Skip to comments.A Library in Cuba: What Is It? - ALA: What Ideology Do They Promote - Suppress?
Posted on 06/30/2003 2:21:15 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
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. But when the subject is as politically charged as Cuba, anything is possible.
So during the association's annual conference in Toronto, which ended Wednesday, a little cultural cold war broke out among members over what are known as independent libraries in Cuba. Small lending libraries run out of people's homes, they circulate materials that the librarians say are banned by the government. To some members, the association has been ignoring the repression of their colleagues and the cause of intellectual freedom; to others, a small group has been trying to hijack the organization to pursue an anti-Castro agenda.
The latest battle began after the arrests of about 75 Cuban dissidents in March. Convicted of "mercenary activities and other acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the Cuban state," according to a statement in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party daily, the dissidents received prison sentences of up to 28 years. Fourteen were independent librarians.
Robert Kent, a New York librarian and in 1999 (a year after the independent libraries began) a co-founder of an informal group of librarians and others called Friends of Cuban Libraries, has been pushing the association to speak out on the harassment of the librarians. "For at least four years, the A.L.A. has ignored, covered up or lied about the persecution of people in Cuba whose only crime is to have opened libraries," he said.
After the latest events, Mr. Kent and his supporters asked the association to hold a separate debate on Cuban restrictions that would have included five Cuban librarians all working for government libraries who went to the Toronto meeting. They also asked the 64,000-member A.L.A. to pass a formal resolution denouncing censorship in Cuba and demanding the release of the 14 jailed librarians.
In the end, the association allowed an "open mike" discussion with the Cuban librarians after they gave presentations, but deferred a resolution about Cuba to its next meeting in January, saying its members needed more information.
"The reputation of the American Library Association will be damaged by this," declared an outraged Mr. Kent about the deferment of the Cuban resolution.
But Maurice J. Freedman, who has just finished his one-year term as president of the association and is the director of the Westchester County library system, dismissed Mr. Kent's charges. The association is concerned with intellectual freedom everywhere, but the facts on Cuba are still murky, he said.
Winston Tabb, the outgoing chairman of the library association's international relations committee, agreed. "There was unanimous agreement that the resolution was not ready," he said. "It's really complicated. There were contradictory statements. People are positional about Cuba."
"One of the questions was whether there was too much focus on Cuba, and whether we should focus on freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, generally," he added. "Those questions arise in Cuba but they arise in other places, too." Mr. Tabb, also the dean of university libraries at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, cited Turkey and Zimbabwe. (In the past, the association has spoken against library censorship in South Africa and recently condemned the destruction of the national library in Iraq.)
Some members contend that it is important that most independent librarians there are about 100 still in Cuba are not professionally trained and are de facto political dissidents.
"If you have 100 books in your home and you make them available to friends, are you a librarian?" asked Edward Erazo, the outgoing chairman of the association's Latin American subcommittee and coordinator of library instruction at Broward Community College in Davie, Fla. "It's political. It has nothing to do with the fact that they operate independent libraries."
"But who knows?" he continued. "It is Cuba. Are there books that are not circulated?"
For others, the wave of arrests in Cuba offers compelling reason to speak out. "Just this latest crackdown, when you have independent librarians imprisoned, is evidence enough that intellectual freedom is imperiled in Cuba," said Laura Y. Tartakoff, a professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "The A.L.A. record when it comes to Cuba is deplorable. The fact that a regime makes it a crime to establish a library in your home is sinful."
Michael Dowling, director of the association's international relations office, says the problem has always been competing versions of the truth. Even with several library associations making fact-finding missions to Cuba, there has been no definitive evidence that books are banned and librarians harassed there, he said.
President Fidel Castro has said that no books are banned but that Cuban libraries lack the money to carry every available title. A 2001 American Library Association report on Cuba said, "Considering the small readership of the private collections and the lack of trained librarians, if the U.S. government wishes to get information into the hands of the Cuban people, the most effective way is to deliver books directly to the extensive and active public library system."
