Fiction and Fact about the “Independent Librarians” of Cuba: ONCE AGAIN
Fiction and Fact about the “Independent Librarians” of Cuba: ONCE AGAIN
Prepared by Ann Sparanese, MLS
August 6, 2006
A version of this paper was prepared for the June 2006 ALA Annual conference. At that time the ALA Council was being pressured by a group of anti-Cuba activists, led by Robert Kent, to require the ALA President to vote affirmatively on a controversial resolution against Cuba coming to the floor of the August 2006 IFLA conference in Seoul. This demand, which never made it to the ALA Council or any membership meeting, was another attempt by Robert Kent and his “Friends of Cuban Libraries” group to convince ALA to do what it has refused to do in prior years: condemn Cuba for persecuting the so-called “independent librarians” and to demand the freedom of those in prison. The FCL had maneuvered certain other library associations to do what they have not been able to get the ALA to do, and this issue is scheduled to come to the floor in IFLA — and will hopefully be rebuked. The justifications that have been made for years by the FCL are answered below.
The bottom line is this: these people are neither “independent” nor “librarians.” They were convicted of taking money and support from the United States toward the goal of destabilizing their own country. They are a paid political opposition, but they are not librarians. They are pawns in the game of the unending quest by the United States government for “regime change” in Cuba.
FICTION: ALA needs to come to the defense of “our colleagues” in Cuba.
FACT: Not even one of the “independents” has ever been a librarian, library worker or has even been associated with libraries in any way. Not one genuine Cuban librarian or library worker has joined the “independent librarians.”
The demand, therefore, is really that ALA – and IFLA — come to the defense of anti-government political activists in Cuba, who have been convicted and imprisoned for activities that are also illegal in the United States. These activities include taking money, equipment and political direction from an enemy foreign government. These activities are crimes in most sovereign nations, including the U.S., for obvious reasons. This is not a question of “credentials”. If you committed this crime in the US, it would not matter if you called yourself a “librarian” and ALA and IFLA would likely not defend you or demand your release from prison. Furthermore, even their defenders do not actually deny that these so-called “independent librarians” actually did take money and materials from the U.S. They like to argue that it is irrelevant that they did so.
The recent “Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba,” issued by the Bush Administration on July 10, 2006 ( www.cafc.gov/cafc/rpt/2006/68097.htm ) documents the fact that not only have these dissidents been supported by the U.S. over the years, but that the U.S. intends to increase funding, ( www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/ 2006/07/20060710-1.html ). This will be done despite the fact that some of the most outspoken leaders of the Cuba opposition have denounced this practice as counterproductive to their goals and have refused funding from the U.S. As Wayne Smith, former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (in effect, the U.S. Embassy), says, “?¢‚Ç¨¬¶when the U.S. says its objective is to bring down the Cuban government, and then says that one of its means of accomplishing that is by providing funds to Cuban dissidents, it in effect places them in the position of being paid agents of a foreign power seeking to overthrow their own.” ( http://www.ciponline.org/cuba/ Commission_Response.pdf .)
The hypocrisy of the US government on the issues of “meddling” is breathtaking. (Remember the flap over the Chinese contributions to the Democratic Party some years ago?) Unless we are prepared to ask the US government to change it’s laws against foreign subversion by funding, why would we demand it of Cuba?
We do indeed have “colleagues” in Cuba; they are the real librarians with whom we can profitably interchange on all issues of mutual concern, including intellectual freedom.
FICTION: This is about bringing “uncensored information” to the Cuban people.
FACT: Press reports profiling these private book collections frequently note that there is little found on the shelves of the so-called “independents” that could not be found in real Cuban libraries – except perhaps some reprints from the US Interest section (embassy) in Havana. There are, however, expensive fax machines and computers which most Cubans cannot afford to personally own. We should also ask ourselves the question: how many political tracts and reprints from the Cuban Interest Section (embassy) in Washington, DC do American public libraries have in their collections? International delegations, with members from the US, have found Kent’s alleged “banned books” (which include works of George Orwell, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cuban dissident writers) in the catalogs of Cuban public libraries, as well as on the shelves and recently checked out. http://www.ifla.org/faife/faife/cubareport2001.htm
FICTION: Robert Kent and his “Friends” group are “independent human rights activists.”
