Skip to comments.Read a Burned Book for Freedom
Posted on 02/23/2007 6:48:26 PM PST by concentric circles
For years, I have been covering the Castro regimes imprisonment often for very long sentences of what Amnesty International accurately calls prisoners of conscience. Among them are independent journalists, labor organizers, womens rights supporters, authors and independent librarians. The latter are brave Cubans and womens-rights supporters who make available books that their neighbors and other Cubans are not allowed to read in the state-controlled library system. Whatever direction a post-Fidel government takes, this punishment of free thought will continue.
From kangaroo-court records I have seen, when independent librarians are sent to the gulags, certain confiscated books and sometimes all books in their libraries are ordered incinerated by the presiding judge. A biography of Martin Luther King was sent to the flames because, said the judge, it is based on ideas that could be used to promote social disorder and civil disobedience. And the nonviolent Kings own books have been burned.
Even works by Jose Marti, the 19th-century organizer of Cuban independence, have been incinerated. Maybe because of the pamphlet he wrote during his exile in Spain, planning the liberation of his homeland. Martis pamphlet was about the horrors of political imprisonment in Cuba under a pre-Castro dictator.
Among thousands of other incinerated subversive books and pamphlets are those books by George Orwell, Pope John Paul II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (particularly dangerous) and reports by Human Rights Watch.
When I found these court records by Castros judges, I called Ray Bradbury, whose classic novel Fahrenheit 451 still reverberating among readers around the world tells of a tyrannical government destroying disloyal books by fire and the resistance by courageous citizens memorizing those forbidden books to preserve them for future generations. Ray Bradbury authorized me to circulate his response to these real-life bonfires of free thought in Castros Cuba:
I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison and send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people.
The dictator was not persuaded. Many of these librarians are still in cages, some in dangerously failing health, and other independent Cuban librarians have joined them.
Now, like the resisters in Ray Bradburys novel, who were determined to preserve the freedom to read, a group of American and international librarians, authors and human-rights activists have started a liberating Read A Burned Book campaign including a curriculum aimed at high school and college students. The campaign is also encouraging people in the United States and around the world to read the books that dictators, not only Castro, burned.
The independent American librarian members of FREADOM the generators of this project have created, among other classroom and research activities, a discussion inquiry on the history of book burning in ancient and modern times. There will also be a classroom inquiry on what made the books burned by Castro so dangerous to the dictator and officials who will remain in power after Castro dies. He has famously said that history will absolve me! But as long as these condemned books keep rising from the ashes, they will bear witness to his reign of fear and destruction, not only of books but of so many Cubans who believe in their right to be free.
The growing number of the Read a Burned Book campaigns endorsers includes a former prisoner of conscience in Cuba, Armando Valladares, author of the classic Against All Hope, about the Castro dungeons.
Also: Yale professor Carlos Eire (Waiting for Snow in Havana), winner of the National Book Award; Gisela Delgado Sablon, executive director of the Independent Library Project of Cuba; poet, novelist and National Public Radio columnist Andrei Codrescu; and Anna Maulina, president of the Library Association of Latvia. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have also signed on.)
The main contact for this campaign is www.4freadom.org/RBBStatement.html. There are links to sign on as a supporter, and links for students and teachers on the activities pages.
When signer Valladares was in a Castro gulag, locked in a so-called tiger cage, guards would puncture the steel-mesh ceiling with clubs to prevent him from sleeping and pour in buckets of urine and excrement collected from other prisoners. (See Arnold Beichmans Viva Valladares, The Washington Times, July 9, 2006.)
Valladares survived, as has his book Against All Hope. This Read a Burned Book campaign is a message to all those prisoners of conscience of the rising support they have from all over the world. My congratulations to Americas independent librarians at FREADOM for shaming the leadership of the American Library Association, which persistently refuses to demand the immediate release of the caged Cuban librarians.
If anyone has a DU account, this needs to be posted over there. That place is full of people who think Castro "loves his people".
This is a good development for the unfortunate Cuban people.
Unfortunately, Hentoff has backed a number of communist fronts led by the very people who back Castro and his gulags (Communist Party USA, Socialist Workers Party - Political Rights Defense Fund), the ACLU, etc).
The American Librarians Association is led by one of Castro's top propagandists in the US., Ann Sparanese, an old member of the CPUSA/DGI "Venceremos Brigade" and the SDS-Weathermen front, the Committee for July 26th (See: Sen. Internal Security Subcom, hearing on "Threats to the Observance of the Bicentennial", July 1976 for details on these groups Sparanese was a leader of).
