Passions were expected to run high, and Fernandez and Fox did not disappoint. Trenam Kemker attorney Rob Stern said it was the most informative and emotional discussion he had seen during the six years the firm had sponsored the breakfast gatherings.
So who scored the most points?
When I reached Fernandez on Tuesday afternoon, he was convinced he won over the undecided people in the audience. And Fox said that by contradicting Fernandez, he succeeded in prompting people to do their own research and draw their own conclusions. After talking to both men, it's clear they don't agree on much of anything. One of the biggest issues is Fernandez's insistence that Castro has supported terrorism. Fox told me that was propaganda. Fernandez, who also noted European countries are planning to boycott Castro because of his recent persecution of dissidents, said there is overwhelming evidence to support his claim.
Fox also spoke of humanitarian efforts being made by those who travel to Cuba, and said more could be done if travel restrictions were lifted. "You could have a mother in Cuba dying of cancer and not be able to send her $10,000," said Fox, president of the Washington-based Alliance For Reasonable Cuba Policy. "But you can send your favorite Iraqi cousin as much money as you want."
Fernandez said such humanitarian talk is just a cover for carpetbaggers hoping to take economic advantage of a good relationship with Castro. "Don't be misled by these "I-found-it humanitarians' who take an old wheelchair to Cuba in a million-dollar yacht and then party for 10 days at Marina Hemingway with 15-year-old Cuban girls," Fernandez said.
Clearly, the best result of this healthy debate is awareness of the issue, and I'm glad we could have it in Tampa. They tell me you couldn't have this debate in Miami. [End]
"By the same token," the report continued, "if the Cuban government wishes to make information available without censorship, it will allow the independent collections to operate without interference."
Mark Rosenzweig, the director of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, a research center in New York City, contends that Cuba has one of the finest library systems in the developing world and that no books are officially banned by the government.
He said he believed that the independent librarians had no connection to professional librarians and were supported by American anti-Castro groups. "These are a ragtag bunch of people who have been involved on the fringes of the dissident movement," Mr. Rosenzweig said of the independent librarians.
Mr. Freedman, the former library association president, said some association members had even accused the independent librarians of being "paid agents of the U.S. government."
Mr. Kent acknowledged that some of his 10 trips to Cuba were paid for by Freedom House, a human rights group, and the Center for a Free Cuba, an anti-Castro organization, which have received grants from the United States Agency for International Development. And the co-founder of the Friends group, Jorge Sanguinetty, is a Cuban exile and economic consultant whose main client is the aid agency. But those government ties, Mr. Sanguinetty said, do not change the reality of government-confiscated materials and the harassment of librarians and their families. ***