech librarians has condemned the
persecution of librarians in Cuba. Since 1998, approximately 250 independent
libraries have been established throughout Cuba in an innovative challenge to
government control of information. Many of the uncensored libraries have been
raided by the Cuban secret police, their books have been seized or burned, and
about 15 of the independent librarians are serving prison terms of up to 26
years. All of the jailed librarians have been named as prisoners of conscience
by Amnesty International, which is demanding their immediate release.
In a January 18 letter to the Cuban embassy in Prague, the chairperson of the Czech librarians' association, Vit Richter, noted that Czech librarians have "acquainted themselves with the reports on repression of the persons in Cuba that developed librarian activities independent of official library structures." Richter's letter to the Cuban embassy stressed the need for Cuba to respect intellectual freedom, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The letter from the Czech organization also presented a list of the librarians jailed in Cuba and stated: "We, together with other members of [the] international public, ask the Government of Cuba to set free the following persons, jailed for their librarian activities...."
The Cuban government has not responded to this latest sign of mounting international revulsion against the systematic repression of Cuba's independent library movement. Similar recent protests by organizations of Polish and Latvian librarians have been met with angry invective on the part of President Fidel Castro's government. The Polish resolution against the repression of Cuban librarians was condemned by the Castro regime as a "vile defamatory campaign" and an attempt to "deceive the international library community." A similar protest issued by the Library Association of Latvia was denounced by the Cuban government as a maneuver of the CIA.
LIBRARIAN RELEASED: "We're not going to retreat a single millimeter..."
[Introduction: Miguel Sigler Amaya is an active dissident and the director of the General Pedro Betancourt Independent Library in Matanzas province, Cuba. Miguel was released from prison on Jan. 11 after serving a 26-month prison term. Two of Miguel's brothers, Guido and Ariel, remain in prison. Among the charges made against the brothers is that they had collected "subversive books" for the Betancourt Library].
MATANZAS, Jan. 13, 2005 (www.PayoLibre.com) - "We're not going to retreat a single millimeter, and they know it." These are the words of Miguel Sigler Amaya on Jan. 12, one day after being freed from prison upon completion of a sentence for "disrespect" and "resistance..." [Below is a transcript of Sigler Amaya's statement after being released from prison:]
"Although they told me I would be freed in the morning, it wasn't until 8 at night that they let me out, with my family outside, waiting all that time with the children. That was cruel, but they received the response they deserved, because as I was leaving the prison I told them [i.e., the guards] 'Long live human rights!' and that our struggle was beginning again as of today.
"I got out of prison in good spirits.... Those two years served to strengthen my ideas, my principles and my dignity. Believe me, I feel very content, but at the same time sad, because we will not be happy until the last prisoner of conscience has been freed.
"With respect to my activities, I will keep moving forward. As to the library where I am the director, I will continue being the director. I will remain faithful to it no matter what the consequences....
"On the morning (after my liberation) we conducted a march, 10 members of our political movement, through the town of Pedro Betancourt in the most central streets, to show the dictatorship that the people are with us. Because even in prison, before they let me out, the secret police were threatening me that I had better not make any public act, because the people were ready and determined to attack us.
"I don't know what type of aggression they were talking about, because the people expressed joy in greeting us, everybody was embracing me, running up and saying, 'We have to see that guy! It's incredible that he is here!' Everybody was waiting for me, greeting me, asking about my brothers who are still in prison, and saying the massive arrests were completely arbitrary, without any kind of justification. And that they are with us.
"My struggle continues. I am not going to say: 'I have to rest now,' no, I was already rested when I got out. Since a week ago I had been thinking about what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. Which is to say, that I don't need to recuperate at all. I am quite recovered, my health is great, and I am in high spirits, with a tremendous desire to continue the struggle for democracy in our country; and until Cuba is free and democratic..., Miguel Sigler Amaya isn't going to rest....
"They took the precaution of releasing me late because they thought I was going to carry out a public demonstration in the park.... While we were traveling in the car, every time we crossed the border of a new municipality patrol cars were waiting for us; we clearly saw them informing the next municipality with their radios. They were watching us every step of the way until we arrived in Pedro Betancourt.
"We are going to continue our struggle; we're more organized than ever, with more experience and more firmness. We are not going to give up, we're not going to retreat a single millimeter, and they know it."
Regime enraged by Latvian backing for independent librarians
HAVANA, Jan. 12, 2005 (FAIFE-L listserv) - The Cuban government has responded angrily to a resolution by the Librarians Association of Latvia which calls for the immediate release of librarians imprisoned in Cuba. The Latvian resolution follows a similar demand made by the Polish Librarians Association. Below is a Jan. 12 letter to Anna Maulina of the Librarians Association of Latvia from Margarita Bellas and Alfredo Cabrera, leaders of Cuba's "official" library organizations:
Madame Vice President
Librarians Association of Latvia
Your letter in support of a similar letter sent by a few members of the Polish Librarian Association’s board of directors is not unexpected.
We are all quite familiar with the modus operandi of the gentleman named Robert Kent, representative of the United States government and its intelligence agencies. “We have ample documented proof” of his desperate attempts to create an international front against the real libraries and the real Cuban librarians, a small part of the total war that for forty-six years has attempted to destroy our Revolution.
We know how a letter such as yours is fabricated. We know why you chose to sign it. We know why a person such as yourself might speak in the name of a library community whose “members have never been consulted about the position you have adopted towards Cuba.
We are long accustomed to struggling with “democrats such as yourself” who violate in practice all the democratic principles of the professional organizations from which you draw benefits and advantages. We leave it to your conscience to answer for having spoken in the name of people who were not given the opportunity to declare their position. Contrary to your position, IFLA’s General Assembly meeting held in the United States in Boston on August 24, 2001 passed with some 86.7% of the delegates from all over the world voting in favor, a resolution concerning Cuba proposed by ALA and ASCUBI, which ratified the support of the true and democratically consulted world library community for the real Cuba librarians, while defining the so-called “independent libraries” as “supposed independent organizations who represent the political interests of the United States.”
Robert Kent is not a friend of Cuban librarians and these libraries are not independent because they receive financial support, material, and their marching orders directly from front organizations of the CIA, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, an agency guilty since its creation on December 16, 1983 of innumerable subversive actions, such as bribery and blackmail as well as pressure in the spheres of culture, the arts, sciences, and ideas against the people and governments which it attempts to overthrow.
It is too late Madame Maulina to attempt to trick the world in this manner. You do not have sufficient information upon which to base your position and we have not conceded any moral right that allows you to interfere in the internal matters of our country, particularly when you attempt to drag our Latvian colleagues, for whom who we hold considerable respect, along with you.
Instead of aligning yourself with the hostile policies of a superpower that is responsible for the deaths of more than 200 thousand innocent Iraqis, the destruction of Iraq’s National Library, the unconstitutional censorship to which it subjects its own people including United States librarians through the “Patriot Act” as well as the genocidal blockade and innumerable terrorist acts against Cuba, you should dedicate your energy and your name to searching for respectful and constructive methods to initiate and strengthen the relationships between the librarians of our two countries.
If this letter, which we would have preferred not to have had to write, makes you reflect and rectify, we remain at your disposal in order to continue this dialogue, which we hope acquires another character.
Margarita Bellas Vilariño, Alfredo Cabrera
President of ASCUBI, Vice President SOCICT
Journal: Castro's jailed librarians
NEW YORK, December 25, 2004 (Wall St. Journal Editorial) - It wasn't the Santa Clauses and candy canes decking the halls of the U.S. diplomatic office in Havana that prompted Fidel Castro to order the Christmas decorations dismantled there. It was the light display forming the number 75.
That's how many political dissidents Castro rounded up in March 2003 and threw into Cuban jails. At their trials, these librarians, journalists and peaceful political activists received sentences of up to 28 years. Now a loosely connected international movement of librarians is refusing to forget their Cuban colleagues.
One inspiring example comes from the town of Vermillion, South Dakota, whose public library is sponsoring the independent--that is, not government-run--Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana. The Loynaz Library was one of the institutions singled out during the 2003 crackdown. The director's husband, Hector Palacios, was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Most of the library's books were confiscated by the police.
The French cities of Paris and Strasbourg also support independent libraries in Cuba. In once-Communist Poland, the Librarians Association has issued an eloquent statement calling for an end to the repression: "The actions of the Cuban authorities relate to the worst traditions of repressing the freedom of thought, expression and information exchange, exercised by all regimes throughout the history," the statement reads. Meanwhile, in Havana, Castro insists there is no censorship.
He, too, has the support of some of the world's librarians. The International Federation of Library Associations has just named an "official" Cuban librarian to its Intellectual Freedom Committee, which is to say, they've picked someone who supports government censorship. Earlier this year the American Library Association's governing council rejected a resolution asking Castro for the immediate release of the imprisoned librarians. Some ALA leaders refuse to recognize the independent librarians because they don't have official library degrees, which of course they can get only from Fidel.
Mark Wetmore, a Vermillion Library trustee tells us, "It diminishes all our libraries a little if we know that there are people being persecuted for trying to operate free, uncensored ones and we don't at least try to do something about it." It's too bad more of the world's librarians don't also see a moral obligation to their Cuban brethren who want to read freely. (www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/?id=110006063)
Polish librarians demand release of jailed Cuban colleagues
NEW YORK, Dec. 15, 2004 (Friends of Cuban Libraries)- The Polish Librarians Association has issued an "Appeal for Cuban Librarians" calling for the release of their Cuban colleagues imprisoned during the Castro regime's 2003 crackdown on dissidents and human rights activists. In a message to the Friends of Cuban Libraries, Piotr Bierczynski, the Vice Chair of the Polish Librarians Association, wrote: "We would like to ask you to acquaint everyone interested in the ending of persecution of the Cuban librarians with our appeal."
Below is the text of the Polish appeal, which marks a new stage in the worldwide campaign to win the freedom of the brave people in Cuba who are enduring persecution because of their innovative effort to defend intellectual freedom, the most cherished principle of librarians.
APPEAL FOR CUBAN LIBRARIANS
In solidarity with protests voiced by IFLA and influential personalities of
public life, the Polish Librarians Association is expressing deep concern for the events of sentencing several Cuban librarians to serve exceptionally
lengthy prison terms for the charge of organizing independent libraries. The actions of the Cuban authorities relate to the worst traditions of repressing the freedom of thought, expression and information exchange, exercised by all regimes throughout the history. These repressions are a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 10, 1948, which states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right
includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless frontiers."
The measures of the Cuban government are aimed not only against the
persecuted librarians, but also against users, whose access to alternative media and publications thus becomes constrained. Shutting independent libraries impoverishes the cultural life of the Cuban Nation, which it is guaranteed by Paragraph 1 of Article 27 of the above Declaration:
"Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the
community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."
The Polish Librarians Association is appealing for uniting the efforts of all
individuals and organizations, which treasure freedom of expression and
We are demanding the release of our fellow Cuban librarians!
We are reminding you that the imprisonment of intellectuals is a disgrace to the original ideas of the Cuban revolution!
The Presidium of the Main Management
of the Polish Librarians Association
Translated by Marta Sobieszek
Vermillion, South Dakota, Library sponsors a Cuban library
VERMILLION, SD, Dec. 7, 2004 (Mark Wetmore/Vermillion PL Board of Trustees) - The Vermillion, South Dakota, Public Library Board of Trustees took a stand for intellectual freedom on November 18 when it voted to sponsor the Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana, Cuba.
Cuba's Dulce Maria Loynaz Library, an unofficial institution free of government control, is one of approximately 250 independent libraries founded since 1998 to challenge restrictions on freedom of information. The goal of Cuba's independent library movement is to offer public access to uncensored books reflecting all points of view.
In March, 2003, many of the independent libraries in Cuba were raided by the State Security police, resulting in lengthy prison terms for more than a dozen librarians. All of those jailed have been recognized as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which is calling for their immediate release.
The Dulce Maria Loynaz Library was one of the institutions singled out during the 2003 crackdown. The director, Gisela Delgado, was not detained during the raid on her library, but her husband, Hector Palacios, was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. During the raid, most of the Loynaz Library's books were confiscated by the police. The Cuban courts have ordered the burning of many of the books seized from the independent librarians.
"Cuba's independent librarians have been targeted for repression because of their principled challenge to censorship," said Jon Flanagin, president of the Vermillion library trustees. "We felt we had a moral obligation to offer our support." Flanagin emphasized that the library trustees' action will be funded solely by private donations and at no cost to the Vermillion library or to the city. The first two volumes shipped to Cuba were a collection of Mark Twain and the first of the Harry Potter series, both in Spanish.
"A hundred years ago the Vermillion library started out with 300 volumes, about the same number of books as the Dulce Maria Loynaz library had before it was raided," Mark Wetmore, vice president of the trustees, stated. "But Vermillion's library grew rapidly from that beginning, in a society that nurtured free access to all types of information. We hope that our sponsorship of an independent Cuban library will, in some small way, help that process there, as well as encourage other American libraries to offer similar support."
With this action, Vermillion joins the French cities of Paris and Strasbourg, which have also formally adopted a number of Cuba's independent libraries. The Cuban library is the second with which Vermillion has established a special relationship; in 1989, it adopted the library in its sister city, Ratingen, Germany.
Nat Hentoff: Castro’s Gulag and American librarians
NEW YORK, October 10, 2004 (Nat Hentoff/Free
Inquiry, Aug./Sept. 2004) - In the rising resistance against John Ashcroft’s
USA Patriot Act and subsequent executive orders revising sections of the Bill of
Rights, the attorney general has been particularly irritated by the attention
the media are paying to the many librarians around the country who are expunging
the records of borrowed books as soon as they are returned—in protest against
Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
A provision of the section allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
to bring a list of suspect books to libraries to find out who’s been reading
them. The FBI gets a court order from the secret Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA) court, before which only a government attorney appears.
All that the FISA court requires is a declaration from the attorney general
that the search is “relevant” to an investigation of terrorism. Nothing further—no probable cause or even reasonable suspicion that any of the readers caught in this dragnet have anything to do with terrorism. And once the FBI comes, a gag order prevents librarians from telling anyone, including the press, that the visit has taken place.
The attorney general has said—attempting to quell the furor—that Section 215 has not yet been used against libraries. But he was careful not to say it would never be used, and there have been FBI visits to libraries, but the gag rule prevents details being made public.
These rebellious librarians are acting in accordance with the American
Library Association’s (ALA) credo that affirms its support of Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” Moreover, ALA Policy 58.1 (2) supports “human rights and intellectual freedom worldwide.”
Yet, at its January midwinter meeting in San Diego, the Governing Council of ALA overwhelmingly rejected an amendment by one of its members, Karen Schneider, calling for the immediate release of the ten librarians among the seventy-five prisoners of conscience—as designated by Amnesty International—who were imprisoned by Fidel Castro in
the spring of 2003. Among the journalists, labor organizers, medical doctors, and human rights workers locked away for sentences of twenty years or more were these independent librarians.
Because Schneider’s resolution focused on the librarians among the
free-speech dissidents, as she accurately calls them, all the majority of the Council could bring themselves to do was to express “deep concern” for the prisoners, without even mentioning the librarians. There are members of the Council, admirers of Fidel, who charged that these dissidents are part of the Bush administration plot to bring about “regime change” in Cuba.
Amnesty International calls all of the seventy-five in the gulag prisoners of
conscience. Christine Chanet, a representative of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights, says she “has received particularly alarming information about the conditions of detention of these people.” Twenty of them are suffering from hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments. They have received little or no medical attention. (The International Red Cross has been barred from Castro’s prisons since 1989.)
Because I have joined a growing number of American librarians who strongly disagree with the Governing Council’s disinclination to offend the Cuban
dictator, I have been targeted by Eliades Acosta, director of Cuba’s National Library (Biblioteca Nacional). Expressing his pleasure at the Council’s defeat of Karen Schneider’s amendment, and bristling at my support of it, Acosta asked accusingly, “What does Mr. Hentoff know of the real Cuba?”
My answer to him: “I know that if I were a Cuban, I’d be in prison.”
As for the pro-democracy Cubans who have set up these libraries in their
homes—including such publications forbidden in the official libraries as the
International Declaration of Human Rights and works by George Orwell—the importance of the home libraries was emphasized in an August 2001 report by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) in the Hague, an organization usually lauded by the American Library Association.
Susanne Seidel[in], director of the IFLA’s Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression Office, wrote about “Free Access to Information in Cuba,” after a visit there: “There is no doubt that a wide range of information or literature … is unavailable in the (official) libraries of Cuba.
Even when publications are held, their use may be restricted or monitored
to the extent that ordinary people may be inhibited or even prevented from gaining access to them. It can be argued that the fast growing number of
independent libraries indicates the existence of an information gap and that they help by supplying a need that otherwise cannot be filled by [official public libraries]." [Emphasis added.]
Castro has the power, obviously, to continually expand that information gap by jailing more independent librarians. After Castro himself was imprisoned by the previous dictator of Cuba, however, he wrote about that instructive experience: “In prison, there were no rifles for training, no stone fortresses from which to shoot. Behind those walls, our rifles were books. And through study, stone by stone we built our fortress, the only one that is invincible: the fortress of ideas."
Nonviolently, the independent librarians also have been committed to making available to Cubans the invincible fortress of ideas. One of them is the widely respected journalist and poet Raul Rivero, who is in very poor health in his cell. His wife, Blanca Reyes, who has refused to be silenced, says, “What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade.”
I hope that believers in the freedom to read, when they go to our libraries,
will ask the librarians which side they are on—that of the governing ALA
Council or of the independent librarians in cells three feet wide and six feet long.
American librarians, vigorously protesting the Patriot Act, have not yet been imprisoned by John Ashcroft. And one free spirit among them, Karen
Schneider—whose defeated amendment to free the Cuban Librarians has become internationally known among human rights workers—has started a Web site: [www.freadom.info]. Along with other free-expression librarians and supporters, she is asking anyone who clicks on to send e-mails to Castro, Amnesty International, and Jimmy Carter (who spoke for freedom to read and speak when he was in Cuba before the crackdown.) The message is “for the immediate release of the librarians… and until their release, for an improvement in their prison conditions.” Freadom.info will continue to focus on other crises or specific events related to the freedom to read.
Letters and other messages to Castro have resulted in the release of
independent Cuban librarian Julio Antonio Valdes, seriously ill with advanced kidney disease. The source of that emergency appeal was another Web site, [www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org]. Valdes was also declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International—though not by ALA’s Governing Council.
Librarian accused of espionage and terrorism
NEW YORK, September 28, 2004 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - As
the world library community increasingly focuses on Vaclav Havel's historic
August 10 letter to IFLA, containing an appeal for IFLA to condemn the
heightened persecution of Cuba's independent librarians, the Cuban government is
trying to distract attention from this key issue. While still denying the
existence of censorship and repression in a nation where all dissent is punished
as a crime, the Cuban regime is now trying to change the subject away from the
repression of Cuba's independent librarians by making false charges of
"espionage" and "terrorism."
On Sept. 25 an article by Beatriz Busaniche, "The Information Tentacles of the Empire," was posted on the Spanish language Biblio-progresistas listserv. This article warned that the website of a Brazil-based leftist/progressive organization, the Porto Alegre Social Forum, was controlled by the CIA through its links to transnational corporations and philanthropies associated with the server of the Porto Alegre website.
On Sept. 25 the Friends of Cuban Libraries posted an ironic response to Busaniche's article on Biblio-progresistas, suggesting that the Porto Alegre Social Forum is actually controlled by the "Ministry of Truth" described in George Orwell's "1984." The slogan of the Ministry of Truth was "Freedom is Slavery." Mention was also made of the fact that copies of Orwell's famous book have been ordered to be burned after being confiscated during raids on Cuba's independent libraries. As evidence, also cited by Vaclav Havel in his historic letter to FAIFE, we urged readers to refer to the grim and irrefutably damning court documents smuggled out of Cuba and published on the Internet (www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu). Particular reference was made to the shocking cases of Victor Rolando Arroyo (document #1, Pinar del Río) and Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez (document #4, Sancti Spiritus).
Today Eliades Acosta, the director of Cuba's National Library, posted a response on the Biblio-progresista listserv. A quick translation appears below. In an escalation of longstanding charges, he accuses Robert Kent of conducting "espionage" in Cuba as part of a "terrorist action." He also makes other false charges, such as claims that the Friends of Cuban Libraries have expressed support for the U.S. Patriot Act. In the introduction to this response, one of Acosta's employees reported that the next edition of Librinsula, an online journal of the Cuban National Library, will contain claims (based on Secret Police files) of the Friends of Cuban Libraries' alleged "espionage" activities.
Once again, the Friends of Cuban Libraries respectfully urge FAIFE to respond substantively to Vaclav Havel's letter, to condemn the repression of Cuba's brave independent librarians, and to reject the Cuban government's desperate efforts to change the subject away from intellectual freedom.
Commentary on a commentary
HAVANA, September 28, 2004 (Eliades Acosta) - Printed below is
a translation of a message posted on the Biblio-progresistas listserv. For the
context of this message, please refer to the article preceding it ("Librarian
accused of espionage and terrorism").
by Eliades Acosta, Director
Jose Martí National Library
The enraged commentary of Mr. Kent on the article "The Information Tentacles of the Empire" is an eloquent demonstration of how someone like him divides his loves and hates, as he exhaustively repeats his claim to be a paladin of free expression and free access to information, in order to see if can trap some innocent person into believing him.