FACT: This “library” campaign is part of the broader, well-funded strategy, outlined in documents of the US State Department — only most recently in the Commission report cited above, to bring about “regime change” in Cuba. It is given the nicer sounding name of “transition” but it is a regime change offensive. Millions of dollars are spent each year by we, the US taxpayers, towards funding these so-called “independent” institutions in Cuba (“independent journalists,” “independent trade unionists,” etc.) The cofounder with Kent of the “Friends of Cuban Libraries” is a Cuban expatriot economist, Jorge Sanguinetty, who himself is on the payroll of the USAID (United States Agency for International Development (one of the main recipients of regime change funding) as a “consultant.” (NY Times, June 28, 2003 p. B7). When Kent says that the FCL only receives money from its “members,” is he referring to Sanguinetty, who receives income from the US State Department? Kent has admitted that he himself has been involved in anti-Cuba activities for quite awhile: he served as a courier for Freedom House (one of the earliest recipients of Helms Burton money) which paid for his trips to smuggle money and equipment to Cuban dissidents (not “independent librarians” at that time, because they did not yet exist). After Kent was discovered and deported from Cuba, he and Sanguinetty founded the so-called “Friends.” His organization is a front for the stated US policy of attempting to destabilize Cuba by openly and covertly funding anti-government activity there.
The idea of calling longstanding political oppositionists “librarians” was brilliant; it is a strategy that trades on our good name to gather sympathy and solidarity for people who have never had anything to do with libraries in their lives. (This includes Ramon Colas, the “founder” of the “Independent Library Movement” – a psychologist by education, who then migrated to the US and was immediately employed by the rightwing Cuban American National Foundation – and not as a librarian.)
FICTION: The issue is intellectual freedom and freedom of expression, which is all we librarians should be concerned with – not foreign policy.
FACT: Anyone in the US being funded by a hostile foreign power to actively oppose our own government would probably be in jail. There are people serving time in US prison for just that: including an Iraqi American “journalist” to whose defense the ALA did not come. e.g. LA Times, April 1, 2004, p. A17.) The US protects the sovereignty of its political processes with laws, even though we are the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world, not a small island like Cuba with a long history of domination by and conflict with the US. The US has several federal statutes to insure that no US citizen takes so much as a pencil or a dollar from the Cuban government, without being subject to criminal prosecution. US citizens and residents can even be fined and/or criminally prosecuted for simply traveling to Cuba (that is, contributing money to the Cuban economy!) which is surely a violation of intellectual freedom and Constitutional rights. The new Bush Cuba Commission Report cited above also strongly recommends intensifying criminalization of “unlicensed” travel to Cuba, and this may very well happen.
Any American seriously wishing to see dissidents in Cuba freed from prison would begin by putting pressure on our own government to repeal the Helms Burton Act, which makes funding the political opposition a mandate of US law, and the true source of the problem. We would focus on ending the US embargo against Cuba, condemned annually at the United Nations. We would focus on our own government’s action rather than on Cuba, where our opinions do not carry the weight that they presumably do in our own country.
Elizardo Sanchez and Osvaldo Paya, two prominent and acknowledged leaders of the political opposition in Cuba, have also acknowledged the problem of US funding of the opposition. They have criticized this US policy and called for its end for the sake of legitimate political opposition in Cuba. Sanchez and Paya (and others) are not in prison. ( http://www.luxner.com/cgi-bin/view_article.cgi?articleID=996 , http://www.ciponline.org/cuba/opeds/last%20throes.htm , http://www.cubaupdate.org/cu0404_12.htm )
FICTION: Because Amnesty International has taken a position on this case, ALA must follow the lead of Amnesty International.
FACT: Even Amnesty International does not refer to the people in question as “independent librarians,” but calls them “private librarians.” If ALA has the obligation to do as Amnesty does in this case, does it also have the obligation to do so in ALL cases, even those involving the US — of which there are now many? AI has lately identified the US as a major violator of human rights, especially in Cuba at the Guantanamo prison. While we should have respect for the opinions of AI, their sphere is different from ours, unless the ALA has now decided to become a human rights organization with the same mission as AI. AI’s purpose is to identify prisoners of conscience throughout the world, regardless of political or economic context. AI itself has analyzed the contribution of the US embargo ( http://web.amnesty.org/library/ Index/ENGAMR25017200 ) and the Helms Burton Law on restricting political space in Cuba over the years. Before the Helms Burton Law was passed, AI was reporting a broadening of political space in Cuba. As soon as large-scale funding of “transition” activities began, that space narrowed. AI has never had a complete analysis of how economic blockades, such as the one against Cuba, impacts on human rights situation. That is not their purpose. But as US citizens, it certainly should be ours.
FICTION: Cuba burns books.