Other ALA leaders have refused to condemn Castro for his imprisonment of librarians and censorship/book burnings.
Now you know why Johnny Can Only Read Communist Propaganda.
Address of Ambassador Armando Valladares', Chief of the United State's Delegation to the United Nations Human Rights' Commission. Geneva, Switzerland, February 23, 1988.
Mr. Chairman, I am not a career diplomat, and I am not an expert on the technical aspects of this organism. I will not speak in a detailed manner on the reports and topics submitted under point 10. There will be other interventions during which we will listen to opinions on those important matters.
Mr. Chairman, today I want to speak about torture, about what it means for a human being to be tortured, to be humiliated, or what may be even worse, to watch a friend, a companion, or a relative being tortured.
As many of you know, I spent twenty-two years in prison for political reasons. Perhaps, I am the only delegate in this Commission who has spent such a long time in prison, although there are several persons here who have known in their own flesh the meaning of torture. I do not care about their political ideology, and I offer to you my embrace of solidarity, from tortured to tortured.
I had many friends in prison. One of them, Roberto López Chávez, was just a kid. He went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses. The guards denied him water, Roberto lay on the floor of his punishment cell, agonizing, deliriously asking for water. water The soldiers came in and asked him: "Do you want water?" The they took out their members and urinated in his mouth, on his face He died the following day. We were cellmates; when he died I felt something wither inside me.
I recall when they kept me in a punishment cell, naked, with several fractures on one leg which never received medical care; today, those bones remain jammed up together and displaced. One of the regular drills among the guards was to stand on the steel mesh ceiling and throw at my face buckets full of urine and excrement.
Mr. Chairman, I know the taste of the urine and the excrement of other men that practice does not leave marks; marks are left by beatings with steel rods and by bayonet thrusts. My head is still covered with scars and you can feel the cracks.
But, what can inflict more damage to human dignity, the urine and excrements thrown all over your face or a bayonet's blow? Which is the appropriate article for the discussion of this subject? Under which technical point does it fall? Under what batch of papers, numbers, lines and bars should we include this trampling of human dignity?
For me, and for innumerable other human beings around the world. The violation of human rights was not a matter of reports, of negotiated resolutions, of elegant and diplomatic rhetoric, for us was a daily suffering.
For me (it meant) eight thousand days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement, of cells with steel-planked windows and doors, of solitude.
Eight thousand days of struggling to prove that I was a human being. Eight thousand days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain. Eight thousand days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart. Eight thousand days of struggling so that I would not become like them, rejecting torture as a mean to fight, forcing myself to forgive, rejecting the thoughts of revenge, reprisal and cruelty...
More at the linked page.
Our front porch is collapsing and we're down at the travel office booking reservations for a trip to Disneyworld.
Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana;
...After Castro takes power on New Year's Day, 1959, the televised executions disappoint Carlos; at age eight, he prefers his favorite Viking movie. "It was in color, and it showed you men fighting and dying up close." Up the street at the Ursuline convent, Carlos can hear the crashing of sledgehammers pulverizing the holy icons. The Italian priests who live across the street cry when they say goodbye. The legless beggar and her drooling child vanish, and when the cobbler resoles his father's wingtips, he uses tire treads...
One day, Carlos and Tony ridicule the youthful Pioneers in red berets and red neckerchiefs, who march past the house daily at exactly the same time, chanting, "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, Cuba si, Yanquis no." The brothers hide behind the hedges and shout: "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, comiendo mierda y gastando zapato." (One, two, three, four, eating shit and wasting shoes.) When their mother overhears them, she is frightened -- "She has visions, the kind mothers get. Flash-forwards rather than flashbacks." She puts the boys on a KLM prop plane to Miami on April 6, 1962. ("It would take only one brief plane ride to turn me from a white boy into a spic," writes Eire.) She tells her children they'll come home soon; Castro can't last. They live in foster homes and an orphanage, picking up soda bottles from vacant lots in Miami to redeem for pocket change. The boys must wait three years until their mother manages to leave Cuba. Their father never follows...
Despite the hardship of his dislocation and his abandonment by his father, Eire still believes in God. "There was always something good happening. Simply being here in the United States, no matter how awful things were, was better than being there. I felt my soul was being sucked out of me in a system that wanted me to think a certain way and act a certain way. I'd gotten out, I'd escaped. It was great..."
"The suppression of all human rights counterbalances any social program. It's exactly like saying Mussolini made the trains run on time. You know, the Third Reich had socialized medicine." Even people who have been poor for generations have joined the exiles, he says...
Hentoff has backed communist fronts - like what?