It is enough to ask what motivates him to react in such an irritated manner to the author's just objections and questions, as she denounces the penetration and imperialist manipulation by the government of the U.S. and the big corporations, which are one and the same, of the information and communication channels of the alternative forces, such as the Porto Alegre World Social Forum, which have emerged for the precise purpose of confronting them [i.e., the CIA and big corporations].
Like a mediocre soccer goalkeeper who desperately leaps into the air, trying to stop a ball which will be the winning goal, Mr. Kent is displeased and terrified that we among the progressive Hispanic librarians have the nerve to challenge the Empire's Olympic anger and the multiple masks hypocritically used by [imperialist] philanthropists in this field. It is understandable that Mr. Kent carries out this pathetic pirouette in the air: his mission among us is none other than to keep us under surveillance, spy on us, denounce us to his masters, and, if possible, try to divide and control us. It is for no other reason that he is paid by the intelligence agencies for which he works, for which we Cuban librarians have irrefutable proof. And Mr. Kent is fully aware of this, and the Cuban authorities knew it when they arrested him for violating the laws of the country and acting as a clandestine courier for the counterrevolution, to whom he brought generous dollars from this same Empire criticized in the article, but also, as if they were innocent souvenirs from Washington, [i.e.] communication equipment and cameras used to spy on a high Cuban official, which could have been the prelude to a terrorist action.
So far as I know, persons do not act this way who truly defend global liberties and [human] rights. We, the true progressive librarians, do not behave in this way, because our weapons have never been anything but ideas and principles. And, in passing, neither do we who live from our work go around brimming with dollars in order to distribute them in industrial quantities.
If some inveterate optimist had any doubts on this matter, the futile efforts of this gentleman to achieve a condemnation of Cuba at the IFLA Conference in Buenos Aires, which culminated in a disgraceful disaster and which received the repudiation, not only of the immense majority of the librarians present, but even the leaders of IFLA, is an eloquent demonstration. If this gentleman is so progressive and freedom-loving, as he never tires of repeating, how can he defend the government of Bush, why has he never raised his voice to denounce or condemn the Patriot Act in his own country, why does he defend until his last gasp Microsoft and the corporations denounced in the article that he tries to criticize, and why hasn't he appeared, not even for a minute, in the Social Forum on Information that the true progressive librarians celebrated, at the same time as the IFLA conference in Buenos Aires, and where, as an aside, with moving solidarity and firmness, they agreed on a global plan of action to defend Cuba[?].
To be a progressive means to adopt a principled position, meaningful and radical, such as the author of the article that so stung Mr. Kent, in dealing with the acute problems of the world. With this it is impossible to play around: either one is or one is not [a progressive]. High-sounding declarations should be accompanied by concrete actions, with an attitude of solidarity toward those who suffer attacks carried out by the system, precisely because they defend true principles and freedoms, not [principles and freedoms] made out of paper.
Mr. Kent has no professional background or moral right to try to derail the debate begun in that article by agitating for his already discredited anti-Cuban scarecrow. Despite the fact that continuing such a discussion may bring some negative consequences to his pocket because of ineptitude, at the time when his bosses decide on the payment to their employees.
protest library raids in Cuba:
call on world’s librarians to challenge Castro
NEW YORK, August 10, 2004 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On the eve of the world’s largest library conference, prominent ex-dissidents from the former Soviet bloc issued a sharp rebuke to President Fidel Castro for jailing librarians and called on the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) to condemn human rights violations in Cuba. [For the text of the letter, see below].
Drawing parallels between present-day Cuba and the former Soviet bloc and citing newly-disclosed evidence as "irrefutable," the public letter released on August 10 by the Czech-based People In Need Organization protested a 2003 crackdown on the island's dissidents, including volunteer librarians, and declared: “We know what it is like to live in a society where freedom is repressed in the name of democracy and national sovereignty, and where the voicing of dissent is banned in the name of safeguarding freedom of expression."
The letter, signed by renowned human rights activists such as Vaclav Havel, Elena Bonner, Yuri Orlov, and the former Prime Ministers of Bulgaria and Estonia, was sent to Paul Sturges, the head of IFLA’s intellectual freedom committee, which is known by the acronym FAIFE. The world library group meets in Buenos Aires later this month for it’s annual conference.
In a challenge to the Castro regime's internal control of information, since 1998 activists in Cuba have opened approximately 250 independent libraries offering public access to uncensored books. The letter signed by former dissidents from Eastern Europe charges that “the Cuban government has made a systematic effort to crush the independent library movement through a campaign of harassment, threats, police raids, physical assaults, arrests, and the confiscation of library materials and library records.” The signers declared: "We warmly support Cuba's independent librarians, their historic challenge to censorship, and their brave defense of the democratic values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which FAIFE/IFLA is also dedicated to upholding."
This latest rebuke of the Cuban regime comes after a year of souring relations with European nations as numerous human rights groups, prominent writers, and Western European governments have condemned Cuba over a spring 2003 crackdown in which 75 leading independent journalists, librarians, and activists were put on trial and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. All of the detainees, including the independent librarians, have been named as "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International.
In urging IFLA to condemn the Castro regime, the signers of the letter cited "shocking details" contained in newly-revealed court documents smuggled out of Cuba and published on the Internet (www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu). The Cuban documents, which accuse the defendants of operating unofficial libraries, reveal that thousands of books were seized during the 2003 raids on the island's independent library network; many of the books were condemned as "subversive" by court-appointed "literary experts" before being ordered to be destroyed by fire. Among the burned library books identified in the court documents are works by George Orwell, Vaclav Havel, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and banned Cuban authors.
Cuba's independent librarians receive aid from abroad, including the U.S. government, and spokespersons for the Cuban government, in addition to denying the existence of censorship in their country, insist that the independent librarians have been justly convicted for being "paid agents of the United States government." This argument was rejected by the signers of the letter to IFLA, who stated "It can never be a crime to oppose censorship or to open a library" and declared: "As we know from the historical experience of Eastern Europe, it is not a crime for human rights activists to receive moral and material support from other nations."
The signers of the letter stated that the upcoming IFLA conference in Argentina “offers an opportunity for the worldwide library community to focus attention on, and make a definitive statement against, the Cuban government's intensified campaign of repression being waged against the independent librarians.”
“As the worldwide voice of librarians and a leading defender of the right to freedom of expression, especially in relation to libraries, FAIFE/IFLA has a duty to speak out clearly on Cuba,” said the statement.
Text of letter to IFLA signed by Vaclav Havel, Elena Bonner, et al
PRAGUE, August 10, 2004 (People in Need Organization) -
Dr Paul Sturges August 10, 2004
Chair of the FAIFE Committee
International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)
Dear Dr Sturges:
As former dissidents in the nations of Eastern Europe, we have followed with great interest recent developments in Cuba. The 2003 crackdown on Cuban human rights activists has resulted in increased worldwide awareness of the emergence of a civil society in the Caribbean nation, and we support the efforts of Cuban citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of being harassed, threatened or arrested. In this letter to FAIFE/IFLA, we would like to add our voices to the growing number of people who are expressing support for the emergence of a civil society in Cuba, especially with regard to the establishment of the island's independent library movement.
Freedom of expression is an essential element of a civil society, and before the changes in Eastern Europe which began to accelerate in 1989, our nations had experienced life under a system based on the grim models developed in the early 20th century in the Soviet Union and Germany. We know what it is like to live in a society where freedom is repressed in the name of democracy and national sovereignty, and where the voicing of dissent is banned in the name of safeguarding freedom of expression. Like the people of Cuba, we have lived under governments where newspapers and the mass media are allowed to express only one point of view, and where books and magazines are harshly censored. We are also familiar with government-run library systems, based on the model developed in the former Soviet Union, designed to prevent the general public from reading materials considered objectionable by the regime in power. We know how these official libraries are organized as an integral part of the state system of censorship, and how the regime locks away banned books in certain "special collections" to which only a few privileged people are allowed limited access. We are familiar with the arguments and strategies used by repressive regimes to deny, evade responsibility for, and cover up the existence of pervasive censorship and repression, including the censorship of government-run libraries. We know from experience what it is like to be branded as criminals, traitors or agents of a foreign power because we challenged censorship and received support for our efforts from abroad.
As a result of our experience in Eastern Europe, we have followed with special interest the development of Cuba's innovative independent library movement. Since 1998, when the first independent library on the island was opened by Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor, approximately 250 free libraries have been founded throughout Cuba. Dedicated to the goal of offering the Cuban people access to uncensored materials which reflect all points of view, this movement offers a model for other nations where governments, acting under a variety of ideological pretexts, seek to extinguish their peoples' right to intellectual freedom. We warmly support Cuba's independent librarians, their historic challenge to censorship, and their brave defense of the democratic values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which FAIFE/IFLA is also dedicated to upholding.
We are alarmed and appalled by the Cuban government's efforts to repress the volunteers who have opened independent libraries throughout the island. As repeatedly verified by human rights organizations and reputable journalists, the Cuban government has made a systematic effort to crush the independent library movement through a campaign of harassment, threats, police raids, physical assaults, arrests, and the confiscation of library materials and library records. This campaign of persecution reached a peak beginning in March, 2003, when about 25 of the independent librarians were arrested during raids conducted by the secret police. Numerous library collections and library patron records were confiscated during the raids. A few of the independent librarians have been released from custody, but approximately nineteen of them, following unfair one-day trials, have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 26 years. They may die in prison unless the international community takes action in their defense.
In light of the intensified persecution of Cuba's volunteer librarians since 2003, we respectfully urge FAIFE/IFLA to renew and complete its consideration of this very important issue. As the worldwide voice of librarians and a leading defender of the right to freedom of expression, especially in relation to libraries, FAIFE/IFLA has a duty to speak out clearly on Cuba, just as other specialized human rights organizations, such as International PEN and Reporters Without Borders, have taken action to explicitly condemn the repression of the Cuban writers and journalists arrested during the 2003 crackdown. While FAIFE/IFLA confirmed and denounced the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians in its report of September 1999, this important document was not widely publicized and has not yet been the subject of a resolution by delegates at an annual IFLA conference. The IFLA conference in Buenos Aires, to be held in August 2004, offers an opportunity for the worldwide library community to focus attention on, and make a definitive statement against, the Cuban government's intensified campaign of repression being waged against the independent librarians and their valiant efforts to defend intellectual freedom as a universal human right, the core principle of librarians everywhere.
As a practical matter, we recognize that FAIFE/IFLA has limited resources to carry out lengthy investigations. Fortunately, substantial research on the multi-year repression of Cuba's independent librarians has been published in authoritative reports issued by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders. With reference to documentation on the cases of the librarians imprisoned since 2003, a great deal of information is now available online, in Spanish and English, on a website (www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu) which collects and publishes Cuban court documents. These legal documents, issued by the Cuban government itself, provide definitive and irrefutable evidence that the independent librarians have been sentenced to long prison terms for daring to organize uncensored libraries. Among the shocking details detailed in these newly-revealed documents, the collections seized from Cuba's independent librarians were analyzed by court-appointed "literary experts" and officially condemned as "subversive" and "counterrevolutionary" before, in many cases, being ordered to be destroyed by incineration. Among the thousands of printed library materials and videos seized or destroyed by order of the Cuban courts are copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, works by renowned Cuban authors, and books by or about George Orwell, Vaclav Havel and other writers. The names of many of the imprisoned volunteer librarians, cross-indexed in many cases with the number of the sentencing documents detailing the spurious charges made against them in the Cuban courts, are printed in the annex below.
In asking FAIFE/IFLA to complete its inquiry into the persecution of the independent librarians and to pass a definitive resolution on this important subject, we would like to make note of the ongoing campaign by the Cuban government to deny, conceal, or blame other nations for the human rights violations being committed in Cuba. Every government is responsible for its own actions and should be praised or condemned accordingly. As definitively proven by the recently published court documents available online (www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu), the facts of this matter are no longer in dispute. Despite the Cuban government's lengthy and skillful campaign to deny, cover up and mislead the international community with regard to systematic censorship and repression on the island, the regime must be held accountable for its own actions. Only one government - under the leadership of President Fidel Castro - is harassing, threatening and assaulting Cuba's independent librarians. Only one government is raiding Cuban libraries and seizing or burning thousands of books, entire library collections, and library patron records. Only one government is arresting Cuban citizens for the historically unprecedented "crime" of opening uncensored libraries and sentencing them to 20-year prison terms after unfair one-day trials. As for the Cuban government's efforts to portray the independent librarians as traitors and foreign agents because they receive support from abroad, we speak from our own experience in rejecting such claims. It can never be a crime to oppose censorship or to open a library, no matter what a particular government may claim to the contrary. Both the independent librarians and the librarians in Cuba's government-run institutions receive aid from abroad, which they have a right to do. As we know from the historical experience of Eastern Europe, it is not a crime for human rights activists to receive moral and material support from other nations.
In accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people in every country have the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas though any media and regardless of frontiers." As Article 19 also serves as the mandate of FAIFE/IFLA, we respectfully urge FAIFE/IFLA to fulfill its duty to defend the innovative challenge to censorship embodied in Cuba's independent library movement. The precedent set by FAIFE/IFLA in completing its investigation of the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians, and in firmly defending their historic challenge to censorship, will stand forever as a landmark in the peaceful, centuries-long effort to establish intellectual freedom as a universal human right.
Vaclav Havel, former president of Czech Republic
Elena Bonner, former Soviet dissident and widow of Andrei Sakharov, Russia
Philip Dimitrov, former prime minister of Bulgaria
Mart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia
Yuri Orlov, Russia. Founded Amnesty International & Helsinki Watch in Moscow
Adam Michnik, former dissident of Poland, now is the editor in chief of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza
Vaclav Maly is Auxiliary Bishop of Prague and a former Czech dissident
Gabriel Andreescu, Romania
Radu Filipescu, Romania
Markus Meckel, former Foreign Minister of Germany (first free elected government in GDR) and former dissident
Martin Palous, Ambassador and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, former dissident
ANNEX to letter documenting librarians' trials
NAMES OF PRISONERS / SENTENCING DOCUMENT NUMBER (www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu)
Nelson Alberto Aguiar Ramírez / Havana Document # 7
Victor Rolando Arroyo / Pinar del Río Document # 1
Leonardo Miguel Bruzón Avila
Alfredo Felipe Fuentes / Havana Document # 14
José Luis García Paneque
Juan Carlos González Leiva
Leonel Grave de Peralta
Iván Hernández Carillo / Matanzas Document # 2
José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández
José Miguel Martínez Hernández / Havana Document # 13
Luis Milán / Santiago Document # 5
Roberto de Miranda
Omar Pernet Hernández
Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez / Sancti Spiritus Document # 4
Miguel, Ariel and Guido Sigler Amaya (3 brothers) / Matanzas Document # 9
Fidel Suárez Cruz / Pinar del Río Document # 1
Julio Antonio Valdés / Santiago Document # 6
Cuban librarians in need
- where's ALA?
ORLANDO, June 24, 2004 (Orlando Sentinel/Myriam Márquez ) - Ramon Colas will set up his booth at the American Library Association's annual reading-fest today in Orlando, hoping to drive home to the nation's librarians that freedom to read what one wants without fear of government persecution is not just an American value. It's a basic human right and a universal want.
Except in Cuba, where Colas was forced to leave 2½ years ago after the communist government arrested him several times for starting the island's first independent library movement.
One would think the ALA would embrace Colas' agenda of free speech for all. Certainly for the sake of consistency one can't rail against the Patriot Act's potential excesses here at home and then look the other way when it comes to the real threats to freedom to read in Cuba. It particularly irks me because I've been a big supporter of the ALA and haven't missed an opportunity to criticize the Patriot Act's tactics post 9-11.
The act, passed in a rush after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, lacks the checks and balances that any nation that values democracy should embrace. Allowing the government to check on any library patron's reading habits is simply un-American.
The Patriot Act allows searches based on what amounts to a hunch, and it's ripe for abuse. It's illegal for librarians to dare tell their public boards if the government has sought any records, even without naming names. That's how far the Patriot Act goes on the pretense of keeping us "safe."
It's the same kind of argument that totalitarian regimes use to put a lid on dissent, which is why Colas' plea to the ALA to condemn Cuba for imprisoning dissidents, among them as many as 17 people who ran independent libraries from their homes, is so compelling. And the ALA's response of a mealy-mouthed resolution supporting the end of the embargo and expressing "deep concern" about Cuba's long prison terms for dissidents smacks of hypocrisy. Deep concern doesn't begin to cover it.
Writers, journalists, civil libertarians and even left-wing glitterati from Europe and Latin America have come forward to condemn Cuba outright for its crackdown on 75 dissidents, writers and librarians who received sentences averaging almost 20 years each in 2003. Their big crime was to stray from government-approved thinking.
Colas, a psychologist, notes that independent libraries in Cuba carry all sorts of books, from those written by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Vladimir Lenin to those penned by the former Czech President Vaclav Havel, whose The Power of the Powerless is every freedom fighter's bible.
Apparently, ALA members don't want to be seen as taking a position that appears to side with the Cuban exile community. But Colas isn't asking the ALA to do anything other than condemn a government attack that no free-thinking person would accept.
The embargo shouldn't even be an issue, as far as freedom to read goes. Not when Castro himself made a big to-do in 1998, just after the pope's visit to Cuba, saying on government-controlled TV that Cuba didn't ban books, it simply didn't have money to buy books.
Colas took the comandante at his word and started a movement of home libraries that today get hundreds of free books from visitors to the island from as far away as Sweden, France and Spain. For Castro to call the independent libraries, which also get books from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, part of a plot to end his regime is to admit that his regime hangs on a thread of lies. What's to fear from sharing different points of view, wherever they come from, if you can defend your point with the facts?
"It's lamentable that throughout the world famous people and writers have come out to criticize the regime in Havana and condemn its actions, but this nation's librarians, through their organization, have remained silent," Colas told me Wednesday. "The concept we are defending is very basic and universal. Let people read what they want without intervention, without political or ideological impositions."
If America's premier organization for defending free speech can't make that connection, it loses all credibility on the Patriot Act.
Colás and Mexidor receive People for American Way award
MIAMI, June 3, 2004 (People for the American Way/www.pfaw.org)
- [Introduction: Printed below are excerpts from an announcement by People for
the American Way, which has named Ramón Colás
and Berta Mexidor, the co-founders of Cuba's innovative independent library
movement, among the winners of its 2004 "Celebrate Free Speech" awards. Cuba's
independent libraries have also received the Swedish Liberal Party's Democracy
Prize, and the libraries of Havana and Pinar del Río
have been "adopted" for twinning programs by the cities of Paris and Strasbourg
in France. Approximately fifteen of the independent librarians in Cuba are now
serving long prison terms as a result of their innovative contribution to the
worldwide human rights movement: the establishment of free libraries to
challenge a nationwide system of censorship. They have been adopted as
"prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which is calling for their
immediate and unconditional release].
'CELEBRATE FREE SPEECH' EVENT HONORS PROTECTION
AND PROMOTION OF FIRST AMENDMENT PRINCIPLES
People for the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) will host its
third annual "Celebrate Free Speech" awards ceremony on Sunday, June 6th, at7:00 pm at the Coral Gables Country Club, 999 N. Greenway Drive. The "Celebrate Free Speech" campaign was launched in 2002 by PFAWF to help promote free speech awareness and practice through a greater understanding of First Amendment principles. The goal has been to encourage individuals to speak their minds and respect others for doing so, even if common views aren't shared. As part of this effort, PFAWF annually recognizes individuals who exemplify the spirit of free speech.
This year's awards ceremony will be combined with a reading of excerpts from Trumbo, an off-Broadway hit play about legendary screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo, (Exodus, Spartacus), one of the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood until his name disappeared from the screen for years as a result of Hollywood's McCarthy-era blacklist....
This year's award recipients are:
Spirit of Miami Award: Leonard Turkel
For his leadership during Miami's civil rights movement of the 1950s and
1960s, where he worked tirelessly to advance the black community's fight for equality.
Bravura Award: Reverend Donna Schaper & the Coral Gables Congregational
For providing a forum at Coral Gables Congregational Church for the exercise of debate and free speech during the FTAA Minister's meeting last fall.
The Voice Award: Ramón Colás & Berta Mexidor
For their bravery in establishing a network of independent libraries in
private homes throughout Cuba, wherein censored literature was available to the public....
People for the American Way Foundation is a national civil rights and civil
liberties organization with offices in Miami, California, Illinois, New York
and Washington, D.C.
"Digital apartheid" - Cuba tightens access to the Internet, e-mail,
NEW YORK, May 19, 2004 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - In a new effort to limit its citizens' contact with the outside world, the Cuban government is quietly introducing a new Information Security Law to centralize and restrict access to the World Wide Web, e-mail and telephone service. The new law is being supervised by the Ministry of the Interior, the parent organization of the secret police. In recent weeks, according to reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla ("Cuba Restricts Telephones and the Internet," Nuevo Herald, May 16), the regime has informed government-owned enterprises of the new regulation designed to limit access to the Internet and to prevent "indiscriminate use of e-mail." A letter issued by the government-owned telephone service to its subscribers, obtained by the Nuevo Herald, states that by June 30 "commercial activities related to Internet access services will be halted" in order to transfer all Internet accounts to a new, centralized provider named ENET. The new regulation also bans access to Internet-based "chatrooms" and popular free e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo.