"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.
Brigid Cahalan, a librarian at the New York Public Library and a member of the Friends group, says she hopes that by the January meeting, tempers will have cooled, and more details will have been clarified. "Many in A.L.A. have not seen it as an intellectual freedom issue," she said. "Maybe they've started to rethink things, based on what they've heard and read."
"After years of silence, double talk and coverups by the ALA, the current vicious attack gives the ALA no excuse for failing to take action," said Robert Kent, founder of Friends of Cuban Libraries and a librarian at the New York Public Library.
Until a recent crackdown by the government of Fidel Castro, a network of independent libraries offered a variety of titles, such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm," that implicitly criticized Cuba's one-party communist government.
The ALA which represents public, college and other libraries in the United States and has 64,000 members is run by an elected board of 175 councilors. The latest criticism of the group was triggered by a decision to invite Cuban government librarians to speak at its June 19-25 convention in Toronto. Betty Turlock, a professor at Rutgers University, a former ALA president and current international-relations chairman responsible for inviting the Cubans to speak, said the program was planned 18 months ago, before the crackdown in Cuba.
"I have never known the ALA not to take the side of intellectual freedom," Miss Turlock said.
In March, Cuba arrested 75 opposition journalists, librarians and dissidents. Many were sentenced to more than 25 years in jail. At least 10 were directors of independent libraries, who lent books from their homes. Among the books considered counterrevolutionary were "Animal Farm," biographies of Martin Luther King, collections of Pope John Paul II homilies, and books on entrepreneurship and free-market economics.
In contrast to the ALA, most American and European journalist organizations produced resolutions and statements supporting their jailed colleagues.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International condemned Cuba's crackdown on dissent and declared all 75 prisoners as "prisoners of conscience." And yesterday the European Union announced that it had decided unanimously to re-evaluate its relations with Cuba.
Mr. Kent, and others, charged that the ALA has been hijacked by several of its board members, whom they say have close ties to Cuba's government.
One of the board members, Mark Rosenzweig, is chief librarian of the Reference Center for Marxist Studies, the archive of the Communist Party USA. He is also a leading figure in the ALA's Social Responsibility Round Table, one of the most vocal factions in the ALA supporting the Castro regime.
"If justice is harsh in Cuba, it is because Cuban independence is threatened by the machinations of the hostile U.S. administration, trying to create the conditions for a puppet government to take over," Mr. Rosenzweig wrote in a recent e-mail. Mr. Rosenzweig made his comment in response to an e-mail campaign seeking support for the imprisoned Cuban librarians. He went on to call the imprisoned librarians "pawns," saying they "do not remotely qualify as librarians."
Mr. Rosenzweig did not return calls seeking comment. Another ALA board member, Ann Sparanese, is a member of the Venceremos Brigade, a radical Marxist group that dates to the 1960s. "They are not librarians," she said of the imprisoned Cubans in a brief telephone interview yesterday.[End]
Private libraries turn page in Cuba: Book lenders offer variety, draw scorn of Castro regime Chicago Tribune ^ | February 10, 2002 | Laurie Goering-Tribune foreign correspondent [Excerpt] The founders of the independent library movement, Berta Mexidor Vazquez and her husband, Ramon Humberto Colas, immigrated to Miami in December after losing their jobs and their home, and seeing their daughter removed from her school.
Other independent library heads say they have been jailed briefly or had security agents search their collections.
. That's not to say that at least some of the same things aren't available at Cuba's expansive network of state libraries. The National Library in Havana has 4 million titles, and while most are dated--one of the "International Who's Who" copies is from 1995--the big wooden card catalog is full of authors considered controversial in Cuba, from Mario Vargas Llosa to George Orwell.
Critics point out that such books are not available to all patrons, whose type of library card depends on their jobs or other affiliations, and that most Cubans would hesitate to go on record asking for controversial titles.
