To celebrate National Library Week, a new free speech campaign, FREADOM, has launched with a special letter-writing appeal on behalf of the independent Cuban librarians jailed in March 2003. Check it out at http://freadom.info (Yes, I am part of this group, but not its leader, and this group is unrelated to any other group.)
I would have posted something about this yesterday--but I have had severe XP problems ranging from extensive PDA bluescreens to Outlook mail problems to inability to post to Movable Type on this machine. After reading up a bit, I disabled hyperthreading, and this computer is suddenly happy. If only they could talk...
Blogging my impressions of Waiting for Fidel:
A chill down my spine to see and hear Oswaldo Pay of the Varelas Project;
Fidel as a stubborn old man;
Oliver Stone looking his age;
The ills of micromanagement (a thought that bubbled to the surface as I listened to Castro read from the sentencing documents of the hijackers);
Castro demurring that "he" didn't shoot anyone (meaning the ferry hijackers). Stone commenting that they were "shot by the state."
Brings up dry-foot/wet-foot policy;
Stone tries to bring up the inevitable point about sole rule. "I am not in power. It is the people who are in power."
Castro continually confuses his own accession with U.S. attempts to defeat him.
Castro refers to the "Batista followers" who gave Bush the 2000 election (are any of them still alive?)
Re the 75 prisoners: Castro says they all took money to defeat the Revolution.
Castro denounces the news about the prisoners
Stone asks why it was a closed trial
Stone interviews relatives of prisoners
Stone: in the Americas, "Cuba's pretty low on the human rights abuse list"--there's a statement for the tourism bureau!
Castro on AI: "Cubans do not believe in Amnesty International." Refuses to clarify.
Stone asks Castro, "what is proper criticism" (as opposed to improper criticism)? Castro won't answer the question.
I have to ask, if this guy is so popular, why does he need to step on people?
Mark Rosensweig's latest post, about an "On My Mind" piece I did on Cuba that AL published in its last issue.
I don't mind the swipes at me (and I'm flattered to be compared with Nat Hentoff), but I will say that AL is one of the finest and fairest publications I have ever had the pleasure to write for. Too bad Mark couldn't simply disagree with what I had to say.
Once again, if I'm misled, I'm in great company--with Sandy Berman, Noam Chomsky, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a host of other people and organizations. I would like to be this mislead more often.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Privileged access to AL by anti-Cubans
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 2004 15:28:53 -0500
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
I was angered and dismayed to have opened up the latest American Libraries today to see an "On My MInd' column in there by the omnipresent ALA Councilor, Karen Schneider, about her own putative 'heroism' in 'falling on her sword' over the Cuba issue in Council -- and about Council's having been duped by 'extremists'.
In this latter charge she lines up with all those on the far Right who are claiming that ALA is controlled by a Left-wing cabal, a red conspiracy, something she, in any case, knows very well not to be true, but which she is exploiting.
Schneider's self-aggrandizing fable about her 'falling on her own sword' in Council is obviously a tall tale. Or, rather, if she actually fell on her own sword it was apparently neither too sharp nor too strong, because she's still around to continue blathering away about Cuba ( of which, in my opinion, she knows very little and, in reality, cares even less --except as a means for positioning herself in her on-going 'campaign for the promotion of Karen
Schneider') and is alive and well and performing with even more volubility, smugness and mendacity than ever. Next time, she can borrow MY sword to fall on.
Most troubling is that, apparently dissatisfied with Council's decision himself, the editor of AL, Leonard Kniffel, has decided to turn over the journal to a one-sided attack on Council, on Schneider's opponents there -- all 150 odd of them (?)-- whom he gives her a venue in which to deride them as extremists or dupes.
I didn't think that AL was supposed to take sides in such a disagreement, especially taking sides against the decision of Council. There is something unethical about it, which is an issue I will pursue further with the ALA Executive and ED Keith Fiels (undoubtedly to little effect).