Only a small percentage of the population is currently permitted to legally access the Internet on Cuba's domestic telephone system, which is paid for in Cuban pesos, but until now clandestine Web surfers have evaded this restriction by purchasing passwords on the black market. The new law, however, will try to block illegal Net surfers by limiting Internet dial-up connections to telephone subscribers who pay their bills in U.S. dollars, to which few Cubans have access. Although the new law will not go into effect until June 30, the limited number of Cubans now authorized to surf the Net are already being subjected to tightened scrutiny. Speaking under a promise of anonymity, a university professor - one of the few Cuban groups permitted to have legal Internet accounts - told the Nuevo Herald that "the surveillance [of Internet usage] is fierce, and occasional access to Google has been converted into a luxury."
In early 2004 the regime tried to enact a similar crackdown on Internet usage, citing a need to protect its citizens from what it termed the harmful effects of illegal Web surfing, computer viruses and the websites of foreign-based Satanic cults. But the government soon backed down from implementing the law in the face of negative publicity from abroad, including a rebuke by the International Federation of Library Associations. By June 30, 2004, however, the government plans to finalize the new Information Security Law restricting access to the World Wide Web, e-mail and telephone service. Oscar Viciedo, a computer specialist who left the island in 1992, told the Nuevo Herald that the Cuban government often deplores the "digital divide" depriving Third World nations of the benefits of high technology, while at the same time the regime quietly outlaws similar technological advances for its own citizens. "In Cuba," said Mr. Viciedo, "one cannot speak of a digital divide, but rather of digital apartheid."
The Cuban government wasted no time in responding to the May 16 Nuevo Herald article on the new Information Security Law which tightens access to the Internet, e-mail and telephones. On May 17 the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma published an article by Felix Lopez ("The Nuevo Herald Recycles Lies") casting scorn on the report by the Florida newspaper. "I am not going to repeat here," declared Mr. Lopez, "the statistics and statements which on more than one occasion Cuba has made public in order to refute the infamous campaigns staged by this Miami-based libelous source, and others, regarding the same theme." While adamantly denying that freedom of expression is limited on the island, Lopez highlighted government programs, such as Youth Computer Clubs for schoolchildren, which "socialize the use of new technologies and provide minorities with the pleasure of sitting in front of a computer." In response to Mr. Lopez's statement, the Friends of Cuban Libraries, a support group for human rights activists on the island, commented: "Ironically, although participants in the Youth Computer Clubs and other Cuban citizens are allowed to sit in front of a computer, they are forbidden to access the World Wide Web on it."
Paris sponsors the independent libraries of Havana
PARIS, March 26, 2004 (Independent Libraries of Cuba/www.bibliocuba.org) - The Free Cuba Solidarity Collective announces that the Support Group for the Independent Cuban Libraries has just received a letter from Mr. Bertrand Delanoë, the Mayor of Paris, associating the city of Paris with the development of Cuba's libraries. Mr. Delanoë confirms the support he is contributing toward the freedom of Cuba, which is support for the free circulation of ideas in the last totalitarian country in the West.
The city of Paris follows closely on the city of Strasbourg, which has just committed itself to supporting the independent libraries of the province of Pinar del Río in the western part of the island. These cities will send books to the Cuban libraries.
Beginning in 1998, at the initiative of Mr. Ramón Humberto Colás, many Cuban advocates of democracy opened free libraries in their own homes with the goal of offering their compatriots the possibility of reading works prohibited by the Cuban regime. Frequently persecuted, the independent Cuban librarians have been regularly dispossessed of their books by the political police, and their books have been burned. Like the worst criminals, these peaceful activists can be arrested and sentenced to many years of imprisonment. At the present time this is the situation of 17 of them.
The Support Group for the Independent Libraries (Paris) has as its honorary members the Cuban writer Zoé Valdés and the French ex-Minister and president of the Human Rights Action Association, Françoise Hostalier. Additional members of this same organization are William Navarrete, President of the Association for the Third Cuban Republic and writer, Laurent Muller, a French citizen and president of the Free Cuba European Association; Gina Pellón and Joaquín Ferrer, Cuban artists exiled in France; the Cuban dramatist and writer Eduardo Manet; the Cuban filmmaker Ricardo Vega; the French journalists Denis Rousseau (AFP), Corinne Cumerlato (L'Express) and Cathérine David (Le Nouvel Observateur); Eyda Machín (president of the Livres-et-Lieux Association) and the cultural director of the Mayor's Office of Paris, Pascal Del Pont, among other members of the Free Cuba Solidarity Collective who will also offer their support for the movement.
Mr. Colás and his wife, Berta Mexidor, founded the Cuban Independent Libraries Project in 1998, a cultural initiative that has broken the control over information that had been held by the Cuban government for four decades. The project originated from a remark by Fidel Castro at the Havana International Book Fair, at which Mr. Castro stated in response to a journalist's question that "in Cuba there are no prohibited books, only a lack of money to buy them."
The Free Cuba Solidarity Collective and the Support Committee for the Independent Libraries are currently seeking new cities for partnerships, with the goal of promoting the free circulation of ideas in "The Island of Doctor Castro" [the title of a book by Denis Rousseau and Corinne Cumerlato]. The Collective was created in April 2003 after the arrest and conviction of 75 dissidents, and they have obtained sponsorship by French Deputies and Senators for every one of these victims of the "Cuban Spring." The said sponsorship program will be highlighted at a conference at the National Assembly on April 13, in addition to an important demonstration to be held in front of the Cuban embassy in Paris.
Collectif Solidarité Cuba Libre
Comité de Solidaridad Cuba Libre
Letter from the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, to the Free Cuba Solidarity Collective, confirming sponsorship of the Independent Libraries:
Paris City Hall
Paris, March 9, 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In the name of various associations grouped together in the Free Cuba Solidarity Collective, you have brought to my attention the actions carried out in favor of the struggle for Human Rights in Cuba and, among these, those directed in support of the network of independent libraries.
Being very attentive and interested in these different initiatives, I have been informed of your proposal for the sponsorship of the independent libraries of Havana by the libraries of the City of Paris.
I am pleased to provide evidence, in this manner, of my support and complete respect for this project, [and] I accept with great pleasure the principles of this sponsorship which will allow the City of Paris, by means of this cultural link, to send to the Cuban people testimony of our friendship and sympathy.
Rest assured, ladies and gentlemen, of my highest esteem.
(signed) Bertrand Delanoë
Mayor of Paris
French city Sponsors
STRASBOURG (France), March 19, 2004 (AFP) - The mayor's office of Strasbourg announced on Friday a decision to sponsor a twinning program between its municipal libraries and the independent libraries of Pinar del Río Province, in western Cuba, which are being persecuted by the Cuban authorities.
This decision was taken on the first anniversary of the arrest of approximately 80 Cuban dissidents, followed by convictions and long prison terms for 75 of them, among whom are 17 independent librarians.
In a letter addressed to the independent librarians of Pinar del Río, the mayor of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller, and the president of the urban region of Strasbourg, Robert Grossman, announced they would provide books to persons traveling to Cuba and will ask the visitors to deliver them to the independent libraries.
Below is the text of the letter sent by the mayor of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller, and the president of the urban region of Strasbourg, Robert Grossman, to the independent libraries of Pinar del Río:
Strasbourg, March 19, 2004
Dear friends among the independent librarians of Pinar del Río,
Through the Free Cuba Solidarity Committee, of France, we learned about your work for the promotion of a free culture, and of your difficulties and the persecution of which you are victims. We salute your struggle for the free circulation of ideas: a key element for the reconstruction of a civil society in Cuba in the perspective of the recovery of democracy. It is for this reason that the municipality of Strasbourg (Eastern France) and the libraries of our city decided to sponsor the independent libraries of Pinar del Río....
With regard to the support that we want to give to the independent libraries of Pinar del Río, with the help of exiled writers and intellectuals in France we intend to organize activities in the municipal libraries of Strasbourg, explaining to those of us living in a democracy the significance of jailing poets and journalists and the prohibition of books. This will also give us the opportunity to listen to the voices of the intellectuals in Cuba, who can still be heard despite their imprisonment in horrifying jails.
Today, sending this letter to you by various routes, we are trying to establish contact to learn about your needs and to find ways to aid you, in addition to our boundless moral support. We would like, for example, to send you books, magazines, and office supplies: we are looking for secure ways to achieve this goal. Let us know what channels of communication we can take advantage of. As an initial gesture of solidarity, we intend to give books to travelers leaving France for Cuba, asking them to deliver them to you, or at least to give the books to Cubans whom they meet and who are sympathetic.
Awaiting your reply, which will demonstrate that we have broken the blockade imposed by the Cuban government against its own people, we greet you in the hope that we can help Cubans in their search for the road toward democracy and prosperity.
Ms. Fabienne Keller
Mayor of Strasbourg
Mr. Robert Grossman
President of the regional communities of Strasbourg
Pinar del Río family besieged: mother, child require medical care
HAVANA, March 5, 2004 (Moisés L. Rodríguez / www.cubanet.org) - Radelis Rodríguez Soto, an employee of the León Cuervo Hospital in Pinar del Río, Cuba, has been forced to resign from her job due to a government campaign of harassment. Ms. Rodríguez Soto, 31 years old, is the daughter of Adela Soto, an independent journalist [and director of the José Angel Buesa Library]. After the government published The Dissidents, a book accusing Adela Soto of being a "notorious counterrevolutionary," workplace harassment of Radelis Rodríguez Soto intensified. She was eventually targeted for a "repudiation meeting" at the hospital where she was employed. [At repudiation meetings, long a feature of public life on the island, Orwellian assemblies are staged by the ruling Communist Party at which Cuban citizens are encouraged to denounce, threaten and shout insults at co-workers or neighbors singled out for condemnation.]
Other reprisals against the family, according to Adela Soto, have included the dumping of garbage in the doorway of their house and the throwing of eggs and other objects. The family home [also the location of the José Angel Buesa Library] is kept under almost constant surveillance by collaborators of the security forces, popularly known as "chivatos" [informers], and at other times by professional government agents.
On several occasions Ms. Rodríguez Soto has been visited in her home by the police, who issue warnings and threats about her mother's activities. About two months ago, reports Adela Soto, Radelis Rodríguez Soto was intercepted on the street by a State Security agent who goes by the name of "Mario." He told the young woman that "angry mobs could attack you and your daughter (the 6-year old grand-daughter of Adela Soto) because dissident activities will not be tolerated." The secret police agent urged Radelis Rodríguez Soto to persuade her mother to drop all contact with "tiny opposition groups" because he "couldn't conceive of a professional of her quality being mixed up with that kind of people."
As a result of these pressures, Radelis Rodríguez Soto is being treated for a worsening case of psoriasis caused by the emotional state she is in; she has also required psychiatric care.
The 6-year old daughter of Ms. Rodríguez Soto, Claudia Duarte Rodríguez, is also undergoing psychiatric treatment and suffers from a case of keratosis, which medical specialists attribute to the pressures being inflicted on her. When the child hears someone knocking on the door of the family home, she runs away crying and shouts "it is the police," explained her grandmother, Adela Soto.
Adela Soto ended her interview by noting that on February 25 someone used charcoal to write obscenities, directed at her daughter, on the door of the family home. "I don't know what they can achieve with these actions," she said.
CUBA CAGES LIBRARIANS: But there's still not a dissenting word from America's book publishers and literati
NEW YORK, March 5, 2004 (Village Voice/Nat Hentoff) - A
drive is under way to gather a million signatures by May 4 in support of bills
in Congress to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The bills seek to
restore the privacy safeguards in the Constitution that John Ashcroft eliminated
by giving the FBI the power to get bookstore and library records through the
compliant secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, without informing
readers, book buyers, the press, or anyone else.
Harvesting these protesting signatures are 40 organizations and 81 individual companies, including libraries, bookstores, book publishers, as well as writers, and other ardent advocates of everyone's freedom to read. Among them:
The American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, PEN American Center, various state library associations, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Barnes & Noble, New York University Press, Random House, and Simon & Schuster.
If you want to sign on, you can contact: Christopher Finan, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (212-587-4025), 139 Fulton Street, suite 302, New York, NY 10038.
As I told Chris, with whom I've worked in many First Amendment battles, while I am impressed by this assembly of mass indignation in the tradition of James Madison, there's something missing.
So far as I know, in this congregation of freedom-to-read activists, not one on the list—except for PEN—has said or done anything about the torment that 10 independent librarians in Cuba are undergoing in Fidel Castro's gulag, along with 65 other pro-democracy dissidents rounded up in the dictator's crackdown in April last year.
The governing council of the American Library Association, an organization on the list, disgraced itself in January when it overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to a final report at its mid-winter meeting telling Castro to let the librarians out. Apparently there are members of the council who romanticize Fidel, as do some Hollywood celebrities.
By contrast, at the book fair in Havana (February 5 to 15) this year, German PEN, part of an international group of writers that has successfully achieved the release of imprisoned writers in a number of countries, petitioned Castro to liberate the locked-up dissidents, including the librarians. The plea was rejected.
All 75 of these prisoners of conscience, as Amnesty International has designated them, are the subject of a report by a representative of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, French magistrate Christine Chanet. She reports that she "has received particularly alarming information about the conditions of detention of these people" in Castro's "unprecedented wave of repression."
On February 14, Kevin Sullivan of the Washington Post foreign service gave details of the hell that is Castro's gulag. One of his sources is Oswaldo Paya, organizer of the Varela Project, which gathered signatures of more than 10,000 courageous Cubans calling for democratic reforms. Castro tossed them aside.
Kevin Sullivan reports that Paya and other activists said "that about 20 of the jailed dissidents were suffering from such serious health problems as kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and extreme weight loss.
"The State Department and human rights groups have appealed to Castro's government to immediately release the most gravely ill prisoners, 'but it's been a complete stonewall by the government on this issue,' said Eric Olson, the Americas advocacy director for Amnesty International in Washington." Just like the American Library Association stonewalled.
Paya adds that many of these gravely ill prisoners are getting no medical treatment in what he calls "medieval cages." He says: "I would like to make an appeal to the world's conscience. It seems like there is a lot of indifference about the reality of human rights in Cuba."
I am hoping that the library associations in individual states, along with journalists, authors, and book publishers who are engaged in collecting the million signatures, will join Oswaldo Paya in demanding the release of the imprisoned Cuban librarians. After all, Ashcroft has not put any American librarians in "medieval cages."
Is there no concern among these groups and individuals about this alarming news from an actual police state?
In the January 12 New Statesman in England, there is an article by Joan Smith, chair of the Prison Committee of English PEN, and Adolfo Fernandez Saínz, a journalist serving a 15-year sentence as one of the 75 dissidents. Joan Smith writes: "According to Saínz's wife, Julia Nunez Pacheco, he is being held in a minuscule cell without any running water, electricity or the most basic hygiene facilities... . Even so, Saínz has managed to write an article and smuggle it out of jail.... We have recently heard that Saínz was badly beaten up early last month when he tried to prevent inmates from attacking another political prisoner."
Saínz's article appeals to the conscience of the world. Toward the end of this January 12 declaration of rights by Saínz and Joan Smith, there is this call:
"All those who stand for freedom and democracy must condemn the Castro regime in all its forms, a regime that has imprisoned all those who have opposed it, including human rights activists and journalists."
Saínz, the New Statesman says, is "likely to be denounced not just by his own government but by people on the left whose nostalgia for the Cuban revolution makes them willfully blind to the abuses committed by this dinosaur Stalinist regime." The blind are not only in Britain.
When Castro admirers on the ALA council refused to tell him to release the dissidents, the council's final report merely mewled "deep concern" for those left in prison.
In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Tweedledum reads Alice a poem telling of the Walrus and the Carpenter, who, having invited young oysters to join them for a walk along the briny beach, suddenly began to eat their unsuspecting companions.
And the Walrus, with sobs and tears, showing deep concern, "sorted out those of the largest size," saying, "I weep for you," as he ate every one.
During National Library Week (April 18 to 24), I hope rebellious rank-and-file American librarians, ignoring their governing council, will speak for the release of their brothers and sisters in Castro's three-feet-wide and six-feet-long cells. The International Red Cross is forbidden to visit, as it has been by Castro since 1989.
CENSORED: the Havana Book Fair, Cuban officials and German "dissidents"
BERLIN, Feb. 13, 2004 (Freitag/"Christoph Links") - [Introduction: The following article contains excerpts translated from the current issue of Freitag. The author uses the pseudonym "Christoph Links" (literally, "Christopher Left"). For many years he was a journalist covering Latin America, and since 1990 he has published books on German history].
For over 20 years I have traveled regularly to Cuba.... Actually, I wanted to be in Havana again this week to participate in the Book Fair, to meet publishing colleagues, to advise cooperative projects, and in the evenings to drink a good Mojito along the Malecón [seafront boulevard]. The fact that it did not happen is due to some events that occurred earlier...
[After a brief flirtation with liberalism in the mid-90's, the screws have tightened once again on Cuba's state-controlled publishing industry]. For publishing houses, this means submitting to the tight ideological line maintained by a former official of the Communist Youth League, who is now a leader of the Institute of Books, and waiting for the allocation of small paper allotments. The alternative is to print books in joint ventures with foreign partners and to sell the books for dollars. As Cubans earn only peso wages [equivalent to about $10 per month], this means that not even the employees of Cuban publishing houses can buy the books they themselves edit.
This atmosphere includes the increased monitoring of the cultural scene and the control of communications with foreign countries. A friend of mine had to defend himself ideologically at the University of Havana because he brought into Cuba an English-language copy of “The Chronicle of the Change,” [about East Germany's democratic transition] issued by our publishing house. Officials at the University argued this book would foster counterrevolution. Other shipments of books about change in the former East Germany did not reach the addressee at all. The donations by our publishing house to the German-language section of the national university library are rotting... because they are stored in a room with a leaky roof, which has been leaking for months. Nobody seems bothered by this fact. The library in the renovated "Humboldt House" [a German cultural foundation] in Havana’s Old City, which also holds books donated by German publishing houses, was for a long time accessible to only a few insiders; it was forbidden to reveal its existence or to display a sign listing its opening hours.
At the 2002 Havana Book Fair I could notice a drastic contrast between a facade of openness and the hidden monitoring that took place. It started with the fact that after a nocturnal censorship tour on the opening day, Cuban officials demanded the removal from the German exhibitors' stands of books by critical Cuban authors [living abroad]. The memoirs by Fidel Castro’s daughter [Alina Fernández, who fled Cuba by using a false Spanish passport] caused major concern. After we rejected this demand, the Cuban State Security police ordered Cuban colleagues at neighboring stands to secretly steal these books. But instead of doing this, they told us what was happening, so that in the evenings we would take the books back to our hotel for safekeeping.
For the first time, [at the 2002 Book Fair], there was also an Internet café, although Cubans are normally not permitted to enter this area. Upon closer scrutiny, it turned out that only foreigners were allowed to use the Internet café after showing their passport and paying in dollars. You could buy [cards] allowing a certain number of minutes of Internet access. Two additional cards bought for Cuban colleagues, with whom we hoped to keep in touch after the Fair by Web Mail, turned out to be bad investments, since the access codes were canceled as soon as the Book Fair ended. It is not a coincidence that during the trials of writers, [librarians] and journalists last spring, which ended with the majority of them receiving sentences of over 15 years..., the Internet was branded as a “diversionist instrument of imperialism".
The 13th Havana Book Fair is now being held from February 5-15. At this Fair the main theme is German culture... [The German government had previously agreed to finance the event]. But then in March 2003 the country-wide raids against dissidents started, followed by circus-like trials with their draconian sentences. When protests erupted among many normally Cuba-friendly, Western European intellectuals, these complaints were rejected as "submission to US imperialism" and "complicity with the Iraq aggressor". Due to this affair, in mid-August the German Foreign Office canceled official German participation in this year’s Book Fair. However, it allowed all publishing houses to participate in the Fair....
Two German participants... were singled out for praise at the Fair's opening ceremony this year; they were called "real dissidents” by Iroel Sánchez, the boss of the Cuban Institute of Books, since they are opposed to official German government policy. In contrast, said Mr. Sánchez, the dissidents in Cuba are manipulated and promoted by the North American press. One day later, the Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, praised the "culture of resistance" of the German representatives.... He declined to talk about the resistance in his own country. Nor did he speak about Cuban dissidents during an earlier Fair meeting when he was presented with a petition from the PEN writers’ club calling for the release of arrested Cuban writers. He said these authors were “not real writers”, therefore it was not the business of PEN.
Because of these developments and because of the fact that it is not possible to make arrangements with colleagues in Cuban publishing houses, since they have no decision-making power, many German publishers did not attend the Havana Book Fair this year. Nevertheless, we still favor an active cultural exchange with Cuba.
None of us would probably be pleased to be called a “dissident” by a Cuban government official who justifies the suppression of dissidents in his own country.
Full text: (http://www.freitag.de/2004/08/04081602.php)
[Note: Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor founded Cuba's
independent library movement in 1998 after hearing President Castro say at the
Havana Book Fair: "There are no prohibited books in Cuba, only a lack of money
to purchase them."]