Most of the library's books are in closed stacks. Patrons must ask for them by filling out a form with their own name and the title, which is then handed over to librarians. [End Excerpt]
Anti-Castro Group Sends Aid to Cuban Dissidents AP | Jul 22, 2002 [Full Text] MIAMI (AP) - The leader of a powerful anti-Castro group says it has sent about $1 million in cash, computers and other aid to dissidents and families in Cuba over the past 18 months.
Jorge Mas Santos said the Cuban American National Foundation is using Puerto Rico and Mexico as staging centers, and it has a network of hundreds of dissidents representing every province in Cuba.
He declined to provide a breakdown of the assistance.
"Cash is not the majority of it," he said. "We've sent a lot of computers, a lot of faxes, a lot of books for the independent libraries."
Mas Santos was unopposed Sunday in winning a fourth term as chairman of the group founded by his father. During its annual board meeting, members said they are refocusing resources to activities in Cuba instead of looking north to Washington.
The foundation has focused for years on maintaining the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and shunning any U.S. political openings with Fidel Castro's communist regime.
By shifting its efforts south, Mas Santos told The Miami Herald, the organization has harnessed Cuban uncertainty over the future caused by Castro's brief fainting spell last June.
Since then, he said, the foundation has expanded contacts with "a young generation of civil government members and people in the military who do want a democratic change" and aim for "a bloodless, peaceful transition in Cuba." [End]
''They said it wasn't the books, but who we were going to give them to,'' Cason told a group of international reporters. He said the mission has been able to bring in similar books in the past.
''We have seen them in the bookstores and the [government] libraries here,'' Cason said. ``But we cannot give them out because the Cuban government claims we will be giving them out for subversive purposes.'' The $68,770.41 shipment remains in the control of Cuban customs officials, Cason said. American officials said they would happily pay duties on the books, but were told that was not an option.
Cason showed a waybill for the shipment, which listed Spanish translations of books including Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, journalism textbooks, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, comedian Groucho Marx's Memoirs of a Mangy Lover, and speeches by King. Cason, who arrived in Havana five months ago, denied the Cuban government's charges that the American mission provides***
Cubans harass U.S. envoys passing out Mark Twain novels - economics 101 textbooks *** Cuban agents have increased harassment of U.S. diplomats in recent months in a campaign that includes house break-ins, vandalism and crude acts of intimidation, the State Department says in a memo warning U.S. foreign service officers of tough times if they are posted to the island. Similar acts of harassment are being reported by organizers of Project Varela, a recent petition drive calling for free speech and free elections in the single-party communist state, according to news reports from the island. The memo obtained by The Washington Times lists three pages of "officially sanctioned provocation," including the "leaving of not so subtle messages behind, (including unwelcome calling cards like urine or feces)."***
US book shipment seized in Cuba ''It's fear of losing political control,'' said Cason, who arrived in Havana five months ago. ''That's how Groucho Marx . . . can suddenly become a subversive.'' Cason showed a waybill for the shipment, which listed Spanish translations of books including ''Who Moved by Cheese,'' by Spencer Johnson, journalism textbooks, Steinbeck's ''Grapes of Wrath,'' and speeches by the late civil rights leader King.
Carson made a high-profile appearance earlier this week, and even spoke with the foreign media, during a meeting of opposition groups at the home of well-known dissident Marta Beatriz Roque. Senior US officials said later that American diplomats regularly visit with Cuban dissidents at their homes. Cason in particular has made a point of getting to know the dissidents. Dissidents are given free Internet access at the American mission, but Cason denied the Cuban government's charges that the mission provides financial support to dissidents. ''We don't give out cash,'' he said. ''. . . What we do here is logistics.''***
March 21, 2003 - Cuban crackdown riles dissidents, U.S.*** The U.S. government and Cuban dissidents reacted with anger yesterday as the government of Fidel Castro arrested more opponents and threatened to try those in custody for treason. Oswaldo Paya, Cuba's best-known dissident and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, said the arrests were timed to coincide with the war on Iraq so that the world would not take notice. Mr. Paya, whose international stature was protecting him from arrest, had organized the Varela Project petition requesting a Cuban referendum on democratic reform.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, called the opposition roundup "the most intense repression in recent years." The U.S. State Department called the 3-day-old crackdown the worst since the "purges" of 1996. At least a dozen of those rounded up were independent journalists, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. An official government statement accused the dissidents of "being directly linked to the conspiratorial activities" led by the U.S. mission.