It is fine that Schneider is unwilling to accept that she tried entirely unsuccessfully to get the ALA to bow to the dictates of Robert Kent's Friends of Cuban Libraries ( so unsuccessfully that only herself and one other Councilor voted for her resolution no matter HOW she tried to pitch it) in accepting the specious and absurd claims of the so-called 'independent Cuban librarians' that they were arrested and sentenced for the practice of librarianship and not, as was indeed the case, for paid criminal conspiracy (merely posing as librarians at the stage direction of their American controllers, but that is hardly the central issue) with the US interest section in Havana, and that in a situation in which the US is admittedly organizing, both overtly and covertly --and, certainly, illegally -- for 'regime change' in Cuba (like the regime change it helped effect in Haiti -- restoring Duvalieriste thugs to power -- and is working on in Venezuela and is so ably pursuing in Iraq -- where it's chasing the whirlwind of its 'kill for peace' and 'demolish for democracy' regime-change program with maniacal alacrity and disregard for human rights).
It is fine that Schneider insists that famed anti-abortion-rights editorialist Nat Hentoff --who has been attacking ALA and its officers column after uninteresting syndicated column about his current bete noir , Cuba -- should be appeased so that he will stop the bullying meant precisely to smear ALA's reputation to get it to relent and repent.
But American Libraries should NOT be given over, one-sidedly, to Hentoff and Schneider's crusade against Council and ALA for disagreeing on how to handle the issue of relations with Cuba and, above all, Cuban librarianship
The most irritating and disturbing thing is that AL editor Leonard Kniffel is getting away with giving Schneider's side, Kent & Hentoff et al., carte blanche and has given them yet another opportunity to attack the integrity and intelligence of Council, with Schneider now disingenuously playing this card where, saintly and beleaguered, having lost by a near unanimous vote of a body of malefactors, she pretends to be with the 'little guy' against the big
bad(elected) Council which voted for a balanced and thoughtful report of an IFC/IRRT committee charged to investigate this matter and report back, Schneider representing this as bowing to Castroite extremists, something patently not the case.
THERE HAS, IN ANY CASE, BEEN NOTHING IN AMERICAN LIBRARIES SUPPORTING THE COUNCIL'S OVERWHELMING POSITION, EXPLAINING IT TO THE MEMBERSHIP, SO THAT A DESTRUCTIVELY DEMAGOGIC MANIPULATION OF THE MEMBERS IS BEING ACTIVELY FACILITATED BY AMERICAN LIBRARIES' EDITOR.
I hope you will write to Leonard Kniffel and demand that the other side be given access to the next issue of AL to fully represent its case, that the ALA took a rational, ethical and balanced position in relation to Cuba.
Instructions for writing the Times:
The New York Times has a wonderful editorial today, March 26, condemning the March, 2003 crackdown in Cuba. The editorial specifically mentions the independent librarians now languishing in prison, along with journalists and writers, and goes on to describe the other "crimes": "writing for Web sites based abroad, setting up independent libraries that offer books by the likes of Vaclav Havel and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and collecting signatures, in accordance with the Cuban Constitution, to petition for a referendum on fundamental reforms."
Please write the Times, praise their editorial, and call for the release of the 75 dissidents, including the independent librarians. The Times noted that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights was considering "whether to condemn the Castro regime." You may want to state that the U.N. should call for the immediate release of the dissidents or at minimum, ask for their wretched prison conditions to be improved.
Note that, like the Times, you can critique Washington for providing excellent cover for Castro's crackdown--organizations such as Amnesty International have said that for a year. But two wrongs do not make a right. Let the Times know how you feel about crimes against free expression, everywhere.
"The Cuban journalist and poet Raúl Rivero Castañeda, in jail since last April, was today awarded the annual Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
"UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said the award was a tribute to Mr. Rivero’s 'brave and longstanding commitment to independent reporting, the hallmark of professional journalism.'
"Mr. Rivero is serving a 20-year jail sentence after being found guilty of undermining Cuba’s independence or territorial integrity. He and 25 other journalists were given lengthy prison terms in April last year, one month after they were arrested by Cuban authorities as part of a general crackdown on dissidents."
Yesterday the NY Times ran an editorial by Vladimiro Roca, a spokesman for Todos Unidos, a coalition of Cuban dissident groups. He concludes:
"On the one-year anniversary of the crackdown, I want to pass along a message to those behind bars: we will not give up in our fight to bring democratic change to our country; in spite of the government repression, we will maintain our international campaign for the freedom of each and every one of our prisoners of conscience."
I recommend these titles for anyone interested in learning more about Cuba:
Isadora Tattlin [pseud.]. Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana.