Two more libraries raided: "They aren't going to get away with it"
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, January 29, 2004 (Nueva Prensa Cubana/ Haydeé Rodríguez) - [Introduction: The following article was filed by journalist Haydeé Rodríguez, an elderly veteran of the underground war against the Batista regime who now carries on the hazardous work of an independent journalist and librarian. The subject of her article is a series of State Security Police raids in the city of Santiago on Jan. 28, the birthday of José Martí, Cuba's hero in the 19th century struggle for independence. Since the Cuban government's March 2003 crackdown on dissidents, many independent journalists in Cuba now file their articles anonymously as a precaution against reprisals. But Haydeé Rodríguez continues to write unpolished but vivid articles under her own name. A photo of Ms. Rodríguez can be seen at: (www.pcro.org/Fotohaydee.htm)].
Yesterday a search was made of the house of an independent journalist, José Antonio Reyner, located at 816 Federico Rey St., in the town of El Cuabito. There they [the secret police] confiscated the journalist's tape recorder, a Samsung radio, books, etc. And they gave him a warning that he could be put on trial.
Then they went to the house of Robert Perera, where the Martyrs of March 13 Library is located, and they conducted a search and took away books. Later they went to the house of Ana María Espinosa Escobedo [the White Rose Library], where they seized all the library's books on political subjects, such as "Encounter with Cuban Culture" [and] "Hispano Cuban Magazine," and they took a fax machine that had been loaned to her so she could send a message to her husband, and they confiscated it, too. They left her a warning notice and threatened that her situation would become more complicated if she told anybody what happened. They don't want anyone to know what they've done.
Specifically, they told her: "That insolent woman from San Carlos" - that's me, Haydeé Rodríguez, "she better not say anything [about the raids], because we don't care how old she is; the courts treat everybody the same, whether they are infants or old people."
So I'm also being threatened with jail if I tell what happened. And I'm also expecting a search of my house, although they won't find anything, because I was an underground fighter [in the struggle against Batista] and I know how to handle that kind of people.
They are just the same as when Hitler invaded Europe in the year 1939, during Kristallnacht, when he said "we can do anything we want, and no one is going to find out about it."
They want to do all of this and today they are staging parades to celebrate the 151st anniversary of the birth of Martí. And the outcome for us is repression, threats of jail, the seizure of all our property.... We are being threatened; they tell us we can't speak out and we better not say anything.
But as long as I am alive, while a minute of life remains, I am going to keep on speaking out, nobody is going to stop me. And if they cut out my tongue I'll keep writing, and if they cut off my hands I'll keep writing with my feet; I don't know what I'm going to do, but they aren't going to get away with it. This is the situation we are in, and this is the testimony of:
Nat Hentoff renounces ALA award in Cuba protest
The Abandoned Librarians:
Castro's Judges Burn Books "Lacking Usefulness"
NEW YORK, January 29, 2004 (Village Voice/Nat Hentoff)
- As I've been reporting in this column, there has been a fierce civil war
within the American Library Association as to whether that body—the largest
organization of librarians in the world—will help free the 10 librarians locked
up in Fidel Castro's gulag for the next 20 or more years for making available to
Cubans such subversive documents as the United Nations Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and George Orwell's 1984.
At its mid-winter meeting in San Diego, the ALA was finally going to reveal whether it would live up to its principles. On January 14, the day the decision was to be made, Carla Hayden, president of the American Library Association, in a letter to The San Diego Union-Tribune, proudly set forth those ALA principles:
"ALA and other library associations around the world have a long-standing commitment to intellectual freedom and access to information. It is a fundamental value that is near and dear to the hearts of all librarians, library workers, and library supporters. . . . ALA stands committed to the freedom to read freely."
But that very day, the governing council of the American Library Association shamed rank-and-file librarians across this country, many of whom have been vigorously and publicly resisting the section of John Ashcroft's Patriot Act that gives the FBI the power to search library records for the names of borrowers who have taken out books the FBI thinks may be linked to terrorism.
Karen Schneider, a member of the governing council, proposed an amendment to the section of the final report on the proceedings of the mid-winter meeting that concerned Castro's imprisonment of the librarians along with 65 other independent journalists and human rights workers. She said, "In calling for the release of the people arrested in [Castro's] March 2003 crackdown, we join Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, President Jimmy Carter, journalist Nat Hentoff (recipient of the 1983 ALA Immroth [Intellectual Freedom] award), and other organizations and individuals who champion free speech everywhere."
In her amendment, Karen Schneider emphasized that demanding Castro free these prisoners of conscience "is consistent with ALA policies, including ALA Policy 58.8, which affirms our support for Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression[,]' . . . and especially [ALA Policy] 58.1 (2) . . . to 'support human rights and intellectual freedom worldwide.' " (Emphasis added.)
And this is how the vote went down on Schneider's amendment to free the prisoners, some of whom are of an age that makes it likely that, unless liberated, they will die in the gulag for the crime of thinking and acting as free individuals in a dictatorship.
Karen Schneider's amendment was overwhelmingly voted down by the 182-member ALA council. Only about five hands were raised to support it. Next week, I will report on praise from a high Cuban official for the ALA's rejection of the Schneider amendment.
So much for the ALA leadership's devotion to "free speech everywhere."
It is the leadership I accuse of hypocrisy, of being whited sepulchres. As a reporter on intellectual-freedom issues, I have known and respected many librarians around the country as they fought, sometimes in peril of their jobs, against censorship by local politicians, library boards, and right-wing and left-wing politically correct pressure groups.
It is hard for me to believe that the majority of rank-and-file librarians agree with the spinelessness of their governing council, which couldn't bring itself to ask the luminous Fidel Castro to let these people go.
In the ALA's final report, there is a classic sanctimonious, Uriah Heep expression of "deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba." But nothing about unlocking the cells. Gee, maybe ALA president Carla Hayden and other members of the hierarchy will send the prisoners, including the 10 librarians, a quote from Fidel Castro when he was imprisoned by the dictatorship that preceded his. Wrote Castro: "In prison, there were no rifles for training, no stone fortresses from which to shoot. Behind those walls, our rifles were books. And through study, stone by stone we built our fortress, the only one that is invincible: the fortress of ideas." (Emphasis added.)
In their filthy cells now, Castro's own prisoners might take some comfort clutching that quotation in the small hours of the night. Surely their guards would not confiscate as contraband a quotation from the Maximum Leader himself! Or would they?
After sentencing the independent librarians, Castro's judges, in a number of cases, declared the confiscated library materials "lacking in usefulness" and ordered them burned. Will the American Library Association hold a memorial service?
Keep in mind that every year the ALA sponsors Banned Books Week in libraries around the country, with exhibits of books that have been censored, and sometimes even burned. (Harry Potter was incinerated by a right-wing American preacher a couple of years ago.) By invitation, I have spoken during Banned Books Week at libraries in various towns and cities. Will any library invite me this year during Banned Books Week (from September 25 to October 2) to tell about the bonfires of books from formerly independent Cuban libraries?
Karen Schneider, in her scorned amendment to the final report, mentioned my support of her amendment, and that I had received the prized ALA Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom. The citation reads: "For courageous and articulate advocacy of the First Amendment as an author, speaker, and activist for human rights" (June 1983).
I now publicly renounce the Immroth Award and demand that the American Library Association remove me from the list of recipients of that honor. To me, it is no longer an honor. Someone I know in the ALA, who was at the San Diego meeting, explained to me that some members of the council whispered privately that they agreed with the amendment calling for freeing the librarians but had to vote it down because they didn't want to be vilified as being "on the wrong team." They have put themselves in their own prison.
Other recent Nat Hentoff columns in the Village Voice on the ALA's Cuba scandal:
Bill Moyers—Practicing Dissent: Castro's "Free" Universal Education
A U.S. Librarian Defends Castro: Books to Overthrow Castro?
Criminalizing Librarians: Is Victor Arroyo a "Traitor to Cuba"?
In Castro's Gulag—Librarians Abandoned by the American Library Association
Internet ban deters "satanic cults"
NEW YORK, January 27, 2004 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - The Cuban government has responded angrily to worldwide protests of its tightened ban on home-based access to the Internet, scheduled to go into effect in late January. Only a small percentage of Cuban citizens are allowed to surf the World Wide Web, and even before the new ban was enacted home-based access to the Internet through the public telephone service was generally illegal. Until now, however, many Cubans have been able to clandestinely surf the Net by purchasing passwords on the black market. The new law will make it easier for the government to track down and prosecute unauthorized Internet use over the public telephone lines.
From its London-based headquarters, Amnesty International issued a report saying that the new law to "impede unofficial Internet use constitute[s] yet another attempt to cut off Cubans' access to alternative views and a space for discussing them." In a letter to a New Zealand newspaper (Scoop, January 24), the Cuban ambassador, Miguel Ramirez, described Amnesty International's protest as "totally biased and full of prejudices according to the values of western and developed countries...," and he defended Cuba's new law as a reasonable measure to "regulate access to [the] Internet and avoid hackers, stealing passwords, [and] access to pornographic, satanic cults, terrorist or other negative sites..."
In response to a Jan. 16 protest of the new Internet ban by the intellectual freedom committee of the International Federation of Library Associations, known by the acronym FAIFE, Cuba's official library association accused FAIFE of using a double standard in criticizing violations of intellectual freedom. Declaring that the IFLA committee "spins acrobatic pirouettes in order not to scrape, not even with a flower petal, the 'democratic' societies...," the Cuban organization complained of FAIFE's alleged neglect of western nations such as Spain, where the government "closes newspapers and tortures journalists," and the United States, where the government "hunts down readers' records, blackmails librarians, and violates the privacy of all of its citizens' communications." In contrast, the island's government-controlled library association accused FAIFE of singling out Cuba by "showing unusual vigor and astonishing agility when trying to issue anathemas against revolutionary Cuba." (http://www.bnjm.cu/librinsula/2004/enero/03/dossier/dossier.htm)
On the domestic front, Cuba's official press responded to international criticism of the Internet crackdown with a flurry of defensive articles ("Cuba Promotes a Truly Democratic Internet, Specialists and Social Leaders Affirm," La Jiribilla, Jan. 24-30). The Cuban Minister of Information and Communications, Ignacio Gonzalez Planas, asserted in a press interview (Juventud Rebelde, Jan. 18) that "everywhere, every day, measures are taken [in other countries] to prevent disorder, which is essential if the Web is to function well. When we ourselves take certain basic measures to control illegality, criticism immediately flares up from people claiming to be worried about the 'freedom' of the Cubans, even though [the critics] could confirm for themselves, although it pains them to do so, that the Cuban people are the freest people on Earth."
The new law cracking down on home-based Internet use is only one segment of an intensified government campaign to reduce contacts between Cuba and the outside world. In recent weeks the police, in coordination with Cuba's nationwide system of block committees, have renewed their efforts to locate and tear down unauthorized satellite antennas used by some Cuban homeowners to view foreign television stations; the owners of the antennas are heavily fined. Videotapes stocked by clandestine rental stores, denounced as "transmitters of violence, vice and pornography," are being seized in raids intended to suppress "ideological diversionism" and limit television viewing to Cuba's official broadcasters. Registered computers can be legally purchased only at government-owned stores, and the baggage of arriving foreign visitors is often x-rayed to prevent the importation of high-tech equipment. The regime is also conducting a campaign called "Operation Windows" to register all computers on the island, whether publicly or privately owned. Many Cubans, fearing that Operation Windows will be followed by a general confiscation of home-owned computers, are hiding their high-tech equipment from the police and the nationwide system of neighborhood surveillance groups, known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
IFLA protests Cuban Internet crackdown
NEW YORK, January 19, 2004 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On
January 16 the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) expressed
"deep concern" over the Cuban government's latest effort to restrict Internet
access on the island. In its report, IFLA's intellectual freedom
committee, known by the acronym FAIFE, protested a new law which prohibits Cuban
citizens from surfing the Internet through the telephone service available to
the general public. Instead, home-based Internet access will be limited to a
small group, such as foreign investors, who subscribe to a separate telephone
service paid for in dollars, which few Cubans can afford.
IFLA's new statement is the latest in a series of reports issued by the global librarians' association with regard to intellectual freedom in Cuba. As recently as May, 2003, IFLA had expressed concern over the arrest of Cuban citizens, including members of the island's pioneering independent library movement, who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after one-day trials. "Once again," notes the new report, "IFLA and its worldwide membership urge the Cuban Government to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We urge the Cuban Government to eliminate all obstacles to access to the Internet imposed by its policies." The full text of the IFLA report can be read on the Internet at: (www.ifla.org/V/press/cuba160104.htm).
Except for a small segment of the population, Internet access in Cuba had already been illegal before the newly-enacted decree, and one government official had branded the Internet as an "instrument of the devil." But some enterprising Cubans had managed to evade the ban by using the public telephone system and illegally-acquired passwords to surf the Net. With the enactment of the new law, however, it will be easier for the government to carry out its vow to track down and prosecute anyone who logs onto the Internet without authorization.
The new law cracking down on home-based Internet use is only one segment of a broader government campaign to restrict communications between Cuba and the outside world. In recent weeks the police, in coordination with Cuba's nationwide system of block committees, have renewed their efforts to locate and tear down the unauthorized satellite antennas used by some Cuban homeowners to view foreign television stations. Registered computers can be legally purchased only at government-owned stores, and the baggage of arriving foreign visitors is often x-rayed to prevent the importation of "illegal" high tech equipment. The regime is also conducting a campaign called "Operation Windows" to register all computers on the island, both publicly and privately owned. Many Cubans, fearing that Operation Windows will be followed by a general confiscation of home-owned computers, are hiding their high tech equipment from the police and the block committees.
In response to intense foreign press coverage, the Cuban
Minister of Information and Communications, Ignacio González
Planas, denied that Cuba is tightening access to the Internet. In an interview
with the official press ("Digitalization and Internet Access Will Continue to
Grow," Juventud Rebelde, Jan. 18), González
Planas defended the new law as a reasonable effort to oppose "hackers, Trojan
horses, illegalities in the use of the Internet, [and] pornography..." The
Minister asserted that "everywhere, every day, measures are taken [in other
countries] to prevent disorder, which is essential if the Web is to function
well. When we ourselves take certain basic measures to control illegality,
criticism immediately flares up from people claiming to be worried about the
'freedom' of the Cubans, even though [the critics] could confirm for
themselves, although it pains them to do so, that the Cuban people are the
freest people on Earth."
U.S. librarians 'fail' jailed Cubans
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 16, 2004 (Guy Taylor/Washington
The largest U.S. library association this week opted not to demand the release of private Cuban librarians jailed by Fidel Castro's government in the spring, despite voting to support an investigation of the incarcerations by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
At its national meeting in San Diego, the American Library Association, noting that individuals operating private libraries in Cuba consider themselves "political dissidents" not librarians [sic], left out specific language calling for their release Wednesday.
"Today marks a tragic date in the history of the American Library
Association," said Robert Kent, head of the New York-based advocacy group Friends of Cuban Libraries. "They failed to live up to their highest ideal, which is a support for intellectual freedom as a universal human right."
John W. Berry, a former ALA president and head of the group's international relations committee that was involved in writing the report, said yesterday that the group did act, but avoided stronger language because of internal opposition.
It was a "contentious issue within our association," he said. "Several people felt that it was not our place to go there."
Since the late 1990s, an underground movement has been afoot in Cuba to defy Mr. Castro's ban on a wide variety of books, ranging from works by poets and writers advocating human rights to volumes on free market economics or religious freedom. The movement is driven by individuals establishing an interconnected community of independent libraries in private homes across the island.
As many as 200 of the private, free libraries were established by 2003 when the Castro regime rounded up about 75 dissidents nationwide. Among those arrested were 14 independent librarians, who, according to published reports, are facing a collective 196 years in prison for challenging their government's laws regarding what books people are allowed to read.
The situation has prompted some U.S. supporters of the Independent Library Project of Cuba to request that the 64,000-strong ALA call on Mr. Castro to release members of the project who have been detained.
The ALA neglected to do so, adopting instead a declaration of unity with the International Federation of Library Associations in The Hague, which previously urged Cuba to loosen its policies toward controlling information and called on the United States to share information materials widely with Cuba.
ALA critics contend that the group is ignoring the plea of jailed librarians in Cuba and missing an opportunity to support a fledgling movement of intellectual freedom on the communist island.
Ramón Colás, one of the founders of the Independent Library Project of Cuba, who lives in Miami and has been vocal about the ALA's failure to pass a resolution, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The report adopted by the ALA does urge Cuba "to eliminate obstacles to access to information imposed by its policies." It also calls on Mr. Castro's government "to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights" defined by the United Nations.
to conscience: Library group is shamefully silent on Cuba
SAN DIEGO, January 9, 2004 (Union-Tribune Editorial) - The American Library Association, officially pledged to promote freedom of information and expression, begins its midwinter meeting today in San Diego shamefully silent on just that issue.
Since 1998, bands of courageous Cuban citizens have defied Fidel
Castro's dictatorship by creating an independent library movement. In a country where most people can read only what the Cuban state and the Cuban Communist Party approve, the independent library movement offers citizens free access to books featuring alternative ideas.
Ideas like democracy and human rights, for example. Or the works of Cuba's many banned writers and poets. Or volumes on free-market economics. Or works on religious faith. Or biographies of anyone out of favor in the world's remaining communist holdouts. These are books that have been effectively banned in Cuba for decades.
The independent library movement seeks to circumvent that ban by opening book collections in private homes to the Cuban public. By 2003, about 200 of these private, free libraries (typically containing several hundred books each) were operating across Cuba.
That was too much for the aging Castro, still vigorously suppressing any hint of opposition to his 44 years of one-man rule. Among the 75 Cuban dissidents rounded up, summarily tried and sentenced to long prison terms by Castro's regime last April were 10 independent librarians. Their collective sentence for daring to offer Cubans a free choice of library books – 196 years in Cuba's gulag.
One might imagine that the American Library Association would leap to condemn this atrocity against defenseless librarians and the basic human rights of 11 million Cubans. Incredibly, the ALA said nothing.
At its annual meeting last June in Toronto, ALA delegates dithered over inane technicalities. Were Cuban citizens without degrees in library science really librarians? ALA delegates allowed Cuban government representatives to speak for three hours. The sole Cuban dissident who showed up to represent the imprisoned librarians was denied the right to speak.
In the end, moral blinders and the influence of a handful of
left-leaning ALA activists sympathetic to the Cuban revolution
prevailed. An association supposedly dedicated to freedom of
information, inquiry and expression said nothing about Cuba's brutal
crackdown against private home libraries and librarians.
The American Library Association has a chance at its San Diego meeting to correct this disgraceful silence. An ALA task force report reportedly will include the option of condemning Castro's suppression of private libraries and expressing solidarity with peaceful librarians now languishing in Cuban prisons on sentences of up to 28 years each.
If the ALA cannot manage that, its moral and political credibility on
human rights issues will be irrevocably damaged.
The ALA: "Castro's
PROVIDENCE, RI, December 24, 2003 (Providence Journal Op-Ed) -
The American Library Association is concerned about Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which lets the FBI, while investigating terrorism, match lists of books with their borrowers. U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft says that he is not invoking Section 215, but, as the ALA points out, that does not prevent its use in the future. The ALA supports the right of people to gain access to information without qualification: in the words of its slogan, "Free People Read Freely."
How, then, to explain the ALA's attitude toward the freedom to read in Cuba? Several months ago, after a secret trial barred to foreigners, the Castro regime sent some 75 political dissidents, including 10 librarians, to the Cuban gulag for long sentences with hard labor. Their "crimes" included possessing subversive reading material, such as books about democracy, and talking to visiting journalists and human-rights activists.
The former presidents of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and Arpad Goncz -- have condemned this outrage, as have a long list of left-wing activists in the United States, including historian Howard Zinn and linguist Noam Chomsky. In a recent declaration in The Progressive magazine, Messrs. Zinn, Chomsky and others stated that "the imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Castro government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and organize freely."
This is in stark contrast to the behavior of the American Library
Association. When some independent Cuban librarians attended the ALA convention in Toronto last June, they were denied a speaking place on the program. Meanwhile, representatives of the Castro dictatorship were given three hours to talk. Not only did the ALA prevent the Cuban democrats from appealing to their fellow librarians; it also refused to condemn the Cuban government for suppressing free speech and punishing librarians for exercising their freedom to read.
No American has been arrested, secretly tried, and imprisoned for 25 years for walking into a public library and checking out a book, Section 215 of the Patriot Act notwithstanding. But 10 librarians now languish in a Cuban prison for encouraging their fellow citizens to "read freely" -- and the American Library Association seems to think that's just fine.
Nat Hentoff: The ALA's
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 8, 2003 ("A Brave New World," Washington Times Op-Ed/Nat Hentoff) - What has particularly irritated the attorney general is the vigorous dissent of many American librarians to Section 215 of John Ashcroft's Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to match lists of certain books with their borrowers as part of investigations into terrorism. The attorney general finally declared he is not using that provision of the act, but librarians point out that he did not say he will never implement it in the future.
Accordingly, more and more librarians are informing people who come to
the libraries about that law, and suggest they urge the attorney general to protect their right to read without being put into a government database.