One of Cuba's best-known dissidents, Martha Beatriz Roque, was arrested yesterday, bringing the number of opposition figures picked up in the past three days to at least 75. The State Department said Wednesday that those arrested either had met with the U.S. Interests Section chief, James Cason, or were organizers of Mr. Paya's Varela Project. ***
April 3, 2003 - Castro Seeks Life Sentences for Dissidents - Trial Today - Where's Jimmy Carter? *** The Cuban government has provided no information about the trials and it was unknown if international journalists would be granted access. Authorities here have accused those arrested of being traitors and mercenaries for the U.S. government. Cuban Parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon said Monday that authorities had sufficient evidence to try the dissidents, adding that most nations had laws "to defend their sovereignty." The crackdown began when Cuban officials criticized the head of the American mission in Havana, James Cason, for his active support of the island's opposition.
Accusations that the detainees engaged in treason and are mercenaries "only show the repressive nature of the Castro regime and its fear of any sign of opposition to its ironclad rule," Roberto Zimmerman, spokesman for the U.S. State Department's Latin America bureau, said in Washington on Wednesday. The Cubans "are being tried for exercising their rights of freedom of expression and association," said Zimmerman.
The roundup followed several years of relative government tolerance for dissidents. During that time, the opposition grew stronger, more organized and more daring. Those arrested included independent journalists, directors of non-governmental libraries, members of opposition political parties and volunteers for the Varela Project, a pro-democracy petition drive.***
Thought Crimes: Cuban Dissidents Reel Under 'Wave of Repression'Washington Post ^ | April 6, 2003 | Kevin Sullivan*** Paya and Sanchez said Castro is worried that the dissident community has grown from a few people to thousands willing to sign pro-democracy petitions. "Nothing they have done has been enough to paralyze this movement, and that's why they are scared," Paya said. Paya said he has gone daily to the courtroom where the trials are being held, but security forces have shouted obscenities at him and forced him to leave. Sanchez said he has tried to send observers to the trials but that security police stopped them before they could get within 100 yards of the building.
The extent of Castro's security network came into view Friday, when two reporters who spent years working alongside the country's best-known independent journalist, Raul Rivero, admitted at his trial that they were actually government agents. And in another trial, the secretary of dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque also acknowledged spying for Castro.***
With such stunning courtroom revelations, Fidel Castro's government pressed ahead Friday the prosecution of 80 dissidents accused of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine Cuba's leadership. The well-known independent journalist Raul Rivero was among those being tried Friday in a second day of court proceedings aimed at crushing a small, but growing, opposition movement.
Rivero was being tried alongside Ricardo Gonzalez, the editor of De Cuba, a new general interest magazine publishing the works of Cuban journalists working outside state-controlled media. Prosecutors were seeking 20 years for Rivero and life for Gonzalez after being charged with working with a foreign power to undermine the government. Gonzalez is one of at least a dozen defendants who could face a life sentence. The trials are expected to end early next week with sentences issued days later. ***
April 20, 2003 - Cuba - communist intellectuals ask for end to criticism *** HAVANA -A group of world-renowned Cuban intellectuals released a letter to their colleagues around the world Saturday, asking them to stop criticizing harsh measures recently employed here. Titled Message from Havana to our friends in faraway places, the letter was published Saturday in the Communist Party daily Granma. Signed by 27 of Cuba's best-known cultural figures, the letter describes the ''surprise and pain'' felt when liberal intellectuals around the world criticized Cuba for its crackdown on dissidents and the executions of three ferry hijackers.***
Castro Spy Declares Opposition Is Disabled *** HAVANA - An undercover Cuban agent credited with giving some of the most damaging courtroom evidence against dissidents said the island's opposition movement has been shattered. "The opposition is finished, it has ended, it will never lift its head again," Aleida de las Mercedes Godinez told The Associated Press. "The opposition will never flourish again - never!"