A view of Cuba during the worst part of the "Special Period." While the writer had unusual privilege, her camera's-eye view of Cuban life at many levels is interesting and valuable. This is also a great book for anyone coping with a major move or life transition.
Ann Louise Bardach. Cuba Confidential : Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana.
This is delightful, not only for the quality of Bardach's reporting and analyses, but also for her even-handed goring of all available oxes. The book is loosely organized around the Elian Gonzalez brouhaha, but is hardly limited by this conceit. It's a very fast, enjoyable read.
Note that for both titles, the Amazon "reader reviews" are highly suspect. If you're still uncertain, check out the major book reviews.
The spring, 2003 arrests and lengthy prison sentences of the 75 Cuban journalists, writers, and independent librarians receive some much-needed attention this Sunday, February 22, in a Parade Magazine article, "The World's 10 Worst Dictators," by journalist David Wallechinsky. The reporter interviewed human rights organizations to determine this year's list, and focused on the spring, 2003 crackdown to justify listing Fidel Castro as the 9th "World's Worst Dictator" (a ranking Castro earned last year, as well). Parade is distributed to over 300 Sunday papers, and has a readership of over 78 million.
I received another letter from Acosta, which I'll simply post verbatim, as I believe it speaks for itself.
I'm rather flattered that this humble blog is worth even a nanosecond's time of any national librarian, let alone lengthy, scolding messages at fairly regular intervals. Once again, I haven't censored any comments about Cuba on this blog, even (and particularly) those I disagree with (and as noted earlier, the press release he refers to is right where it always was). Let a thousand flowers bloom, even when it's skunk cabbage.
While I don't feel any obligation to respond to the particulars of his e-mail--why would Mr. Acosta set my writing agenda?--he has inspired discussion topics for future entries--particularly about what I learned from living and working abroad, and how this relates to why I feel so strongly about the 75 dissidents suffering prison terms for their actions.
And remember this: Mr. Acosta and I will both wake up tomorrow in our own safe beds. Not behind bars, not in prison, not facing decades of bleak living conditions for what we said or wrote. There are 75 people who need our attention, right now. These are the people we need to be thinking and writing about, not two librarians parked behind their computers.
Mr. Acosta, will you join me in acknowledging that Cuba can and must release the 75 dissidents arrested in the spring 2003 crackdown? Or can you at least agree that their prison conditions should be improved?
Dear Ms. Schneider:
This is the second letter that I am sending to you, and, as with the first, I am not hoping for anything different than its being “written up” in the Free Range Librarian with as much objectivity as what you had said this last January 15.
I don’t believe I need to tell you that we, the real Cuban librarians, don’t agree with you in your appraisals about the reality of our country. Maybe this will make you laugh, but thousands of Cuban librarians, despite everything that your country’s government has done to impede the development in education and culture in our country, do an excellent job with its communities. In fact, these librarians seem to make no difference to you.
Our real Cuban librarians, those that don’t receive a monthly salary from your government for conspiring against the Constitution and current laws in the country, don’t exist for you, or for Mr. Hentoff, Kent, Marquardt, Jorge Sanguinetty, or IFLA’s FAIFE.
This doesn’t surprise us, or worry us. In fact, neither does the luck of those who serve prison sentences which the law established for those that collaborate for money, not for ideals, in following the suggestions of your government’s agencies charged with total war against the Cuban people for the past 45 years, just as it doesn’t appear that you, Ms. Schneider, or your co-thinkers are much concerned with the plans of Bush’s neoconservative government which is disposed to bombing us and massacring us in order in order to make us “free and democratic.”
All of you utilize those people while they are convenient for your campaigns, but when you keep a complicit silence or express only symbolic condemnations against the genocidal blockade which affects every Cuban, you show that your “extraordinary zeal” for the future of our nation will have as short a life as such had for Nicaragua, Haiti or occupied Iraq. After those historic experiences, nobody can believe in your repeated democratic and liberated statements, least of all the Cuban people, who have an elevated political and general culture.
Which of those countries has enjoyed justice, peace, development and freedom? In which of them, after the dirty war of the 1980s as in the case of Nicaragua, or the U.S. invasions in the case of Haiti and Iraq, are freer, more peace loving, more cultured, more developed, less corrupt, or more democratic today?