Meanwhile, however, the American Library Association (ALA), with its more
than 64,000 members, is ignoring a much more pressing human rights issue. The organization refuses to condemn Fidel Castro for sending to his gulag, for prison terms of up to 28 years, 10 independent Cuban librarians — who were included among the 75 independent journalists, union organizers, economists, human rights workers and other dissidents who were rounded up. The librarians resist the dictator's censorship of ideas, as do all those captured in the raids.
This crackdown on freedom of speech — and freedom to read — took place last April at summary trials in remote locations that were closed to foreign
journalists. Amnesty International considers these 75 dissidents, including the independent librarians, to be "prisoners of conscience."
Yet, at the ALA's annual conference last June in Toronto, Cuban
independent librarians were refused a speaking place on the program. Only Mr. Castro's official librarians were accorded the freedom to speak — for nearly three hours. And there was no ALA resolution to demand that Cuba's leader release the independent librarians. Some of them — like a number of other prisoners of conscience in Castro's gulag — badly need and are being denied medical attention.
Declaring "the fundamental rights of all human beings to access
information without restriction," the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions in The Hague has condemned this brutal suppression of nonviolent dissent. And Jose Miguel Vivanco — executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch — says "Cuba is flouting fundamental human rights norms."
Moreover, in a Sept. 18 Washington Post article, Vaclav Havel, former
president of the Czech Republic; Lech Walesa, former president of Poland; and Arpad Goncz, former president of Hungary joined to condemn Mr. Castro's draconian imprisonment of Cubans "merely for daring to express an opinion other than the official one."
And in the July issue of the Progressive magazine, a long list of
Americans who dissent from their own government — among them: historian Howard Zinn; linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky; Progressive Editor Matthew Rothschild; and philosopher Cornel West — condemn Mr. Castro's arrests and "the shockingly long prison sentences ... imposed after unfair trials" of the Cuban dissidents, including the independent librarians.
The signers of that ad oppose the American embargo on Cuba, but emphasize that "the imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Castro government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and organize freely."
Yet, here is the ALA with its rallying cry, "Free People Read Freely,"
abandoning these extraordinarily courageous Cuban librarians, who, under a dictatorship, advocate, to their own great peril, the same right to read freely that we Americans enjoy. The ALA's membership booklet proclaims "the public's right to explore in their libraries many points of view on all questions and issues facing them."
In our American libraries, we can borrow George Orwell's "1984" and a
copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but those, and many other publications, were only available in Cuba in the homes of the independent librarians who dared to offer them to their fellow citizens.
The ALA will have its next Midwinter Meeting from Jan. 9 to Jan. 14 in
San Diego. Those in attendance — ALA officials, including officers of libraries around the country and rank-and-file members — will have a chance to rescind the shameful silence of the ALA.
Mr. Ashcroft has put none of the delegates to San Diego in prison; and it
takes no courage — only self-respect — for them to insist on the freedom of those librarians in Cuba who may not be "professional" librarians. But they certainly are the very exemplars of the ALA's purported dedication to everyone's freedom to read — and freedom of conscience.
The next time you go to a public library, ask the librarians if they
stand with their colleagues in Mr. Castro's prisons.
Library books burned by court order
NEW YORK, Sept. 28, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On April 5, after a one-day trial before the State Security Court in the city of Santiago, Cuban dissident Julio Valdés was convicted of conspiring with U.S. diplomats to commit "crimes against the national sovereignty and economy of Cuba" and sentenced to 20 years in prison. One of the accusations made against Julio Valdés was the founding of a "self-proclaimed Independent Library" to "ideologically subvert the reader with the clear purpose, by means of inducing confusion, to recruit persons for the counter-revolution..." After sentencing the defendant to 20 years in prison, the judges also condemned Valdes' library materials as "lacking in usefulness" and ordered them to be destroyed by fire.
These startling details are contained in leaked court documents on the case of Julio Valdés and other dissidents convicted during the Castro regime's spring crackdown on the island nation's emerging civil society. The voluminous legal documents relating to these trials, smuggled off the island and recently published on the World Wide Web by Florida State University, can be seen at: (www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu). The legal papers, in the original Spanish and in English translation, confirm Amnesty International's conclusion that the defendants arrested in the spring roundup are prisoners of conscience detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The newly-published documents also contradict government denials that Cuban citizens are being persecuted for opening a network of independent libraries. Since 1998, approximately 200 independent libraries have been established across the island with the goal of challenging the Castro regime's system of censorship.
The court papers published on the Internet detail a March 19 raid on the home of Julio Valdés, during which he was arrested and the contents of his library were cataloged and seized, along with medicines, photographic film, an audio cassette and radios. Among the "subversive" library materials cataloged in the trial proceedings were copies of "Cuba's Repressive Machinery" by Human Rights Watch, issues of TIME magazine, pamphlets on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Catholic periodicals, "Letters from Burma" by Aung San Suu Kyi, and the text of speeches made by various persons during the European Parliament's ceremony awarding the Sakharov Prize, in absentia, to Cuban dissident leader Oswaldo Payá. The court condemned Julio Valdés for "accumulating books, magazines and pamphlets by counter-revolutionary authors in foreign countries, principally in Miami, Florida, United States of America, which exhort civil disobedience, twisting historical events and the achievements of illustrious thinkers and revolutionary patriots..." in order to "provoke the destruction of the political, social and economic order now existing in Cuba...."
After sentencing Julio Valdés to twenty year in prison, the
presiding judges in his case also decreed: "As to the disposition of the
photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines,
pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of
incineration because they lack usefulness."
"If you travel to Cuba, take a book"
PARIS, July 24, 2003 (Le Monde/Paulo A. Paranagua) - In Cuba, a love of reading can be dangerous. During the wave of repression in April, twenty-two independent libraries, considered subversive enterprises, were dismantled. Among the fourteen independent librarians arrested, José García Paneque was condemned to twenty-four years in prison.
This did not keep the Liberty and Democracy Library from opening its doors on Monday, July 21, to the public, in a private home in the Ávila neighborhood of Camagüey province. The library has three hundred books.
Despite the April crackdown, the "home" librarians continue to work openly
(www.bibliocuba.org). The names and addresses of those responsible for the Liberty and Democracy Library are found on the website of the
nongovernmental agency Cubanet.
"At the International Book Fair in Havana, in 1998, Fidel Castro declared
that in Cuba there were no forbidden books and that what was missing was the money to buy them with," Ramón Humberto Colás recently recollected in Paris. Berta Mexidor and Ramón Colás decided to take the Maximum Leader at his word and founded the first independent (or home) library in Las Tunas. They named it after Father Félix Varela, a 19th Century Cuban thinker. Soon the library had attracted 1500 readers. The first was García Paneque, who is now paying the high cost of his love for reading.
GATHERING SUPPORT IN EUROPE
"Reading is a right," said Ramón Colás, who reaffirmed one condition of the
project's advocates, "One should never hide a library, everything should be
visible." Cubans in exile who visit relatives, tourists, and certain
embassies -- the United States, the Low Countries, Spain, the Czech
Republic, Sweden -- fill the bookshelves with Spanish editions. Madrid
dailies El País, El Mundo, and ABC as well as El Nuevo Herald (Miami Herald)
attract readers subjected to the wooden tongue of the Granma newspaper,
organ of the single political party.
In a Cuban film, Strawberry and Chocolate, books by Peruvian author Mario
Vargas Llosa, who had broken with Castroism, were circulated hidden under
coats... Ten years after the movie was made, the situation hasn't changed
much. Writers in exile, whose names have for a long time been erased from
reference books such as the Dictionary of Cuban Literature, are only honored posthumously or have their works printed in little circulated editions. One example is the admirable El Monte by anthropologist Lydia Cabrera. The book has recently appeared in French with the title "La Forêt et les Dieux" ("The Forest and the Gods", ed. Jean-Michel Place). However, novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante is still the inquisitors' pet aversion.
Now a researcher at the University of Miami, Ramón Colás has come to Europe in search of support for the libraries. "If you go to Cuba, take a book," he tells travelers. At the Quay d'Orsay, he has asked for French classics and library training for the independent librarians. Because of a European Union directive, French authorities have reconsidered their cooperation with Cuba and no longer train Cuban police. Will flamboyant French diplomacy now support the embryo of civil society by training librarians rather than policemen? (Translated by Laura Y. Tartakoff)
[NOTE: Two days after this article was published in Le
Monde, the French ambassador in Havana invited Gisela Delgado, the national
director of Cuba's independent library movement, to the Embassy's Bastille Day
The forgotten 14: The American Library Association embraces Castro
NEW YORK, July 22, 2003 (National Review Online/Duncan Currie) - Has the American Library Association (ALA) become Fidel Castro's latest "useful idiot"? On the surface, it seems implausible: Any organization dedicated to the uncensored dissemination of books, journals, and ideas would naturally be critical of a dictator who suppresses liberty with an iron fist. After all, a champion of open expression can't be indifferent to Castro's persecution of free thinkers, right?
Well, according to several top members of the ALA, maybe not. A dispute at the association's annual conference in Toronto last month revealed a troubling obtuseness about the status of human rights in Cuba.
The "controversial" issue at hand was whether the ALA should formally respond to Havana's jailing of 14 independent librarians earlier this year.... Ultimately, the ALA chose to postpone any resolution on Cuba until January, claiming that it didn't yet have sufficient evidence to make a judgment.
Winston Tabb, the outgoing chairman of the ALA's international-relations committee, gave perhaps the flimsiest rationale for the association's decision. "One of the questions was whether there was too much focus on Cuba," he said in the New York Times, "and whether we should focus on freedom of access to information and freedom of expression generally. Those questions arise in Cuba but they arise in other places, too." Tabb listed Turkey and Zimbabwe as two of these other places. This evasive logic posits that unless all violators of free speech are being censured, no one government or dictator should be criticized. But even if there are more than a few tyrannies that stifle intellectual and journalistic liberties, how does that excuse the most egregious offenders, such as Castro?
But at least Tabb stopped short of questioning the jailed librarians' credentials as librarians. Other ALA representatives, as it happens, did, including Mark Rosenzweig, an at-large member of the association's Social Responsibility Round Table and the director of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies (the official repository of the Communist Party USA's archives). "There was hardly even the pretense that these people were librarians," Rosenzweig told author Charlotte Allen, writing in the Los Angeles Times. "I have got books in my apartment but that doesn't make me a librarian. These are people who have been dissidents for many years. They're pro-U.S. [The nerve!] They have connections with the Miami dissident groups."
Similarly, outgoing Latin American subcommittee chairman Edward Erazo contended in the New York Times, "If you have 100 books in your home and you make them available to friends, are you a librarian?" "It's political," he said of Havana's crackdown. "It has nothing to do with the fact that they operate independent libraries."
This is pure sophistry. Why would it matter if the imprisoned librarians were only political dissidents who wanted to share books and opinions with their fellow Cubans? Just because they weren't professional librarians, does that somehow make their arrests any less deplorable? To be sure, the only official librarians in Cuba are those who work in state-sanctioned libraries — venues that are closely monitored by the regime.
Yet the most shocking, perhaps, of the ALA's many wrongheaded statements about Cuba came from outgoing president Maurice J. Freedman. He maintained, in the New York Times and elsewhere, that the independent librarians could likely have been "paid agents of the U.S. government." Freedman implied that this view was shared by others in the association leadership. It is a view, of course, one might expect to read in the pages of Granma, Havana's Communist-party daily. That the ALA president repeated it as possible truth is most discouraging. Association members repeatedly argued that the facts concerning intellectual freedom on the island are still unclear. This has been the ALA's unofficial position, it would seem, for the better part of five years. Before reviewing the association's dodgy record on Cuba during that time, some quick background might be useful.
The Independent Libraries in Cuba Project was begun in February 1998. Its goal was to provide outlets for books or pamphlets that people might not be able to find in the official government-run libraries. The "independent libraries" that soon emerged were not libraries in the traditional sense; rather, they operated out of the homes of journalists, authors, and activists. Not surprisingly, Havana was quick to crack down on their activity and threaten the independent librarians.
This harassment did not go unnoticed. Library associations in other countries quickly became active in supporting the independent Cuban librarians. In the fall of 1999, about 20 months after the movement began, Holland's National Union of Librarians wrote a letter urging the Dutch government to speak out against Castro's ongoing repression. (Organizations in Canada, Spain, and Denmark have also officially denounced the librarians' treatment.)
Meanwhile, in a September 1999 report titled "Independent Libraries in Cuba," the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) stated that the Cuban regime "has responded to the independent libraries with a campaign of threats, intimidation, harassment, eviction, short-term arrests, and the confiscation of their incoming book donations or book collections." One private librarian whose story the IFLA cited was Mirna Riveron. Starting in May 1999, her home in Santiago was frequently surrounded by thuggish mobs. "Included among these groups, organized by the government," the report noted, "are young men in uniform who fire volleys of gunfire in the air outside her house."
In August of that year, Ramón Humberto Colás Castillo and his wife, Berta Mexidor Vazquez, the founders of the island's first independent library, were evicted from their home in Las Tunas province. They were temporarily detained by the regime, before fleeing to the United States with their children. Amnesty International reported that they "had lived in their home for 13 years before being told they were illegal occupants."
Unfortunately, despite such documented persecution, the ALA has been largely mute on the issue, conveniently shrugging off the testimony of Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, among others. Actually, its behavior has been even more disheartening than that. In January and May 2001, the association's Latin American subcommittee conducted investigations into possible abuses in Cuba. (During the May probe, ALA members visited the island.) On both occasions, the ALA teams claimed to find either scant or "inconclusive" evidence of government censorship, and they chose not to criticize the regime's oppression of independent librarians. The May report went a step further, gushing over Cuba's literacy rate and the apparent vibrancy of its state-run public libraries.
Moreover, in the September 2001 issue of American Libraries, the association's monthly publication, then-ALA president John W. Berry wrote that if access to information was imperiled in Cuba, it was largely due to "U.S. foreign policy and the economy...." In other words, American policy — and not barriers thrown up by Havana — was preventing the Cuban people from reading what they wanted.
Interestingly enough, the association's stance on Cuba has been almost the complete opposite of its stance on South Africa during the late 1980s. Back then, it supported a book boycott as part of its anti-apartheid efforts. At its 1987 convention, for example, the ALA voted down a resolution that would have opposed library restrictions that were making it nearly impossible for American publishers to sell books to South Africa.
Why the double standard when it comes to information access in Cuba? As Robert Kent, co-founder of Friends of Cuban Libraries, explains, "There have been constant attacks on the facts by the extremist faction within the ALA." Most of these "extremists" are on the Latin American subcommittee, where they "exert undue influence" on Cuba policy.
But the larger problem, as Kent sees it, is complacency. "A small group of extremists can often seize control of an organization when the ruling council of the organization is not paying attention to its duties," he says. Indeed, the unchallenged extremists have become the ALA's mouthpiece on Cuba issues. This should be deeply upsetting to all those who support the island's independent librarians. As Mary Anastasia O'Grady has written in the Wall Street Journal, "The ALA's 64,000 dues-paying members might like to know who's setting policies in their name."
Amidst this controversy, it's easy to forget the jailed librarians themselves, the 14 remarkable individuals who now languish somewhere in Cuba's dungeons. Their only crime was to challenge the regime's intellectual Berlin Wall. The ALA, meanwhile, won't even admit that such a wall exists.
ALA hypocrisy slammed: "It's always 1984 in Cuba"
WASHINGTON, June 29, 2003, (Los Angeles Times Op
Ed/Charlotte Allen) - When the Supreme Court last week upheld a federal law that
requires public libraries receiving federal aid for Internet technology to
install pornography-filtering software on their computers, the American Library
Assn. protested vociferously.... "It's a fundamentally flawed and terrible
decision," said the ALA's outgoing president, Maurice J. Freedman....
The "right to read" is dear to the heart of the ALA, which has a history of hyperalertness to the smallest hints of censorship at U.S. libraries.... It is thus ironic — although perhaps telling — that the very same ALA, meeting in Toronto for its annual convention the very week the Supreme Court handed down its decision, refused to issue even the mildest condemnation of Cuba's harsh treatment of some of its own librarians who were targets of Fidel Castro's sweeping crackdown on dozens of dissidents in March....
Among those being held are 10 directors of independent, nongovernment-affiliated lending libraries specializing in books that were either hard to find in Cuba or offensive to the Castro regime. The independent librarians, whose tiny libraries typically consisted of a single room in their homes, were trying to do exactly what the ALA librarians said they were trying to do in the Internet-filtering case: make material available to the public free of government censorship and control. Their crimes consisted of disliking Castro and lending out books such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm...."
Human Rights Watch has condemned as a travesty of justice the proceedings against these nonviolent dissidents, whose books, computers and papers were confiscated upon their arrests. Amnesty International called the 75 "prisoners of conscience." The International Federation of Library Assns. and Institutions issued a statement May 8 expressing its "deepest concerns" over the long sentences for dissidents and extending support to "the Cuban library community in safeguarding free access to print and electronic information."
The ALA, by contrast, did zilch on behalf of its members' imprisoned Cuban colleagues. At the Toronto meeting last week, the organization's 175-member governing council failed to vote on a resolution similar in wording to that of the international librarians' federation....
Adding insult to injury, the ALA held a panel discussion at
the convention on libraries in Cuba. All five Cuban delegates to the panel were
representatives of Cuba's state-owned public library system, including Eliades
Acosta Matos, head of the Jose Marti National Library, a government-controlled
enterprise. Acosta Matos is on record as calling the independents "traitors,"
"criminals" and "mercenaries...." [When the Friends of Cuban Libraries
asked the ALA to include diverse viewpoints on the panel, such as independent
librarian Ramon Colas], the ALA turned down the request, contending that because
Colas lacked a degree in library science, he was not a professional librarian.
(On that argument, neither is Acosta Matos, nor for that matter, is James
Billington, the librarian of Congress). Freedman finally agreed to allow a
separate debate on Cuban libraries but changed his mind just before the
What seems to be at issue in the ALA is politics. Mark Rosenzweig, chief librarian of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies (the repository of the archives of the Communist Party USA), is a leading figure of the ALA's Social Responsibility Round Table.... Listening to Rosenzweig talk is like listening to a reading from "Animal Farm" — or maybe "1984."
"There was hardly even the pretense that these people were librarians," Rosenzweig said in a telephone interview last week. "I have got books in my apartment too but that doesn't make me a librarian. These are people who have been dissidents for many years. They're pro-U.S. They have connections with the Miami dissident groups." Translation: In Cuba, it's a crime to be a dissident, especially if you have relatives in Florida.
Larry Oberg, university librarian at Willamette University, participated in an ALA fact-finding trip to Cuba in 2001. This is what he told me last week: "They're opening libraries as a front...."
[At] around the same time that Oberg was in Cuba making his
observations, Marion Lloyd, reporting for the Houston Chronicle, sent a
Cuban friend to request two books for her at a state library: Orwell's "1984"
and exiled Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante's novel "Three Trapped
Tigers." The librarian refused to provide the student with Infante's novel,
telling him that it was "counterrevolutionary." "1984" was not even in the
library's catalog. [See "Independent Libraries Irk Cuba's Communist Government
Bureaucrats," Houston Chronicle, May 26, 2001]
"I'm genuinely committed to freedom of access to information," said [ALA president] Freedman.... There is a final irony, too: While the ALA frets about Americans' lack of access to some Web pages, 99% of Cuba's 11 million people lack any access to the Web — by deliberate design of the Castro regime.
"They're afraid of what would happen if they allowed access," Oberg said.
Now, doesn't that sound familiar?
Full text: (http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-op-allen29jun29,1,5526015.story)
ALA leaders to New York Times: Repression in Cuba? What repression?
NEW YORK, June 28, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - A press campaign to draw attention to the ALA's failure to take action on Cuba was highlighted in today's New York Times ("A Library in Cuba: What Is It?") In the article, reporter Felicia R. Lee described an emerging controversy over the ALA's refusal to address the repression of Cuba's independent librarians. In March, after experiencing five years of intermittent harassment, threats, evictions, book confiscations, short-term arrests and physical assaults, members of the island's independent library movement were targeted during a crackdown on dissent. According to updated figures, fourteen of the independent librarians, following one-day trials, were sentenced to prison terms of up to 26 years on vague charges of "endangering national sovereignty." In addition, approximately 30 of the libraries were raided, resulting in the seizure of thousands of books and circulation records. The crackdown in Cuba has provoked a worldwide outcry by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Basing its decision partly on leaked government documents which charged the defendants with the crime of opening libraries, Amnesty declared all fourteen of the jailed librarians to be prisoners of conscience. The Cuban government has also been criticized by former long-term supporters such as Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano and José Saramago. In April the U.S. Congress voted 414-0 to condemn the crackdown and included the independent librarians among the groups of victims whose release from prison is being demanded.
One notable absentee in the worldwide condemnation of the current wave of repression has been the American Library Association. This anomaly was highlighted by the New York Times reporter, who noted that "one of the last places you might expect a debate over free expression is the American Library Association, the world's oldest and largest organization of its kind and a longtime champion of open access to information." Although public criticism of the Cuban government has been illegal for more than forty years, the ALA asserted it could find little or no evidence of censorship or repression in Cuba during two official investigations conducted in 2001. Since 1999, when IFLA issued a groundbreaking report confirming the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians, the ALA has ignored appeals for action by other human rights organizations.