FACT: Cuba prints books, Cuba sells and promotes books through island-wide festivals that are international in scope and travel around the island. Cuba is a literate nation, full of readers and has just lately won the 2006 UNESCO literary prize for its literacy programs which have been used in many countries of the developing world. ( http://portal.unesco.org/fr/ ev.php-URL_ID=33384&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC &URL_SECTION=201.html ) Anyone who has traveled in Latin America knows that Cuba arguably has the best system of public libraries in all of Latin America. One of the continually repeated allegations claimed by Kent is that Cuba has “burned” the collections of the “independent libraries.” He cites an anonymously funded site of mysterious provenance called “Rule of Law in Cuba” ( http://www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu ) that claims to have sentencing documents that prove their claims. But even this site claims only two of the dissidents as having something to do with independent libraries! Not one is claimed to be in jail because he had books! The proof that Cuba does not “burn” the collections of “independent libraries” and that such libraries are not illegal in Cuba, is that many still exist and are publicly identified on websites. They still have their collections. Wouldn’t they all be closed if they are illegal? Can it be that the Cuban police can’t find them? Why aren’t all the “independent librarians” in jail? Because having a library is not the crime for which they were convicted. For example Gisela Delgado, the “director” of one of these libraries, is not in prison. But her husband, Hector Palacios, is, because he was found with thousands of dollars in his closet and actually signed a receipt for funds! It is not against the law to have a shared private book collection in Cuba; it is a crime to take money and equipment from an enemy nation to carry out anti-government activities in Cuba – no matter what you call yourself. The same is true in the US.
It seems that we have our own cases of book removal to contend with. Recently a children’s book about Cuba created quite a furor in Miami and was removed from all school libraries in Florida’s Miami-Dade County. So much for the freedom to read in south Florida! Were those books to be “burned,” dumped, stored (in anticipation of saner times) or offered to other libraries as donations? A judge has ordered them back on the shelf temporarily, as the case continues in the courts.
FICTION: ALA has pushed aside the case of the “independent librarians” and refuses to consider it.
FACT: This issue of Cuba has probably been among the most studied and seriously
considered in ALA history. ALA has spent significant energies since 2001
( http://www.ala.org/ala/iro/iroactivities/ alacubanlibrariesreportcuban.htm )
and throughout numerous conferences considering this case. ALA arrived at its final statement at the San Diego Midwinter conference in 2004. ( http://www.ala.org/ala/pr2004/ prjan2004/alacounciladopts.htm ) Two high level ALA committees, the International Relations Committee and the Intellectual Freedom Committee formed a joint task force to consider it. They investigated deeply, listened to many members, considered all the aspects and their context, to come to a statement that expressed our concern with the imprisonment of those who call themselves librarians, but stopping short of saying that they are librarians and demanding their immediate release. It was the correct position and should not be altered because of the strident objections of others.
ALA does not routinely demand the release of US political prisoners either, of which there are some calling themselves journalists and poets, if not librarians, at this moment. ALA has never made a commitment to defend, or campaign for, librarians who break US law – even the USA PATRIOT Act, which we opposed! — there is no reason for us to do so regarding the citizens of a foreign country, who broke their country’s laws regarding foreign funding of their activities, and whose imprisonment is directly related to US foreign policy for which we are, indirectly, responsible.
FICTION: Those who have opposed ALA action against Cuba are a small group of left-wing “extremists” in “control” of ALA and who support dictatorships.
FACT: ALA Council which adopted the 2004 report consists of 170 members. There were only three dissenting votes on the issue. ALA is obviously not controlled by “extremists,” but Kent/FCL are one-issue extremists with an agenda that has nothing to do with libraries or intellectual freedom. They have never been active in ALA on any other issue. They have no interest in the Association on any level other than coercing a condemnation of what they perceive to be a “communist dictatorship” that needs to be overthrown. (This is also true of the library association who is bringing the resolution coming before IFLA this month.) They never champion the opposition leaders who also call for an end to US intervention in the internal opposition in Cuba; they only support those who are jail because they on the receiving end of that strategy.
Those of us who have come to the defense of real Cuban libraries and librarians do not do so because we believe that Cuba has all the political democracy it needs. On the contrary, we believe that the political space that Cubans need will only be able to be realized once the threat of US aggression is ended. We take no pleasure in seeing presumably “non violent political opposition” in prison. But as Americans with some knowledge of history, we are painfully aware of the violent nature of US policy towards Cuba over 50 years. The latest Cuba Commission report reiterates the intention of the US to impose a totally different economic and political system on the Cuban people, as if these people and their sovereignty do not exist at all. That the US would attempt to buy a “fifth column” of dissidents – such as the so-called “independents” of every stripe — ready to assist in any way necessary in these plans for “transition” should not be in doubt. Self-defense is not only the right of some nations in this world; it is the right of all nations.
FACT: AND LET US HOPE IT REMAINS SO:
So far the ALA has not allowed our good name as the largest library association in the world to be used as an instrument of US foreign policy toward Cuba.
I hope this can be said of IFLA as well, as events unfold this summer.