Godinez provided a rare glimpse inside Castro's intelligence network and demonstrated just how deeply loyal his agents were. She said she never felt any remorse or sorrow for her work even though she worked with some dissidents for years. "Marta Beatriz was an objective of my mission," she said. "I could never be friends with a counterrevolutionary." Godinez said Roque, also a leading member of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, handled as much as $5,000 every month from various groups in the United States that were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The USAID Cuba program has given more than $20 million to U.S. groups working with the opposition on the communist-run island since 1996 to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy. Godinez, a former math teacher, said she received about $700 a month from U.S. organizations as head of the National Independent Workers Union of Cuba.
Other agents were just as loyal as her. Dr. Pedro Luis Veliz Martinez, a 39-year-old internist and a member of a long-trusted communist family, told the AP in a separate interview Monday that he was first approached by an Interior Ministry official while doing late-night hospital rounds in 1996. "I never had any doubts," Veliz said. "I am a revolutionary. I am Marxist-Leninist. I believe in communism." After gaining the confidence of government opponents in the Liberal Party - and the organizations in Miami that support them, Veliz founded the Independent Medical College, a professional organization for dissident physicians, in 1999. ***
Facts on Castro's Oppression: terrifying realites of life inside totalitarian regime. -FrontPageMagazine.com ^ | Tuesday, April 22, 2003 | By Lorne W. Craner [Testimony before the House International Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., given on April 16, 2003.] ****Many of these prisoners of conscience faced charges of collaboration with diplomats at the United States Interest Section in Havana. They were called traitors for their courage in speaking to official Americans such as Jim Cason. Like his predecessors, as chief of the Interest Section, Jim does in fact talk to independent Cuban citizens: an activity hardly worthy of comment, much less alarm, in a free and democratic society but a direct threat to the iron control of information under a dictatorial regime.
Like American and other diplomats around the world, Jim and his colleagues work to promote peaceful and democratic changes, provide information about our country, and encourage and strengthen fundamental -- and internationally acknowledged -- freedoms. Only Cuba, and a diminishing number of its totalitarian counterparts, could tremble at the "threat" of library books and free access to the Internet, and call them subversion. In Cuba, a reporter's office files, including envelopes of newspaper clippings, become evidence of treason.***
Castro cannot quash all dissent - books not bombs put them in prison *** Owning ''books contrary to the socioeconomic process,'' an old computer and a video camera, and ''acting on behalf of a foreign power,'' were some of the charges the prosecution put forward during the 18-hour trial of independent journalists Maseda and Oscar Espinosa Chepe and the dissidents Héctor Palacios, Marcelo López and Marcelo Cano.
They were all sentenced to more than 15 years for not agreeing with the official or party line.
The blow that the government has struck against the peaceful opposition within the island (no home search turned up bombs or guns) shows that the dissidents were doing a good job.
To accuse them of ''subverting the established order'' demonstrates how feeble the administration's hold on power really is. Ideas cannot be smothered, even if those at the top think that they have eliminated all opposition.***
Horrible Horrors!!!....I'm appalled!
Hijacking the ALA would be like turning Al Queda into a terrorist organization. The ALA is made up of primarily government employees who make censorship decisions (through the control of limited resources) on their own all the time and then complain about taxpayers who try to influence the process.
The ALA is a collection of sanctimonious hypocrites.