Continuing this pattern, today's New York Times noted the ALA's refusal to pass a resolution on Cuba at the association's annual conference held in Toronto. Instead, citing a "lack of information," the ALA Council referred the Cuban issue back to a committee, presumably to conduct yet another investigation. As reported by New York Times reporter Felicia Lee, ALA president Mitch Freedman insisted that the ALA is "concerned with intellectual freedom everywhere" but claimed "the facts on Cuba are still murky." Michael Dowling, director of the ALA's International Relations Office, said "there has been no definitive evidence that books are banned and librarians harassed," and the chair of the ALA Latin American subcommittee, Edward Erazo, expressed puzzlement as to whether any censorship at all exists on the island: "Are there books that are not circulated?"
In response to the ALA's continuing inaction, the New York
Times reporter noted a protest by a Friends of Cuban Libraries spokesperson:
"For at least four years, the ALA has ignored, covered up or lied about the
persecution of people in Cuba whose only crime is to have opened libraries." The
spokesperson for the Friends of Cuban Libraries vowed that the ALA's ongoing
failure to take action would be the focus of an intensive press campaign.
Library Association excludes Cuban independents from meeting
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2003 (Georgie Anne Geyer/Universal Press Syndicate) - It seems that the American Library Association, which represents public, college and other libraries in America and has no fewer than 64,000 members, this spring invited the official Cuban government librarians to speak at its June 19-25 ALA convention in Toronto -- but adamantly refused to invite any of the librarians from the 105 independent libraries in Cuba....
It means that the ALA has nothing to say about the fact that, only this winter, at least 10 independent librarians, along with journalists and other political "dissidents" (anybody who does not completely agree with Fidel Castro), were sentenced to 20- to 26-year prison sentences as the police raided some 22 of the independent libraries.
Betty Turock, a professor at Rutgers University, former ALA president and current international relations chairman of the group, was quoted when the situation erupted this spring as saying that the convention program was planned 18 months ago, way before the crackdown in Cuba. "I have never known the ALA not to take the side of intellectual freedom," she told The Washington Times.
Now, librarians should be our heroes of words, but these words should bring shame to even the most cynical men and women....
Librarians are supposed to be the sacred guardians of our search for knowledge. Why do American librarians -- at least as interpreted by their own professional organization -- allow these things to be said and done in their name?...
I have always adored librarians, always thought them a different breed, saw them as my living contact with my beloved books. Might they not drop their specializations for a week in Canada and consider the purposes for which their noble name is being used and abused?
SOURCE: www.uclick.com/client/ven/gg/ and select "June 20" as the date
CUBA'S JAILED LIBRARIANS GET NO SUCCOR FROM THE ALA
NEW YORK, June 20, 2003 (Wall Street Journal/Mary
Anastasia O'Grady) -At the American Library Association annual meeting in
Toronto this weekend there will be a Cuba program. But there won't be any panel
debate about intellectual freedom in Fidel's tropical paradise.
Efforts to include Cuba's independent librarians -- considered enemies of the Revolution -- on the ALA program have failed. That means that only employees of El Maximo Lider will be featured speakers. That should be downright riveting.
The Toronto event might be a non-event if not for the fact that only a few months ago, Castro's goons raided 22 independent libraries and threw 10 librarians in the slammer for up to 26 years. The brutality of the crackdown against unarmed civilians is more evidence that what Fidel most fears is the free exchange of ideas. Press reports quoted Vladimir Roca, the son of the late Cuban Communist party bigwig Blas Roca and now a prominent critic of the government, making just that point. "What kind of a hunter uses a cannon to kill a sparrow," he asked.
A group called Friends of Cuban Libraries led by Robert Kent, a librarian with the New York Public Library, is pleading with the association to speak up. They want the ALA to pass a strong resolution in Toronto calling for the release of the librarians and pledging solidarity with their cause.
Joining that chorus is Nat Hentoff, a columnist for the Village Voice and a prominent civil liberties proponent. "It would be astonishing -- and shameful," Mr. Hentoff wrote to Mr. Kent, "if the American Library Association does not support -- and gather support for -- the courageous independent librarians of Cuba, some of whom have been imprisoned by Castro for very long terms for advocating the very principles of the freedom to read and think that the American Library Association has so long fought for in this country."
That fight has featured some extreme positions over the years, including refusing to back efforts to block Internet porn sites in public libraries on the grounds that "access to information" is sacred. Yet strangely enough, the ALA's Cuba position heavily favors state-controlled libraries.
Ramón Colas and his wife Berta Mexidor began Cuba's Independent Library Project in Las Tunas in 1998. They were emboldened by a Castro speech proclaiming that, "In Cuba there are no prohibited books, only those we do not have the money to buy." The idea of the project, according to the founders, is "to promote reading not as a mere act of receiving understanding, but to form an opinion which is individually arrived at without censorship nor obligation to one belief."
Thinking outside the box got Mr. Colas and Ms. Mexidor into lots of trouble with Fidel, including multiple detentions, loss of employment and expulsion from their town. They fled Cuba when their daughter began to suffer unbearable harassment at school but they left behind a fledgling independent library system. At the other end of the island, Roberto de Miranda, who is also the founder of Cuba's largest independent teacher's union, initiated a similar movement in July 2000 in Havana. He is now serving a 20-year prison sentence.
On April 16 Michael Royal, a student at the University of Virginia Law School and Director of the Human Rights Study Project, testified before Congress about a research trip he took to Cuba. In his remarks he spoke of Victor Rolando Arroyo, an independent librarian and journalist in the town of Pinar del Rio who was active in the Varela Project [a Cuban democracy movement].
Mr. Arroyo wrote for the Union of Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers, according to the testimony. For his work he earned the Hellman-Hammett grant by Human Rights Watch. "Arroyo's crimes were writing news stories and running a private library and his sentence is 26 years in prison," said Mr. Royal.
The ALA claims that it disqualified the independent librarians from its Toronto program because the funding grant stipulates "professional" exchanges. According to Michael Dowling who heads the ALA's International Relations Committee, the ALA could not include those who are not "professionals," presumably anyone lacking Fidel's imprimatur. Yet the lack of "professional" training won't keep Eliades Acosta, Cuba's director of the Jose Marti National Library, off the program. When I mentioned to Mr. Dowling that Mr. Acosta is not a librarian, he said: "Well, neither is the librarian for the U.S. Library of Congress." That answer contradicts the ALA assertion that the librarian title is crucial to library work.
All of which suggests that the ALA's attitude toward the Cuban independents has more to do with the politics of some of the ALA's activist members than with professional credentials. A January 2001 report on Cuba by the ALA's Latin American subcommittee relies heavily on the testimony of Ann Sparanese, who "asserted that she has seen no evidence of censorship or confiscation of books on her many visits to Cuba." The operative word here is "many" since Ms. Sparanese, who is influential in ALA policymaking toward Cuba, is a longtime member of the Venceremos Brigade. U.S. brigadistas have been traveling to Cuba for 32 years to promote Fidel's agenda.
Rhonda Neugebauer, another ALA member and an important source for subcommittee findings, testified in the report that she saw no government censorship in Cuba either. Last month she signed Fidel's May Day petition designed to counter criticism of his crackdown on dissidents from such former loyalists as Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago.
A third activist ALA council member is Mark Rosenzweig, who is also the director of reference for the Center for Marxist Studies in New York, the repository of documents of the Communist Party U.S.A. Mr. Rosenzweig staunchly opposes ALA support for the independent libraries and has accused Mr. Hentoff of seeing the problem through "the eyes of the imperialist power," meaning the U.S., of course. In a telephone interview this week he told me: "We cannot presume that all countries are capable of the same level of intellectual freedom that we have in the U.S." After all, he added, "Cuba is caught in an extremely sharp conflict with the U.S." And finally, "I don't think [Cuba] is a dictatorship. It's a republic."
In the U.S., unlike Cuba, contrarians aren't slapped in jail. But I thought the ALA's 64,000 dues-paying members might like to know who's setting policies in their name.
Nat Hentoff Blasts ALA on
Persecution of Librarians in Cuba
NEW YORK, June 5, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - In a stinging rebuke to the American Library Association, one of the nation's foremost defenders of civil liberties, Nat Hentoff, has criticized the ALA for failing to take action to defend volunteer librarians in Cuba who are being subjected to a brutal crackdown.
"It would be astonishing - and shameful," said Hentoff, "if the American Library Association does not support - and gather support for - the courageous independent librarians of Cuba, some of whom have been imprisoned by Castro for very long terms for advocating the very principles of the freedom to read and think that the American Library Association has so long fought for in this country."
"This would make the principles of the American Library Association a bad joke," added the writer, who himself has won the ALA's prestigious Immroth Memorial Award for Intellectual Freedom. Hentoff is a columnist for the Village Voice and the author of several books on civil liberties, including "Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee" and "Living the Bill of Rights."
In March the Cuban government shocked many observers by jailing 75 independent journalists, poets, and human rights activists, including at least 10 directors of independent libraries. Numerous libraries were raided during the crackdown, resulting in the seizure of thousands of books and circulation records which reveal the identity of library patrons. Amnesty International has declared all of the detainees to be prisoners of conscience. Since 1998, when the independent library movement was founded in an effort to oppose Cuba's harsh system of censorship, approximately 200 libraries have been established by volunteers throughout the island to offer public access to reading materials reflecting all points of view. As confirmed by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International PEN, the volunteer librarians have been subjected to an ongoing campaign of persecution, culminating in the recent harsh crackdown which, after one-day trials, imposed prison sentences of up to 26 years on librarians.
"After years of silence, double-talk and cover-ups by the ALA," said Robert Kent, a co-founder of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, a support group for the independent library movement, "the current vicious attack gives the ALA no excuse for failing to take action. The heel of the Cuban government's boot has been stamped on innocent people whose only alleged crime is to have defended intellectual freedom, which is supposed to be the ALA's most cherished principle."
"For four years," said Kent, "various ALA Councilors and committees have refused to acknowledge the validity of Cuba’s innovative movement to create uncensored libraries, but instead have called their directors agents of the US government or non-librarians because they do not have university degrees, even though the ALA's own policy manual recognizes the legitimacy of all libraries."
"Now that the International Federation of Library Associations and other major human rights groups have condemned President Castro for this latest outrage," asks Kent, "why are certain leaders of the ALA still trying to ignore or stifle free debate on this issue?"
The head of Cuba’s state-controlled library association, Mr. Eliades Acosta, who calls the independent librarians "traitors," "criminals" and "mercenaries," has issued a challenge to debate Kent at any time, but so far ALA officials have refused to allow a debate on this issue at the association's upcoming annual convention in Toronto, where Mr. Acosta is scheduled to take part in a panel discussion on Cuban libraries; ALA officials have refused to permit any critics of the Cuban government to be members of the panel discussion.
"The situation really is an outrage and a disgrace to our profession," said Kent, whose ad hoc organization, founded in 1999, has submitted an emergency resolution to the ALA condemning the current wave of repression. "But hopefully justice will now prevail and the ALA will end its long and deplorable history of ignoring and covering up the historically unprecedented persecution of librarians in Cuba."
Several ALA Councilors and other ALA members have in the past condemned Cuba's independent librarians as "fakes" and a "CIA front group," and two signed the May 1st "To the World's Conscience" statement from Havana, which sought to justify the recent trials and imprisonments. "This is a scandalous and extremist position that flies in the face of many of the ALA's core values, especially those found in the Library Bill of Rights and Code of Ethics," said Walter Skold, a writer and library graduate student from Maine who drafted the resolution that the Friends of Cuban Libraries want the ALA to pass at the association's conference in late June.
"I took most of the wording of the draft resolution directly from the ALA’s own policy statements," he said, "so if the ALA Councilors won't speak out when books are burned and librarians are tossed into the Cuban gulag, then they would betray the values drilled into us in graduate school."
"If the ALA Councilors remain silent while Cuban librarians rot in jail and book collections are confiscated," he added, "they will violate the ALA's principled commitment to defend intellectual freedom, individual liberty, and the freedom to read as universal human rights."
In response to Nat Hentoff, a spokesperson for the ALA, Judith Krug, said: "Any time people are attempting to access ideas and information, we have a stake in assisting them to do so." But Robert Kent noted that Ms. Krug's statement did not address the issue of why the ALA has failed to take action over the past four years to oppose the systematic persecution of librarians in Cuba, and he invited journalists to question the ALA regarding its mishandling of this important issue.
Angry Cuba expresses contempt for FAIFE critique
NEW YORK, May 10, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - On May 9 the International Federation of Library Associations' intellectual freedom office, known by the acronym FAIFE, released a statement entitled "Intellectual Freedom in Cuba." In the name of IFLA and FAIFE, the statement expressed the "deepest concerns" of both organizations regarding the "arrest, trial and long prison sentences given to Cuban political dissidents in recent weeks." Citing reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, FAIFE noted that directors of independent libraries are among the victims of the crackdown. In early April ten of the librarians, whose goal is to promote intellectual freedom by opening libraries which offer public access to uncensored books, were convicted on vague charges of conspiring with U.S. diplomats to "endanger national sovereignty" and sentenced to a total of 196 years in prison. In addition to reports issued by human rights agencies, official documents leaked during the trials contradict government claims that no one on the island has been punished for opening an independent library, and FAIFE affirmed that "these reports have been corroborated from other sources including announcements by Cuban authorities." FAIFE urged the Cuban government to eliminate obstacles to intellectual freedom and encouraged the United Nations' special rapporteur for Cuba to pay special attention to the issue of freedom of expression; Cuba has already announced that the UN investigator will be banned from visiting the island.
In an immediate response to the FAIFE statement, the Cuban
government's spokesperson on library issues, Eliades Acosta, angrily condemned
the human rights organizations which have criticized the crackdown and declared:
"We reject... the FAIFE communique for being one-sided, unfair, [and] offensive
to the dignity and decorum of Cuban librarians and the Cuban people in their
entirety..." While expressing contempt for human rights critics and
denying the existence of censorship in the island's official libraries, Acosta
characterized the actions of the FAIFE chairperson, Alex Byrne, as "suspiciously
strange," implying that Mr. Byrne is aligned in some way with unnamed sinister
forces which support Cuba's independent librarians, whom Acosta condemned as
"traitors" and "mercenaries" who are in the pay of the United States government.
OUTRAGE: librarians sentenced to 196 years
NEW YORK, April 30, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - After one-day summary trials which provoked a worldwide outcry, 78 members of Cuba's dissident movement have been condemned to lengthy prison terms. Among the prisoners are 10 members of the island's pioneering independent library movement, which is dedicated to the goal of offering uncensored reading materials to the Cuban people. The 10 librarians were sentenced to a total of 196 years in prison. (The names of the librarians and their sentences are listed below.) They were convicted on vague charges of conspiring with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba's national sovereignty, although two indictments seen by the Friends of Cuban Libraries specifically accuse defendants of operating libraries containing "subversive" books. A surprise element at the dissidents' trials was testimony by 8 members of the Cuban human rights movement who revealed themselves to be undercover agents of the State Security police; among the undercover agents were four independent librarians who testified against their former colleagues in the dissident movement.
In addition to the lengthy prison sentences pronounced against the library directors, 22 independent libraries were raided during the crackdown which began in March, resulting in the seizure of thousands of books; some libraries lost their entire collection, while in others the secret police confiscated only books of foreign origin. Among the seized volumes was a biography of Martin Luther King, inscribed to Gisela Delgado by ex-President Jimmy Carter, who offered encouragement to the independent library movement during his visit to Havana in May 2002. Of particular concern to the independent librarians is the seizure of their circulation records, which list the names of people who borrow books. Following the trials, the government expressed confidence that it had crushed the island's dissident movement. Aleida Godínez, a former director of the William Le Sante Independent Library who revealed herself to be a State Security agent while testifying as a prosecution witness during the trials, boasted: "The opposition is finished; it has ended. It will never lift its head again."
But the regime failed to reckon with an unprecedented and even furious reaction from the international community. The crackdown on Cuba's dissidents has been condemned by a broad range of governments, human rights groups and intellectuals. Among the early signers of protests against the current wave of repression in Cuba were Jon Juaristi, ex-director of the National Library of Spain, and Charles Faulhaber of the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. Included among those signing protests have been a number of intellectuals who, until now, have been staunch supporters of the Cuban government, such as José Saramago and Eduardo Galeano. In recent days the angry worldwide response has swept up prominent intellectuals in the United States; among those signing petitions protesting against Cuban repression are Noam Chomsky, Cornel West and Ariel Dorfman (who has long been on record as a defender of the independent librarians).
While acknowledging that the current wave of repression has been a major setback, the national director of Cuba's independent library movement, Gisela Delgado, has announced that the libraries will continue their work to promote intellectual freedom as a universal human right. Although her husband, Héctor Palacios, has just been sentenced to 25 years in prison, Ms. Delgado vows to continue expanding the network of independent libraries, of which there are now approximately 200 across the island .
As a symbol of the movement's determination to prevail against
all odds, another library opened its doors to the public even as the current
wave of repression was in full force. On March 24 the Henry M. Reeve
Independent Library was inaugurated in the town of Navajas, Matanzas Province.
The director of the new library is Enrique Pérez Hernández, who welcomed the
public at the opening ceremony of the new cultural institution. The library is
named for an American teenager, Henry M. Reeve, who enlisted in Cuba's
independence forces during the Revolution which broke out against Spain in 1868.
List of convicted librarians and their sentences
Víctor Rolando Arroyo, Reyes Magos Library (Pinar del Río): 26 years
Ivan Hernández Carrillo, Juan Gualberto Gómez Library II (Matanzas): 25 years
José Luis García Paneque, Carlos J. Finlay Library (Las Tunas): 20 years
Ricardo González, Jorge Mañach Library (Havana): 20 years
Roberto de Miranda, Father Félix Varela Library (Havana): 20 years
Miguel Sigler Amalla, General Pedro Betancourt Library (Matanzas): 26 months
Blás Giraldo Reyes , 20th of May Library (Sancti Spiritus): 25 years
Omar Pernet Hernández, 20th of May Library II (Villa Clara): 25 years
Raúl Rivero, Dulce María Loynaz Library Branch II (Havana): 20 years
José Miguel Martinez Hernández, General Juan Bruno Zayas Library (Havana Province): 13 years
CRACKDOWN: Librarians targeted in massive sweep
NEW YORK, April 6, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Beginning on March 18, the Cuban State Security police staged a series of raids directed against the island's dissident movement. Included in the roundup have been members of Cuba's rapidly growing independent library movement. As of press time, the Friends of Cuban Libraries have learned of raids on 22 libraries and the confiscation of their book collections. Fourteen independent librarians have been arrested, although the three women among them have been released from custody. [Note: Rene Oñate was later released as well]. Many of the remaining detainees are being held in Havana's notorious Villa Marista, a former religious school now converted into the headquarters of the State Security police. The prisoners are accused of conspiring with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba's national sovereignty. In February Cuban authorities had refused to deliver a shipment of 5,000 books imported by U.S. diplomats, who intended to distribute them to independent librarians and other Cuban citizens. [See below an article entitled "Book Bust in Havana: Marx Now a Persona Non Grata?"].
Prosecutors are demanding prison sentences ranging from 15 years to life for the dissidents arrested during the crackdown, including the independent librarians. Beginning last Thursday, the prisoners have been subjected to one-day summary trials. The general public, including foreign reporters and members of Havana's diplomatic community, are banned from attending the proceedings, although family members of the prisoners are allowed in the courtroom. Details about the summary trials are sketchy due to a prohibition of press coverage, but the indictment against Ricardo González Alfonso, director of the Jorge Mañach Library, contains the following charge: "In continuation of his slippery actions, the accused González Alfonso, in the year 2000, created and established in his home a library which was called "independent" in conformity with the interventionist focus of the North Americans, filled with books containing subversive themes, in their majority received as contributions from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana." The latter statement is inaccurate, as most of the books in the collections of the independent libraries are from Cuban publishing houses, all of which are censored to reflect the official ideology.
Verdicts and sentences for the trials are expected to be announced in the week ahead. The Cuban government's campaign against dissidents has been denounced by numerous human rights organizations and foreign governments.
The Friends of Cuban Libraries have obtained detailed information about the raid directed against Havana's Dulce María Loynaz Library, of which Gisela Delgado is the director; she is also the national director of Cuba's independent library movement. At about 6:00 P.M. on March 20 the police sealed off the block containing the apartment where Gisela Delgado and her husband Hector Palacios live, in which the Dulce María Loynaz Library is also located. Thirty armed police then entered the apartment and seized about 1,000 books from the library collection, which were loaded into black plastic bags for removal. Also confiscated were circulation records listing the names of people who borrow books from the Loynaz Library, videotapes, computers, a fax machine, and about 2,000 dollars, much of which was money given to Gisela Delgado by Sweden's Liberal Party when she was awarded the party's Democracy Prize in 2002. Included among the books confiscated from the library collection was a biography of Martin Luther King, signed and dedicated by Jimmy Carter, which the former U.S. president and Nobel Peace Prize winner had presented to Gisela Delgado during a visit to Havana last year [see below an article entitled "Jimmy Carter Promotes Uncensored Libraries in Cuba"]. Although Gisela Delgado was not arrested during the raid, the police did arrest her husband, Hector Palacios; the prosecutor is demanding that he receive a life sentence.