With complete frankness, it seems to me tremendous hypocrisy to say that the destiny of the Cuban people interest you all while you organize and direct part of the war of lies and slanders against that same people, with the intention of isolating them, thus preparing the road for an aggression. You, who have eight years service in your country’s Air Force, where you attained the level of Captain with three missions abroad, maybe you can clarify for us which countries of the world are more cultured, more democratic, freer, and happier. I hope that your answer isn’t measurable in tons of bombs or by the number of missiles launched, but by schools and libraries constructed or by the number of illiterate people rescued from ignorance.
When and at the request of whom were you enlisted in this new war?
Whomever reads your resume is amazed that you consider yourself so well informed about the reality of Cuba , that you had felt prepared to present a resolution to ALA Council about a country in which you have never been; that you hardly know except though the kind of tales of terror of Mr. Robert Kent (employed by the government of your country, and for whom Freedom House paid for ten trips to the island as a subversive, clandestine courier, with a disguise as ‘perfect’ as Inspector Closeau), and Mr. Jorge Sanguinetty (specialist in “neoliberal transitions”, employed by USAID, or rather, to the government, that just allocated 26 million dollars to overthrow a sovereign government, which before had diplomatic representation.) No reading room, and much less the tales of tricksters like Mr. Kent and company, will give the Cuban reality, or what the Cubans think and feel, nor will come to understand why this Revolution, which you have decided to enlist a military-style campaign launched from you own web page has endured and will endure, surviving invasions, wars of every type and many terrorist aggressions.
Your resolution against Cuba in San Diego scarcely received the support of four people beside yourself. It didn’t achieve its goal with which you had been entrusted: it didn’t divide Cuban and U.S. librarians, united beyond any difference, by ties of professional and collaborative respect. I can’t stop but note, as a consequence, that a fierce campaign against Cuba, from the Free Range Librarian, has acquired a seemingly mean vengefulness from rage and rancor, disguised as pity for other librarians, devotion to freedoms and right, and good humor from the unpunished, a campaign which has unfolded ever since the San Diego conference..
Before choosing Cuba as an objective of your new campaign plan, you enjoyed professional respect. I want to think that you will reflect and will rectify your course while there is still time. But less time remains each day. A bad sign for your prestige, for the honor of a librarian who talks about defending freedom of speech and the right to information, is that you have CENSURED what we have sent to Free Range Librarian and the opinions of those who don’t think like you.
You know very well that I responded to Mr. Marquardt’s criticisms about the existing differences between embargo and blockade last January 16, and I sent the message at 10:19 P.M. From that date, only the comment by Mr.
Marquardt dated Jan. 15 has appeared on your web page.
You know very well that days later I sent the English text of the press release from the Cuban information community, who represent twelve thousand in-the-flesh Cuban librarians, about the text passed by the ALA Council to the Comments on your web. This text was on your web for some days, as I could verify, until you discovered it (it had been attached thanks to an automatic program that allows it), and in a surprising fashion, eliminated it.
How can you and your friends present yourselves as defenders of freedoms and the right to dissent, when all of you ferociously censor our Cuban dissent against your position?
How can all of you maintain the professional prestige in the eyes of your colleagues of which you all boast, when you lack the most elemental ethics in censoring our opinion and the right to be heard by others in response to your allegations?
How can you try to give lessons to the world when all of you lack moral objectivity for it?
The Cuban librarians, like our people who fought only 30 years in the 19th century for freedom and independence, we will carry on defending the justice won, the schools and libraries that we have constructed alone, with out own hands, without donations of millionaire corporations. We will continue defending, to its logical conclusion, the elevated, comprehensive general culture that the Cuban people — all Cuban people freely including those that aren’t in agreement with the Revolution.— have achieved and enjoy.
In the name of the principles which you say you defend I challenge you to open Free Range Librarian to all opinions, and not only those that have asked you to be received, and that you replace the Cuban Press Release which was censured.
Again, I invite you to get to know the real Cuba. Take advantage of the opportunity in March when an important professional event will be held (INFO-2004). Several U.S. librarians will participate. Don’t shut your door to the real Cuba, and remember the saying of the great Mexican President, Benito Juarez:
“The respect for the rights of others is peace”
Eliades Acosta Matos
Havana, February 2, 2004
"'I would like to make an appeal to the world's conscience,' Paya said. 'It seems like there is a lot of indifference about the reality of human rights in Cuba.'"