Even though her husband has been arrested and the collection of the Dulce María Library has been confiscated, Gisela Delgado is determined to continue her work on behalf of intellectual freedom. In a statement issued after the raid, Gisela Delgado insisted that the present crackdown against the independent library movement "does not signify paralysis for [our] work of promoting culture. These detentions will be converted into a challenge which will be overcome by using new strategies for leadership, mobilization and the distribution of books."
Information on Amnesty International's letter-writing campaign on behalf of the Cuban detainees, including librarians, can be found on the World Wide Web at: (http://web.amnesty.org/pages/cub-040403-action-eng).
Librarian identified as secret police agent
NEW YORK, April 6, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - One of the dissidents now on trial for allegedly conspiring with U.S. diplomats to violate Cuba's national sovereignty is Martha Beatriz Roque, an economist. Roque gained international prominence after an earlier conviction for co-authoring "The Homeland Belongs to All," a pamphlet critical of the Cuban government. Roque, who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International after she was imprisoned in 1997 for co-authoring the pamphlet, had continued her dissident activities after being released from prison in 2000.
A surprise prosecution witness at the hurried trial of Martha Beatriz Roque is Aleida Godínez, a labor activist who served as the defendant's private secretary. In addition to her other activities, Aleida Godínez is also the director of the William Le Sante Independent Library. In her court testimony against Roque, Aleida Godínez identified herself as an undercover agent of the State Security police, codenamed "Vilma." Family members of Martha Beatriz Roque in attendance at the trial stated that Roque refused to respond to any of the questions or accusations made against her by the prosecutor, who is demanding a life sentence for the defendant.
As for Aleida Godínez, who identified herself
as an undercover agent of the secret police, it is expected that she will be
dismissed in disgrace from Cuba's independent library movement.
List of detained librarians
(April 6, 2003) - Here is a list of the librarians detained in the crackdown now underway in Cuba, all of whom are charged with offenses that carry sentences ranging from ten years to life imprisonment. The information was provided by Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor. Leonardo Bruzón Avila and Juan Carlos González Leiva were arrested before the March 2003 round-up. Following each person's name is the name and location of the library with which they are affiliated:
Victor Rolando Arroyo, Reyes Magos Library (Pinar del Río)
Leonardo Miguel Bruzón Avila, 24th of February Library, Havana
José Luis García Paneque, Carlos J. Finlay Library (Las Tunas)
Ricardo González, Jorge Mañach Library (Havana)
Juan Carlos González Leiva, Ignacio Agramonte Library, Ciego de Avila
Leonel Grave de Peralta, Bartolomé Masó Library (Santiago de Cuba)
Iván Hernández Carillo, Juan Gualberto Gómez Library II, Matanzas
José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Sebastián Arcos Library, Havana Province
José Miguel Martínez Hernández, General Juan Bruno Zayas Library (Havana Province)
Luis Milán, 11th of September Library, Santiago de Cuba
Roberto de Miranda, Father Félix Varela Library (Havana)
Omar Pernet Hernández, 20th of May Library II (Villa Clara)
Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez, 20th of May Library (Sancti Spiritus)
Raúl Rivero, Dulce María Loynaz Library Branch II (Havana)
Miguel Sigler Amaya, General Pedro Betancourt Library (Matanzas)
Fidel Suárez Cruz, St. Paul Library, Pinar del Río
Julio Antonio Valdés, (Manzanillo)
Cuban book seizure furor continues
NEW YORK, March 9, 2003 (The Friends of Cuban Libraries) - There has been no decrease in the Cuban government's embarrassment over its seizure last month of more than 5,000 books intended as donations for the island's independent library movement. [See the article below: "Book Bust in Havana: Marx Now a Persona Non Grata?"]. Included in the confiscated shipment addressed to the U.S. Interests Section were books by Martin Luther King, John Steinbeck and Groucho Marx. Following a cascade of reports by CNN, the Associated Press and other sources that the Cuban government had blocked the shipment of books to U.S. diplomats in Havana, Pat Schroeder, the president of the Association of American Publishers, weighed in with a condemnation of the Cuban regime's efforts to suppress intellectual freedom.
Dismissing Cuban government claims that it did not object to the donated books, but only to the people to whom they were destined as gifts, Pat Schroeder declared: "Books represent a serious threat to all authoritarian regimes, otherwise they wouldn't go to such lengths to suppress publication and intimidate authors and publishers." Noting that among the intercepted books was Groucho Marx's Memoirs of a Mangy Lover, Mrs. Schroeder stated: "I guess the official line in Cuba is 'Karl sí, Groucho no!'"
A different view was expressed by Karen Wald in a March 9 posting on the "Cuba.soc.culture" listserv. In a message entitled "Watch Out for Strangers Bearing Books," she denounced the sending of books to Cuba for distribution by the U.S. Interests Section as "a simple propaganda ploy." She went on to describe Cuba's burgeoning independent library movement, which was founded in 1998 with the goal of offering public access to books reflecting all points of view, as "one more tactic in the U.S. government's attempts to create and bolster counterrevolutionary pockets inside Cuba."
In a diplomatic protest issued on March 5, the U.S. State
Department's spokesperson, Richard Boucher, deplored the Cuban government's
decision to "prevent the United States Interests Section in Havana from importing literature and textbooks for distribution to
ordinary Cuban citizens." After pointing out that Cuban diplomats in the
U.S. routinely distribute books to American citizens, Boucher declared: "It is
surprising that a government willing to send its representatives throughout the United States to disseminate its views will not allow the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to share great books of literature and thought with the Cuban people. In the battle of ideas, the Cuban regime wants only one team on the field."
Librarian assaulted, others threatened
NEW YORK, February 22, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - The New Year has witnessed an increase in the campaign of repression being waged by the Cuban government against the island nation's independent library movement. Since the founding of the movement in 1998, more than 100 uncensored libraries have opened in Cuba with the goal of offering public access to materials reflecting all points of view. The ongoing repression of Cuba's independent librarians has been denounced by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.
Carta de Cuba (February 5) reports that in Las Tunas Province a jeep driven by Lt. Colonel Héctor Monteagudo, an officer of the Military Committee in the municipality of Colombia, intentionally ran down an unlicensed bicycle taxi being operated by Oreste Ginebra, the director of the Camilo Cienfuegos Independent Library. This attack, which occurred on January 6, not only inflicted serious injuries on Oreste Ginebra but also destroyed the bicycle taxi on which his family depends for its income, as the independent librarians are banned from holding jobs in the government-controlled economy.
On February 15 Omar Ruiz Hernández reported in CubaNet (www.cubanet.org) that Mario Osvaldo Ruiz, a regional coordinator for the independent library movement, was detained for four hours in Santa Clara while traveling to the town of Quemado de Güines to inaugurate a new library. Mr. Ruiz was arrested at 5:40 A.M. on February 15 and taken to a police station where he was interrogated by three State Security agents: Eduardo Castellón, Pedro Ravelo and another officer whose name he does not recall. "Those officials said I was being disobedient," stated Mr. Ruiz, "because they had warned me on repeated occasions not to start new libraries, and that I had defied them by recently opening a new library in Manicaragua, and that on the day of my arrest I was traveling to open another one in Quemado de Güines. They also told me that the libraries are a mascarade hiding other activities and they had enough evidence to arrest me whenever they wanted and to put me on trial."
With regard to other incidents, José Antonio Fornaris of the Cuba-Verdad press agency reported in the February 13 issue of CubaNet that Magdalena Prado and Magalis López, two women in their 60's who operate independent libraries in their homes, are being harassed by the secret police. On February 7 an official of the Department of State Security who goes by the name of "Rubén" visited Ms. Prado on three occasions to tell her that a planned meeting of dissidents in her home would not be allowed; the independent libraries often serve as sites for public meetings, debates, children's programs, seminars and art exhibits. Magalis López has declared that on February 7 the same official, "Rubén," intercepted her on the street with a warning that State Security is aware of plans to open an independent medical dispensary in her home. This activity, according to the official, was dangerous, although he didn't clarify why it would be dangerous.
Magdalena Prado operates the Tocororo Library in her home,
which is dedicated primarily to the subject of ecology, and in the home of
Magalis López can be found a library named in honor of Heberto Padilla, the distinguished
Cuban poet who recently died in exile.
Internet is "instrument of the devil:" student leader
February 5, 2003 (by Alcibíades Hidalgo/Encuentro
en la Red) - The first time Fidel Castro touched a computer keyboard was at
the end of the 80's, in the splendid mansion granted to Gabriel García
Márquez in Havana's most luxurious neighborhood.... García Márquez was
showing the ingenious electronic device to Norberto Fuentes when Castro arrived,
and he became intrigued by it. After a little instruction, Castro typed on
the keyboard his five favorite letters: F-i-d-e-l.
.... A decade later, Hassan Pérez, the leader of Cuba's organization of university students, told a startled group of students in Caracas that they should be wary of the Internet because it was an instrument of the Devil....
Fidel Castro discovered the Web about three years ago, in the midst of the furor over the shipwrecked child Elián González. At the present time only foreigners and high government officials are allowed to surf the Net in Cuba. Admired by the government because, in a nation without paper, it multiplies access to Cuba's censored press, dozens of government-owned websites now exist on the Internet by order of Fidel Castro, although the websites are purged of any local news that is considered unfavorable to the authorities.
But the "devil" has been exorcised. A new office of the Ministry of the Interior, staffed by ideologues and technicians, keeps careful watch over Cuban cyberspace. Their work consists of overseeing the Cuban mass media to ensure compliance with laws concerning "Information Security." In other words, they carefully trace and examine the websites accessed by official journalists researching news articles on the dangerous World Wide Web.
The island's professional journalists, before being allowed to read foreign sources of information, are required to study and subscribe to a Code of Ethics carefully designed with the Internet in mind. Accessing pornography is forbidden, or course, and journalists are allowed to visit only those websites on the Internet strictly necessary for carrying out their research. It is a serious offense to broadcast information from unauthorized foreign websites. Cuban journalists need special permission to use e-mail. All electronic messages are carefully logged, and occasionally the editorial offices of newspapers are visited by smiling colonels who check up on these places where access to dangerous foreign information sources is allowed. About one hundred grateful journalists, as a personal gift from the Commander-in-Chief, have been given personal computers and thirty hours of connection time per month. They are allowed to take the gift computers home but are required to follow the same rules as the other journalists. The system works, and several journalists have been punished for violating the rules.
[Note: for more on the effective banning of the Internet in
Cuba, see The Internet and State Control in Authoritarian Regimes: China,
Cuba and the Counterrevolution, by Shanthi Kalathil and Taylor C. Boas
(Washington: Carnegie Endowment, 2001); available at http://www.ceip.org/files/Publications/wp21.asp]
the 2002 Annual Report of Cuba's independent library movement
HAVANA, January 16, 2003 (Miriam Leiva/www.cubanet.org) - The Independent Libraries in Cuba Project now has 103 branches.... The total number of books in the libraries now exceeds 40,000... and there are 182,715 registered readers. With enthusiasm and dedication, Gisela Delgado (the national director of the independent library project) and the six members of the project's Executive Board look forward to the year 2003.
When, in 1998, Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor (the founders of Cuba's independent library movement) began to encourage the reading of uncensored books and to promote public access to their small library in the town of Las Tunas, they confronted repression intended to crush their non-governmental initiative. But the seed they planted has bloomed, and independent libraries have now spread throughout Cuba's 14 provinces....
Gisela Delgado, from the living room of her modest apartment in the Vedado district of Havana, where the well-organized Dulce María Loynaz Library is located, provides information on the work carried out in 2002 by the independent library movement, and on prospects for the future:
At the present time every province in Cuba has a library
coordinator who serves as a link with the National Executive Board of the
movement. In addition, the coordinators visit the majority of the
independent libraries in their province at least once during the course of the
year.... They attend group meetings of librarians and arrange
inter-library loans of materials between the provinces. In this way, books
have a greater circulation in accordance with requests made by library patrons
all over the island.
Specialized collections exist in several of the independent libraries, and three of them are dedicated to materials on labor issues. In Pinar del Río Province some of the libraries host art galleries, workshops for young people, and also classes in wood sculpture. A proposal has been made to expand these initiatives to other provinces in order to offer more facilities to the greater public.
Public film seminars are also sponsored, despite the fact that only 14 VCRs and an equal number of television sets are available in the libraries. In total, 642 film seminars were presented in 2002, which were attended by 11,200 people.
Nevertheless, optimal conditions are lacking in many of the
libraries. There is a shortage of adequate shelving for books, which is an
obstacle to good organization. Linked to this problem, applicants who want
to found new independent libraries need to meet minimum requirements with regard
to public space and the size of the book collection.
The most popular books in the libraries deal with political and social subjects. Also in demand are books on ecology, the environment, history, and children's and young adult books. During the year more than 3,000 students have asked to use the services of the independent libraries, preferably to complete homework assignments. Because of this, the Executive Board of the library movement has proposed an increase in the number of books for children and young adults in order to meet the needs of this important sector of the population.
The independent libraries are expanding thanks to donations made by sympathizers in Cuba and abroad in 2002. Many institutions and international foundations have provided significant support during the year, but we also appreciate the solidarity offered by the visitors from many countries who bring books, magazines and other materials; this support is due to worldwide publicity about the Independent Libraries Project provided on the Internet and by our friends abroad. As a result, in 2002 we received 16,000 new books for our collections.
An especially appreciated gesture of solidarity was exemplified by the human and material contributions made to the independent libraries damaged by the two hurricanes that swept over the western region of the island in September, 2002.
The annual Heraldo Literary Prizes awarded by the independent
libraries have grown in terms of the genres covered, the number of participants,
and the quality of the literary works presented for judging. The
chairperson of the Heraldo literary jury is the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero,
a member of the library movement's technical advisory council. In 2002 the
winning works of the third annual Heraldo Prize were published in an anthology,
Ojos Abiertos. In addition, several independent libraries in the
provinces also sponsored their own literary contests, among the most notable of
which are the Marta Abreu Indepedent Library in Villa Clara Province, which
offered a prize for narrative works, and the Abraham Lincoln Library in Matanzas,
which presented an award for children's literature.
The Democracy Prize, awarded in 2002 by Sweden's Liberal Party, has greatly encouraged the members of the Independent Libraries in Cuba Project. Gisela Delgado was not able to receive the prize personally because the Cuban authorities denied her permission to travel to Stockholm, where the ceremony took place.
Gisela Delgado, the executive director of the project, concluded the Annual Report by saying that in 2003 the independent library movement intends to continue expanding its work offered to the community. The independent librarians will also increase their services to people who are still afraid to visit the libraries; their indirect requests will be met by the library patrons who have already overcome their fear. Gisela Delgado concluded her report with the comment: "The independent libraries do not discriminate against any book, nor do they discriminate against any of their readers, whether they are dissidents, opponents of the government, supporters of the government, children or young people."
Angry response as Cuba disrupts book fair event
NEW YORK, December 12, 2002 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - This year's Guadalajara Book Fair began on a hopeful note as the Cuban Minister of Culture informed the Mexican press that Cuba now supports "openness" and "tolerance." But observers quickly noted that none of the 600 members of the island's massive, government-selected book fair delegation expressed dissenting views, and on December 1 the public reacted angrily when the Cuban delegation disrupted an event hosted by the Mexican magazine Letras Libres. Cuba was the guest-nation of honor at the Guadalajara Book Fair - the most prestigious in Latin America - but this potential showcase for the island's "official" culture backfired as a result of the regime's attempt to suppress dissent in Mexico as it does at home, thereby alienating a large portion of Latin America's literary community.
The event hosted by Letras Libres was a four-person panel discussion of the magazine's November edition, on the theme of "The Futures of Cuba." According to reporters for La Reforma and La Jornada who were in attendance, the panel discussion ended in chaos when a number of young people, led by members of the official Cuban delegation, rushed to the podium and seized control of the microphones. One of the leaders of the takeover was Eliades Acosta, the director of Cuba's National Library. The protesters shouted threats and insults at the scheduled speakers, accusing them of being "traitors" and "prostitutes" who were "financed by the CIA." They also shouted down members of the audience who tried to express different opinions. Two of the Letras Libres speakers were physically prevented from leaving the room until security guards arrived on the scene, escorting the speakers to safety and dispersing the crowd.
At a press conference held the next day, Eliades Acosta and Cuban Minister of Culture Abel Prieto defended the disruption as a "spontaneous" action, although journalists noted that pamphlets attacking the Letras Libres speakers were distributed during the takeover; Eliades Acosta was the author of the pamphlets. At the press conference Mr. Prieto denounced Letras Libres as a magazine "designed for attacking, not for thinking." Eliades Acosta tried to justify his repression of dissent by accusing the magazine's writers of being liars, deceivers and U.S.-paid conspirators who were acting "contrary to the respectful spirit in which Cuba was invited to the Guadalajara Book Fair."
The Letras Libres scandal dominated the
remainder of the fair and provoked indignant headlines in Latin America and
Spain ("Kangaroo Trial at the Book Fair," "Fascism in Guadalajara"). A
scathing Mexican editorial on the scandal ("Cuba: the Same Old Intolerance")
appears below. A group of prominent intellectuals signed a petition
entitled "Castro's Censorship in Mexico" denouncing the "exportation of Castro's
totalitarian practices." The petitioners, which included Elena Poniatowska,
Carlos Monsiváis, Fernando Savater, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Mario Vargas
Llosa, demanded tighter security measures to prevent the disruption of other
scheduled book fair events. Paul Echaniz summarized the mood by asking:
"Can we speak of culture in a country where freedom of expression, the oxygen of
art, does not exist?... In Guadalajara the Cuban government demonstrated
that it does not have the capacity for dialogue or for the free debate of ideas,
nor does it have the most minimal respect for differing points of view.
Nothing new, for sure."
Book burning in Havana: another chapter
NEW YORK, September 21, 2002 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - In the 1970's Roberto Ampuero, a young refugee from the Pinochet regime in Chile, was granted asylum in Cuba. But after enrolling as a student at the University of Havana, Roberto Ampuero's idealistic view of Cuba was put under strain by the reality of life in his new home, where the relatively tolerant cultural life of the 1960's had ended with the show trial of Heberto Padilla, Cuba's greatest contemporary poet. By the early 1970's former supporters of President Castro, such as Jean Paul Sartre, were becoming critical of Cuba's adoption of the Soviet political model, resulting in a crackdown on all expressions of dissent which continues to this day.
Roberto Ampuero eventually left Cuba and is now an acclaimed author. In a memoir of his youthful life in Cuba, Nuestros Años Verde Olivo (Barcelona, Editorial Planeta: 2000), written in the form of a novel, Roberto Ampuero sets the scene of his gradual disillusionment. The following excerpt from Nuestros Años Verde Olivo, published with the consent of Mr. Ampuero and translated by the Friends, is set in a Havana cafeteria, known as "Fruticuba," where the author and a group of student friends often gathered. In this passage the author describes how one of his friends, a student of multiracial background named Lázaro, considered himself fortunate to have obtained a job in the University library, at least until he made a horrifying discovery:
"But that work also had its somber side. Every month an official of the Cuban [Communist] party's Directorate of Revolutionary Orientation appeared in the library... with a list of texts that had to be removed from circulation and stored in an annex until their final disposition. In imitation of Soviet cultural policy, based on the promotion of socialism and the censorship of works considered questionable, the Revolution had begun to confirm that during the capitalist period the library [at the University of Havana] had accumulated many books critical of socialism which promoted what was called 'ideological deviationism.....'
"Lázaro had told us that the prohibited books were being sent to a library with restricted access - based on the model of the libraries with restricted access developed by the socialist countries - that collected the texts of 'bourgeois' authors such as Ortega y Gasset, Octavio Paz or Arthur Koestler, and of 'purged' Cuban writers such as José Lezama Lima, Virgilio Piñera, Heberto Padilla or Antón Arrufat, or of exiled writers like Sévero Sarduy, Carlos Franquí or Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Anyway, this work involved not only the removal of prohibited books from the library shelves, but it also allowed the mulatto the chance to read the books while they awaited their final destiny.
"But one afternoon when we were meeting at the Fruticuba cafeteria... Lázaro confessed to us that he had discovered something at work that was truly a nightmare.
" 'Well, what is it, buddy? You're supposed to be the smartest guy around here....'
" 'The books that I remove from circulation don't really go to a special library.'
" 'So where do they take them?,' I asked.
" 'They take them away in a truck.'
" 'But where to, damn it? To the Central Committee?'
" 'They pulp them for recycling or they throw them into boilers to be burned.'
" 'What?,' I exclaimed in shock, as memories came back to me of Chilean soldiers burning books after the coup, horrifying images evocative of the pyres of burning books in Hitler's Berlin, which had reverberated around the world as a symbol of dictatorship. 'You're lying, pal, this is slander!'
" 'I'm just repeating what the guys said as they were loading the truck: "This printed paper is either recycled or it's converted into energy, comrades." That's what they said.'
" 'Shit, you mean they throw them into a furnace?,' I shouted, as a couple who were eating guava slices at the next table stared at me in surprise.
" 'Just imagine, the books of Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov, Koestler, Vargas Llosa, Cabrera Infante or Padilla turned into wrapping paper for meat, or converted into hot water at a hospital, preferably the latter.'
" 'I bet the Horse [a nickname for President Castro] doesn't know about this,' commented the pale twin.
" 'And what do you think Fidel would do with counterrevolutionay books removed from circulation?,' asked Willy. 'Store them in a warehouse until we as a people have the maturity to read them? Ship them off to secondhand bookstores? To the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution?'
" 'You can say whatever you want, Lázaro, but here in Cuba we've never burned books like in other countries,' declared José Antonio. 'Fair is fair.'
" 'They don't need to. It's enough just to prevent them from being published,' retorted Willy.... 'But the books that were written by people who went to Miami or were published in the sixties, when we had a cultural policy that applauded even Jean Paul Sartre, had to be made to disappear one way or another. And I don't think they're being kept in storage somewhere.'
"My curiosity was piqued to know what texts ought not to be circulated because they were considered counterrevolutionary. In the Chile of Allende I had been accustomed, while in bookstores and libraries, to browse through works written by the most diverse authors.... But wasn't it my duty to denounce this irregularity, of which Fidel was surely ignorant, to the leaders of the university? Still, our youthful curiosity to taste the forbidden fruit - books that the Revolution wanted to hide from us - couldn't have been greater.
"We agreed among ourselves, there in the Fruticuba cafeteria, while eating mangos and drinking guava juice, to do something unheard of: Lázaro would discreetly set aside the most important books from the ones being loaded on the truck, and we would keep them for our reading pleasure until the time came when they were again available to the public....
" 'They probably won't notice,' declared Lázaro, 'because nobody makes a list of the books we take from the storage room to the truck. Besides, we haul them out and throw them into the truck when it's dark. Nobody will find out.' "
[NOTE: The banned authors mentioned in Roberto Ampuero's memoir of the 1970's have met various fates. The works of deceased authors such as José Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, who were not publicly critical of the government, are once again allowed to be published in Cuba. After decades of silent repentance, Antón Arrufat has been "rehabilitated" and his new works meet with official approval. But with the exception of a few pieces published in sanitized anthologies, the writings of many of Cuba's greatest authors, such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas, Heberto Padilla and Zoe Valdés, are still forbidden in their homeland, although a few readers considered "trustworthy" are allowed access to banned books in the special closed section of Havana's National Library. Nor, sadly, is the era of bookburning a thing of the past in contemporary Cuba. As recently as 1999, hundreds of library books donated to Cuba by Spain were burned in Havana after pamphlets containing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were found hidden among their pages. For details, please refer to the Friends of Cuban Libraries press release entitled "Library Books Burned, Buried, Dumped" (December 10, 1999) and "Library Books Burned, Buried, Dumped: A Mystery Solved?" (March 9, 2000).
BBC program features Cuban libraries
NEW YORK, August 27, 2002 (Friends of Cuban
Libraries) - On May 1 the Meridian Writing program of the British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a program on Cuba's independent library
movement. Printed below is the text of the broadcast, which was presented
by Daniel Schweimler, the BBC's resident correspondent in Havana.
[Introduction by the BBC]: "A few years ago at a book fair in Cuba President Fidel Castro protested that the narrow range of books in the country's public libraries wasn't the result of censorship or banning, merely a shortage of funds. Two of his fellow citizens [Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor] decided to put that statement to the test by making their private book collection publicly available. The project was such a success that across the island there are now more than sixty libraries run from private homes, stocking everything from children's fiction to books on religion and mysticism to works by Cuban writers in exile. The BBC's correspondent in Havana, Daniel Schweimler, set off to discover how they work.
[Daniel Schweimler]: "The Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman wrote that 'if it's true that every Cuban knows how to read and write, it is likewise true that every Cuban has nothing to read and must be very cautious about what he writes.' Shortly after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, he sent thousands of volunteers into the mountains and the inner cities to teach the people to read and write. Cuba now has one of the best literacy rates in the developing world. Most Cubans are unable to get access to words such as these written by one of the best Cuban writers of recent years, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, now living in exile in London:
[Voice of Cabrera Infante]: " 'One third of the [...inaudible], which is the tragic story of my country, from island to garrison, from brothel to barracks, from tropical paradise to hell on earth. It was in fact a sad book, but everywhere readers complimented me on how funny it was.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "Four years ago President Castro said there were no banned books in Cuba, just a shortage of money to buy them. So his words were put to the test by a couple living in the East of the island, who opened up an independent library in their own home. The seed was planted, and there are now more than sixty libraries across Cuba. They are, for now at least, tolerated by the authorities, but many of the owners have been detained or had books taken from them. Ricardo Gonzalez has about two thousand books in his home in the West of Havana.
[Ricardo Gonzales, in translated voiceover]: " 'You can see that in this library we are in the roof is broken, the shelves are made from bits of old wood. But nevertheless people come, because that signifies freedom. But the freedom is limited by the repressive organs of the Cuban state.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "The state-run libraries and bookshops are full of works about the Cuban Revolution, books by and about President Castro and the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, great Cuban writers of the past such as Alejo Carpentier and Nicolas Guillen, and classic Spanish literature. But they contain nothing the Communist authorities might regard as counterrevolutionary or subversive. George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, for instance. Ricardo Gonzalez again:
[Ricardo Gonzalez, in translated voiceover]: " 'The readers are returning to the library. But we have always had a few readers at this library, the Jorge Manach [Library], who kept coming even during the worst times of repression to borrow books and then circulate them to a wider audience.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "The books are given by foreign tourists, embassies and aid organizations abroad. Cubans who leave the country often donate their collections. The service is free, the standard security measures taken to ensure that the books are returned. The biggest problem, according to Gisela Delgado, who runs a library in the center of Havana, is for borrowers to overcome their fear.
[Gisela Delgado, in translated voiceover]: " 'We're doing an enormous amount of work here to try and make available uncensored literature to the Cuban people. At the same time we are seeing a cultural revolution, since a lot of people are losing their fear. They are reading these famous books, which they've been told were banned. Then they are writing their own testimonies, free from the terrible censorship they have suffered these past 43 years.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "She says that in four years she has not lost a single book, and all, including the children's books, are looked after and returned in good condition. Customers borrow works on a whole range of subjects, but she says by far the most popular are those which talk about modern-day Cuba from a perspective other than that put forward by the government. Andres Oppenheimer's 'Castro's Final Hour' is one example.
[Unidentified reader of a selection from Oppenheimer's book]: " 'Only fear of the unknown prevented a popular rebellion. Only the failure of U.S. policymakers and Cuban exile leaders to allay these fears, and perhaps even to recognize some of the early social gains of the Revolution, kept the Cuban people from turning their discontent into active defiance.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "Victor Rolando Arroyo, director of a library in the western city of Pinar del Rio, says repression in the provinces is tougher.
[Victor Roland Arroyo, in translated voiceover]: " 'Some of our libraries have been attacked during the night. Individuals have gone to the libraries and taken books away. These are people we recognize. We know who they are and have reported them, but the authorities have taken no action against these thugs.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "Public transport is poor, and many readers live in isolated communities. So Victor has formed a team to solve the problem.
[Victor Rolando Arroyo, in translated voiceover]: " 'We have a group of volunteers, some on foot and others with bicycles, who cover the region making contacts, offering books. What they do is explain which books they have and what they are about. What all this does is encourage people to read more.'
[Daniel Schweimler]: "The Cuban authorities view all those who oppose them as counterrevolutionaries, often in the pay of the government's enemies in the United States. The librarians say they are the peaceful vanguard of a force working for democratic change in Cuba. The authorities distrustfully, cautiously, are allowing the libraries to operate, having themselves created a reading public with an appetite that is not easily satisfied."
[End of radio segment]
(NOTE: Two of the volunteer librarians interviewed on the BBC program have received international awards for their work in defense of intellectual freedom. Gisela Delgado was awarded the Swedish Liberal Party's Democracy Prize, and Human Rights Watch named Victor Rolando Arroyo as a winner of the Hellman-Hammett Prize, an annual award given to persecuted writers and other defenders of intellectual freedom).
Journalist/Librarian awarded Hellman-Hammett prize
NEW YORK, June 14, 2002 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - Victor Rolando Arroyo, a Cuban journalist and the director of the Reyes Magos Independent Library, has been named as a recipient of the prestigious Hellman-Hammett Prize. The prize was awarded to Mr. Arroyo by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization which administers the estates of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. The Hellman-Hammett grants focus attention on repression of free speech and censorship by publicizing the persecution experienced by the grant recipients.
Victor Rolando Arroyo has served prison terms in Cuba after being convicted of crimes such as "disrespect" and "hoarding." The latter conviction occurred in 2000 when he distributed donated toys to needy Cuban children on the Feast of the Three Kings ("Los Reyes Magos"), the day on which Hispanic children traditionally receive gifts during the Christmas season. After being convicted of "hoarding" and sentenced to six months in prison, Mr. Arroyo was designated as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International.
Among the stories which Victor Rolando Arroyo has covered for the independent UPECI New Agency was a government-sponsored attack on an independent library in Pinar del Rio Province ("Two Assaulted During Raid on Library," Friends of Cuban Libraries press release, March 31, 2001). In addition to being a journalist, Mr. Arroyo is also the director of the independent Reyes Magos Library in Pinar del Rio Province, which was described in the April, 2001, issue of "Newbreed Librarian."
When informed that he had won the Hellman-Hammett Prize, Mr. Arroyo declared, "[T]his award is a demonstration of the support of friends in other parts of the world.... I accept it in the name of those who have defended... the sacred right of unrestricted free expression, in order to promote a civil society without ideloogical differences."
For those wishing to donate books to Mr. Arroyo at the Reyes Magos Library, his address is: Adela Azcuy #10, entre Gerardo Medina y Primero de Mayo, Pinar del Rio, Provincia Pinar del Rio, Cuba.
Jimmy Carter promotes uncensored libraries in Cuba
NEW YORK, May 30, 2002 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - When former U.S. president Jimmy Carter landed in Havana in mid-May to begin his historic visit to Cuba, he offered both moral and material support for the island nation's human rights organizations. Included in the former president's baggage were books destined as gifts for Cuba's rapidly growing independent library movement. Since the founding of Cuba's first independent library in 1998, volunteers throughout the island have used space inside their homes to inaugurate more than one hundred uncensored libraries open to the public; their goal is to challenge the government's system of censorship by offering the Cuban people access to reading materials which reflect all points of view. According to human rights monitors such as Amnesty International, the Cuban government has responded to the independent library movement with a campaign of harassment and persecution.
On May 16, during his historic meeting with dissidents and human rights activists in Havana, former President Carter expressed support for the island's uncensored library movement in a conversation with Gisela Delgado, the national director of the Independent Libraries Project. After presenting Ms. Delgado with the gift of books he had brought to enrich the collections of the libraries, President Carter stated that the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, which he directs, will continue to supply Cuba's independent libraries with shipments of books, magazines and other materials. As a gesture of solidarity, President Carter signed and dedicated to Gisela Delgado one of the books he had brought to Cuba for the independent libraries, a Spanish translation of Vincent Roussel's biography "Martin Luther King: Against All Exclusions."
Radames Suarez, a member of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, an international support group for the island's independent librarians, commented: "Our organization briefed staff members of the Carter Center before their trip to Havana, and we greatly appreciate President Carter's generous actions to advance the cause of human rights. The island's emerging civil society is being strengthened by Mr. Carter's support for Cuba's brave independent librarians and their innovative movement to defend intellectual freedom as a universal human right."
"Tiny, renegade libraries offer view of world": Atlanta Constitution
NEW YORK, May 15 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) - In yet another example of growing interest in a uniquely Cuban contribution to the worldwide human rights movement, Mike Williams of the Atlanta Constitution published an article on the island's independent libraries in the May 14 edition of the newspaper ("Tiny, Renegade Libraries Offer View of the World"). As George Stephanopoulos did on Monday's "Good Morning America" television program, the journalist interviewed Gisela Delgado, the director of Havana's Dulce Maria Loynaz Library and the national director of the independent library movement.
"Some people won't come here because they are scared," stated Ms. Delgado. "In Cuba the state controls everything, and there is no freedom of expression." The journalist described the expansion of the independent
library movement since its founding in 1998, noting that the more than 10,000 patrons of the libraries are eager to read books that are banned or unavailable in Cuba's state-owned institutions.
The Atlanta Constitution article noted the Cuban government's hostility toward the censorship-defying independent librarians, who have been denounced by Eliades Acosta, the director of Havana's National Library, as "traitors to
the nation" who want to "convert a handful of rogues and salaried counter-revolutionaries into noble fighters for free access to information." Gisela Delgado stated that the independent librarians, in the course of their work as librarians, take no political stand other than to champion intellectual freedom as a universal human right. Ms. Delgado reports that she sometimes receives several threatening telephone calls per day, during which a male caller says things like, "Your time is up."
"I fear being put in jail or that the authorities might take steps against my family," Ms. Delgado said. "But this is an important principle."
.ABC broadcasts interview with Cuban librarian
The May 13 edition of ABC's "Good Morning America" television program featured a segment from Havana by George Stephanopoulos. The subject of the program was Cuba's independent library movement, and Mr. Stephanopoulos is himself a former library worker. After noting that President Castro "is starting to loosen his grip," the camera shifted to the Dulce Maria Loynaz Independent Library where, the interviewer noted, "Gisela Delgado is exploiting one new freedom." Through an interpreter, George Stephanopoulos interviewed Gisela Delgado to obtain information on the island nation's burgeoning independent library movement and its pioneering challenge to the pervasive censorship imposed by the Cuban government. He described her library as "a roomful of titles left behind by tourists and sent from Cuban exiles abroad," noting that 600 of Ms. Delgado's neighbors borrow from the 3,000 volumes in the library collection.
When asked to identify the most popular title in the Dulce Maria Loynaz Library, Ms. Delgado answered that it is George Orwell's "1984." When George Stephanopoulos asked why this particlular book is so popular, she replied: "Because many people see similarities with the life they live in Cuba."
"No wonder," commented George Stephanopoulos. "Shortly after we left Gisela Delgado's house, her phone line was cut."
Library director assaulted
Havana, April 14, 2002 (Reinaldo Cosano Alén / www.cubanet.org) - Nereyda Rodríguez, the director of the Ignacio Agramonte Independent Library, was assaulted on April 10 while returning to her home at eight in the evening.
Without warning, one of the assailants (there were two) punched her in the face, knocking her down and dragging her along the ground as he told her: "This is the second beating I have given you. For your own good, get rid of that library in your house or your own mother won't be able to recognize you."
After the attack, the two assailants fled from the scene on bicycles.
Ms. Rodríguez recognized one of the assailants as the same person who had attacked her on December 24, 2000. "On that day," she recalled, "I was going to my sister's house in Guanabo, in order to take food to my nephew, who is a prisoner, and this same individual hit me."
In neither of the assaults was Ms. Rodríguez robbed of any of her belongings.
Nereyda Rodríguez was fired from her job as a teacher for disagreeing with the policies of the government of President Castro; she is a member of the Cuban Democratic Coalition and the Cuban College of Independent Teachers
The home of Ms. Rodríguez, at Marti Street #264-C, between Martires de Giron and E. Hart Street, Campo Florido, East Havana, is also the location of the Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz Independent Library.
Libraries raided, blind activist beaten and arrested
On March 19 a British-based human rights group,
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (www.csw.org.uk), issued an appeal on behalf of
Juan Carlos González
Leiva. CSW urged people around the world to send messages to the Cuban
government demanding the release of Mr. González
Leiva and the return of books confiscated during a raid on the Ignacio Agramonte
Independent Library, of which Mr. González
Leiva is the director. Here is the text of the CSW appeal:
"BLIND CHRISTIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST BEATEN AND IMPRISONED IN CUBA
"A blind Christian human rights activist has been beaten and imprisoned in Cuba following a crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights workers.
"Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, President of both the Cuban Human Rights Foundation and the Brotherhood of the Independent Blind People of Cuba, was arrested along with several other human rights activists on March 5 in Ciego de Avila.
"He was severely beaten by government security agents and suffered a blow to the head, which required four stitches. Gonzalez and a number of other human rights activists had gathered at a local hospital in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of a journalist who had been admitted there after being attacked by Cuban police.
"The group was immediately surrounded by the rapid response unit of the local security forces, who beat them before taking them into custody. The group has been on hunger strike since their arrest.
"On March 10, security forces raided the Ignacio Agramonte Independent Evangelical Library, set up in Ciego de Avila by Gonzalez. They confiscated a number of books including materials written in Braille. Gonzalez was also attacked and beaten by police on Christmas Day, 2001, at the inauguration of the library.
"According to Gonzalez’s wife, Maritza, he is being charged with public disorder and is currently being held in a cell with a violent criminal – a common form of punishment in Cuba. She was able to visit him on March 12 and said his cellmate seemed extremely aggressive. She also said that Gonzalez had lost a great deal of weight due to his hunger strike.
"CSW met with the 27-year-old Gonzalez, who is also a lawyer and an active member of the Baptist Church, last February in Havana. At the time Gonzalez spoke of his hope for the future of human rights and democracy in Cuba.
"There has been a general crackdown on all human rights activists since a large number of Cubans sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy in Havana in late February.
"CSW is calling for the immediate release of Gonzalez and his fellow human rights activists as well as the return of all the materials taken from the library.
"Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said, 'Juan Carlos has paid a high price for having the courage to stand up for the rights of others. His treatment at the hands of the authorities has been brutal and unjust.'
“ ' We call upon Fidel Castro to release Juan Carlos immediately and to make full redress for the injuries he has suffered at the hands of the government. This kind of behaviour on the part of the Cuban Government should not be tolerated by the international community.' ”
Cuban librarians win Swedish human rights award
STOCKHOLM, March 7, 2002 (Liberal Party press
release) - The Liberal Party of Sweden (Folkpartiet Liberalerna) has decided to
award its Lars Leijonborg Democracy Prize to Berta Mexidor and Gisela Delgado,
as representatives of independent libraries in Cuba.
Berta Mexidor will be awarded the prize at a ceremony in connection with the centenary of the Liberal Party in Stockholm on March 15th. Gisela Delgado will receive her prize at a ceremony in Stockholm whenever the Cuban authorities allow her to leave Cuba.
Lars Leijonborg describes the motives of the award:
- During the last few years I have followed the work of the independent libraries in Cuba. It has been very edifying to see how fast the library movement has grown and how in a pioneering way it has offered more and more Cubans the availability of literature and cultural activities that the cultural institutes run by the state do not offer.
- The freedom to choose books and to freely express oneself both on cultural and political issues is a fundamental human right and in my view a definite condition for a good society.
- The liberal movement in Sweden stems from the fight for cultural, political and religious freedom and has always regarded general education as a guarantee for an open society.
- The independent libraries in Cuba have activated the international debate on the monopoly of information in Cuba and have shown that ordinary people around the world, by sending books or bringing books when traveling
to Cuba, can contribute to the opening up of Cuba.
- With this prize, I and the Liberal Party of Sweden want to show our full support for the hard work Berta Mexidor and Gisela Delgado have put into the library movement in recent years.
The Lars Leijonborg Democracy Prize consists of the dividend of a fund that was started in connection with Mr. Leijonborg's 50th birthday. The prize is divided in two parts: a gift of 1,000 US$ each to the recipients,
and a sum of 3,500 US$ to a fund-raising drive in Sweden with the aim of providing books to the independent libraries in Cuba.
Repression frustrates independent library opening
Havana, December 26, 2001 (Reinaldo Cosano Alén / www.cubanet.org) - Officials of the Department of State Security and the National police, as well as members of paramilitary groups organized by the government, confiscated books and attacked participants at the inauguration of the independent Emmanuel Library while the Christian community celebrated the birth of Jesus this 25th of December.
This Evangelical independent library is located at the home of Lázaro Iglesias Estrada, in Florida, Camagüey province.
Since early morning the police and paramilitary forces began to harass the participants as they arrived at the library. Carlos Brizuela Yera, reporter of the School of Independent Journalists of Camagüey, was stopped by the organized crowd when on his way to the place to cover the news.
The reporter was arrested by the official of the political police who identifies himself as Echemendía and by other agents of that repressive body.
Juan Carlos González Leiva, president of the Cuban Foundation for Human rights, who was present at the inauguration, recounts: "We protested, shouting for human rights. I shouted: Down with Fidel Castro! The agents waded into us, hitting and striking. Delio Laureano Requejo received a hard blow on his shoulder, dislocating his arm. Journalist Normando Hernandez González was wounded in the mouth and all over his body. Reporters Lexter Téllez Castro and Misley Delgado Bombino were also beaten and Ms. Delgado received a blow on the head with a police club. Both Pastor Lázaro Iglesias Estrada and Joel García were harmed. Brizuela Yera came out with a broken mouth, whereas Marcelo Tier Perez was beaten despite being 70 years old. I was struck on the ribs, my eye glasses were shattered and my clothes ripped, leaving me almost naked."
Blanca González, mother of Normando Hernandez González, explained: "The library could not be inaugurated because the police operation was monstrous. It was terrible. They pushed them, they beat them, they were forcibly thrown inside police patrol cars. The police organized a crowd yelling insults aimed at the activists. It is the most terrible thing I've seen in my life".
A public prosecutor confiscated all the books of the library.
Emmanuel, a Hebrew word, means "God is with us."
[Published in CubaNet, Dec. 18, 2001. Translated by the Friends]