Another important article about Cuba, in the Washington Post. Note the emphasis on the 75 dissidents arrested in the crackdown of spring 2003. This issue is about real, living, breathing people.
Registration (free) required:
"At least 20 Cuban dissidents, part of a group of 75 journalists, librarians and economists arrested nearly a year ago, are seriously ill in Cuban prison cells where they are being held under inhumane conditions, according to their wives, friends and human rights activists in Cuba. ... in telephone interviews this week with family members who have visited the dissidents in prison and with human rights activists in Cuba who monitor the situation, a picture emerged of inhumane prison conditions and continued harassment of the dissidents' families by Cuban security agents."
The director of the National Library of Cuba has been e-mailing me fairly regularly (the messages are forwarded through an American librarian). I have been preparing responses to his messages, but have not rushed to publish because I wanted to get my citations correct (and frankly, because I have been busy with managing my running-dog life).
However, Mr. Acosta and, apparently, many of his librarian supporters in this country need a quick tutorial in how to search and browse a blog. I say this based on the following accusation, now making the rounds of lists such as PLG-L:
"(2) When is Ms. Karen G. Schneider, the self-proclaimed champion of freedom and rights, who has placed her website at the service of the cause of Mr. Robert Kent [not really--I called him shrill], which [website] is lacking in objective balance and has tendentiously slanted contents, going to have the decency and good taste to put back on Free Range Librarian the English text of the press release issued by the professional organizations that represent more than 12 thousand Cuban librarians, which was erased in the past few days, thus committing a grave violation of professional ethics?"
Disregarding Acosta's misunderstanding about the nature of this blog--its tagline is "one librarian's daily meditations about librarianship," which hardly commits me to anything other than thinking out loud--I understand how Acosta rushed to conclude that the press release was "missing." He's a director of a very large library, and in just about any country, most high-ranking library administrators are technically-challenged. I am patient with these folks (anyone over 20 has been there, and that includes me), and have found myself explaining to fairly high-ranking librarians, without cracking a smile, how to press the "Enter" key, how to insert a CD-ROM right side up, and even, for the truly daring, how to right-click.
Therefore, I have a lot of sympathy with Mr. Acosta's inability to locate the press release I had earlier published on this blog. Mr. Acosta: type the word acosta in the search box and then click the Search button. The press release will pop right up. You can also browse for this entry using the monthly archives, although my archives aren't as fine-tuned as I'd like--so I recommend searching. (Mr. Acosta, if you invite me to your library in Cuba, I'll conduct Internet search classes for your staff and the public. You do let the public search the Internet, right?)
What I don't have much sympathy for are my colleagues in librarianship with such limited research skills that they would take Acosta's words at face value without looking for themselves. Such is the pathetic state of library reference in this day and age that librarians would mindlessly forward, forward, forward without checking facts. If our collective abilities don't have a sharp uptick very soon, we will be a dead profession in fifty years.
Arthur Miller, "A Visit with Castro." The Nation: January 12, 2004
Miller reports on a visit to Cuba, in which Castro is "a handsome old clock that no longer tells the time correctly and bongs haphazardly in the middle of the night, disturbing the house."
Joan Smith & Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, “Writers in prison: The other side of paradise.” New Statesman: January 12, 2004
An article in two movements. The first part is by Joan Smith, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN, and the second is an essay by Cuban writer Sainz, serving a 15-year sentence for his views, who criticizes the regime.
Sandy Berman, who was honored in absentia at ALA's January, 2004 midwinter meeting in San Diego, wrote this after the conference:
"If any SRRTer [member of the Social Responsibilities Roundtable] truly believes that opposing the Draconian 2003 crackdown on Cuban dissidents and demanding both their release from prison and return of all confiscated materials fully qualifies someone as a 'fanatic foot solder on behalf of the White House and State dept,' then that’s what I am.
"But so are the editors of American Libraries, MultiCultural Review, Counterpoise, and the Progressive; Eduardo Galeano, Ariel Dorfman, AI, HRW, Reporters with Borders, Vaclav Haval, Bogota major Luis Eduardo Gazon, Stanley Aronowitz, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Eichenreich, Barbara Garson, Susan Griffin, Naomi Klein, Michael Lerner, Grace Paley, Katena Pollit, the late Edward Said, Cora Weiss, Peter Weiss, Cornell West, Howard Zinn, Eric A. Herman, Peter Gay, Mark Crispin Miller, Samantha Power, Ellen Willis, Elizabeth-Young-Bruehl, National Book winner Carlos Eire, Michel Allsert and James Weinstein.
"I’m proud to be 'among that number.' And suspect that most SRRTers don’t regard these veteran activists and humanitarians as merely deluded fools and foils."
You-me too, Sandy.
"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. ... 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. "
I congratulate Nat on what is not an easy thing to do--return an award. He did this to make a point, of course. And I agree with him: I don't believe the ALA membership is with Council on this issue, and I think more points need to be made--this time, within the profession.
Nat Hentoff nailed the ultimate hypocrisy of ALA on the Cuban issue: "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."
In fact, ALA Council archives show that in 2002, Al Kagan, the leader of the team who wrote the Cuba report, had bitterly castigated ALA for not going far enough in its condemnation of the Patriot Act. (Kagan had wanted ALA to condemn the entire Act, even though only portions of it relate to civil rights.)
As a librarian, writer, and civil libertarian, I have been very proud of ALA on the Patriot Act (including Carla Hayden's brave and timely comments last year, responding to Ashcroft's rude rebuff of our request for records). That's why I'm so puzzled by ALA Council's response to such a seemingly small addition to a lengthy report.
Again, I think the biggest problem is that we have lacked input and insight--and leadership--from moderates and progressives who believe in democracy and free speech everywhere. But that doesn't really go far enough in explaining the listless response from librarians who can get whipped up about the removal of a single book in a library in this country, yet turn away when we are discussing wholesale and systematic denial of civil liberties somewhere else.
I know Americans tend to have vast gullies of ignorance when it comes to other countries, but you don't need a degree in Latin American studies to conclude that civil liberties are not the strong suit of a country with a dictator in power for over four decades, a state-controlled press, a habit of jailing writers and journalists, and a particular animus for independent librarians and book collections. Is it such a thin and shaky limb we were expected to go out on to make the statement asking for the release of the political prisoners jailed in the spring, 2003 crackdown (whose total numbers, as of today, go up to 83, according to Amnesty International)?
And I haven't even written about ALA's past actions, including holding a "forum" that only recognized Cuba's "official" librarians.
The irony is that ALA, an organization that prides itself on leading the vanguard with respect to civil liberties in law and policy, has now distanced itself from the voices of reason on this issue: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International PEN, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, and some of the best and--tellingly--most consistent civil-liberties activists within our own organization, including Sandy Berman. In attempting not to go out on a limb (and risk what--the condemnation of a handful of pro-Castro librarians?), ALA now finds itself exactly where it didn't want to be--twisting alone, in the breeze.
The question is--what next? I won't turn to ALA for the answer; but Nat is setting an example I admire.
Carrying Fidel's water, http://washingtontimes.com/op-ed/nhentoff.htm
This is pretty much how it went down at ALA Midwinter, although I hope we can later see the transcripts and look more closely at the discussion.
In all fairness to my association, our internal discussion about Cuba has long been co-opted by the more extreme voices on the right, leaving this traditionally left-leaning organization in an awkward bind. My amendment came very late in the day for my peers to absorb and think about.
Still, let's go back to the facts. 75 people remain in jail, some for up to 28 years, for the crimes of practicing the right to read, speak, and own and share books.
(And no, you don't have to call me "Mrs. Schneider.")
This is a short, readable discussion about human rights in Cuba, from Human Rights Watch.
The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has two excellent statements about Cuba on its Web site to add to your collection of sensible critiques of the policies of both the United States and Cuba. These statements strike exactly the right balance, neither forgiving of ludicrous, jingoistic U.S. policies or unsparing of the spring 2003 crackdown or other human rights violations in Cuba.
CFD Protests U.S. Actions Against Cuba:
Campaign for Peace and Democracy Statement Protesting Repression in Cuba:
Nat Hentoff’s response to "ALA AND CUBA: who’s afraid of Nat Hentoff"
FROM Library Journal Academic newswire. Jan. 22, 2004
The letter that follows my comments below was republished with Mr. Hentoff's permission and encouragement. Nat, good for you! This morning I was spending thought and prayer on this issue, trying to decide how to put light back on the real crisis: 75 people remain in jail for defending the rights to read and to speak, and to own and share books. Talk about an angel of mercy.
For the record, Nat did call me before ALA. When he heard I would not be taking action on the issue, he was clearly disappointed, but polite, and he did not call again. Then without any further communication with Nat, my heart changed, my mind changed, and I chose to take action, and when Nat found out, he did indeed call me back, with words of encouragement. I feel honored to have had his wise counsel and advice. I have had far more, and far less polite, communiques from people on the other side of the issue.
It was not easy to promote this amendment when I had people I have known for a long time tell me that I was wrongheaded, and when I knew, deep down, it would crash in defeat. The occasional pugilistic, scolding comments from the handful of Friends of Cuban Librarians activists only made me wince. I prefer a more Ghandi-esque activism. Hectoring and insulting my peers--even when they are completely wrong--just won't get us there, and even if it were effective in the short term, it wouldn't be good strategy in the long term, at least not in my book.
It was hard to go so far out on a limb, with friends rolling their eyes and some whispering that they would like to support me, but just couldn't. However, supporting the amendment became easier when some of my peers on Council offered their own rationalizations. One Councilor speculated that the prisoners had committed other crimes, which were the real reasons they were imprisoned. Another Councilor said in Council Forum, "the only prisoners I care about in Cuba are the ones in Guantanemo." That flippant comment put more wind in my sails than this oh-so-New-York-cool Councilor realized. (Grow up, girlfriend. People are in jail, some for sentences of over twenty years.) Several Councilors who had voted on the dozen or so resolutions on free speech issues in other countries we had considered in the last decade said they didn't think ALA should interfere in "foreign affairs."
As for John Berry of Library Journal, he didn't mind making a crack in passing, on the floor of Council, about my support for the "CIA operatives." That's how objective and informed that journalist is. Berry's stilted and misleading coverage of this issue doesn't surprise me, and I'm glad to see a journalist of Nat's calibre call Berry on his increasingly slap-dash "reporting."
Nat is entitled to write about Cuba, and criticize the American Library Association, until the cows come home--or more accurately, until the prisoners are released--and, if he wants to, beyond. That's why they call it free speech, Rossi. If LJ considers Nat a "threat," then they can count me among Nat's thugs.
I too will keep thinking, writing, praying, talking, researching, and working on this issue. I am moving into the second phase of my activism. I'm not completely sure what form it will take--or whether I will even bother to involve the American Library Association, which appears to be happy to wave the flag for "Banned Book Week" activities such as "Free People Read Freely," as long as we're discussing privileged Americans. Consider yourselves threatened.
Rock on, Nat. Thank you for making me proud all over again of my stand on this issue. I may not have much company, but I know I am right. In "Writers in Prison," Joan Smith & Adolfo Fernandez Sainz observe, “Terrible things happen when the world's attention is diverted.” Let us put the light back where it belongs--on the people in jail for bravely championing the rights we as librarians have always stood for.
The letter follows:
Letter to LJ from Nat Hentoff
In view of the ALA Council’s overwhelming rejection of an amendment to its Final Report at the midwinter meeting that called for the largest organization of librarians in the world to demand of Fidel Castro that he release the ten independent librarians in Cuban prison for 20 years and more, the headline on that Library Journal report should more accurately have been: WHO’S AFRAID OF THE CASTRO DEFENDERS ON THE ALA COUNCIL? The Library Journal significantly omitted in its charges against me the rejection of the amendment to the amendment to release the librarian prisons by the ALA Council.
But the Library Journal accused me “of actually phoning library leaders, including staff at Library Journal, and threatened to write more hostile columns if the ALA didn’t take the position he demanded”- to release the imprisoned Cuban librarians. These librarians, it is pertinent to note, have been designated by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience.”
I did not phone the Library Journal, although I should have in appreciation of its favorable October review of my current book, “The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance.” In the course of my reporting on that book, I often informed sources at the Justice Department that I would continue writing columns critical of John Ashcroft’s war on the Bill of Rights so long as that war continued.
Would the Library Journal characterize such calls as “threatening,” or a continued attempt by a reporter to get explanations of the secret implementation of sections of the Patriot Act and subsequent executive orders?
For another example, for more than five years, I was the only American journalist to repeatedly report on the slavery, genocide and gang rapes perpetrated by forces of the National Islamic government in Sudan on black Christians and traditionalists in the South. I called the Africa Desk of the State Department and other government agencies to tell them that I was still writing about the administration’s indifference to these human rights atrocities. The Bush administration finally took some actions, though still too inadequate, at the urging of black preachers around the country, the American Anti-Slavery Group and other who had been among my sources for my “threatening” letters to the State Department.
In WHO’S AFRAID OF NAT HENTOFF?, the Library Journal reports that “the ALA joined the IFLA to “express deep concern” over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba.” But the Library Journal failed to indicate how such a deep concern without including a demand for the release of these prisoners for some of whom are in poor health and are not receiving medical treatment was in any real way sufficient?
Also, the Library Journal reported that the ALA and the IFLA “supported an investigative visit from the UN Commission on Human Rights.” But the Library Journal neglected to remind its readers that among the members of the UN Commission on Human Rights are Cuba and such other paladins of free expression as Zimbabwe, China, and Sudan. And that the UN Human Rights Commission, following Castro’s April crackdown that sent the 75 dissenters, including the 10 librarians, to prison refused to pass a condemnation of Castro and also rejected a resolution by Costa Rica calling for the immediate release of the prisoners.
I teach journalism at NYU’S Graduate School of Journalism, and I
continually- though not threateningly – remind students of the crucial importance of context in reporting. The article, WHO’S AFRIAD OF NAT HENTOFF? will be cited by me when I return to teaching in the fall.
And I continue to not understand why only five or so of the 182-member ALA governing Council raised their hands in support of the amendment to release the prisoners. Were the prisoners regarded as abstractions rather than actual human beings, abandoned in filthy cells for acting on the freedom-to-read principle at the core of the ALA’s reason for being?
The Library Journal mentioned that I was a “winner of ALA’s Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom.” In the Village Voice I will be publicly demanding – not threatening – that the ALA remove my name from the list of Immroth Award winners because I do not regard it any longer as an honor.
Faxed to Steve Fesenmaier who transcribed it to a computer and e-mailed it out.
Saturday, January 24, 2004 4:30 PM Charleston, West Virginia [ Mr. Hentoff does not use the web – for e-mail or otherwise.]
I am posting this message verbatim. I have a lot to say about it, but I thought it would be worth putting it out there for you to read "as-is." Well, I'll make this one comment--the U.S. embargo didn't "cause" the arrest of the Cuban dissidents. That's "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" logic, and it is the kind of reasoning used to defeat the language of the proposed amendment.
Incidentally, the final Task Force report on Cuba criticizes the U.S. embargo, as did my withdrawn resolution and the supporting text for the defeated amendment.
Dear Ms. Schneider:
I know that you are prepared to present a resolution about Cuba at the next meeting of ALA’s Council in San Diego, and more specifically about what is called “…the prison sentences of Cuban citizens for maintaining private libraries.”
Given that I perceive in your approach to the subject an important dose of misleading information or of opinions formed from unilateral points of view about the reality of my country, allow me to recommend to you one last thought before you make your decision that you consider most appropriate, since without a doubt, it is your right.
1) Any approach to the current reality of Cuban society, including the political, since the subject which you have chosen to broach is without a doubt political, can’t avoid the existence of the blockade of your country’s government against all Cuban people, that item from more than forty five years ago has had as a result, innumerable suffering by innocent people and the distortion of the normal course of our lives. If you are an honest and well-intentioned person, as I presume, will you agree with me, and with 179 countries of the world community who just voted against the blockade for the 10th consecutive year in the United Nations, that this must cease in order that Cuba can live, develop and exist free of foreign interferences and threats.
2) The blockade and the war without deaths of your government against the Cuban people, against their laws and constitutional order constitute a direct cause, proven and verified of the most flagrant violation to the right of Cubans and U.S. citizens to the free access to information about their realities, of the right to travel freely and to know at first hand about life in both countries. Additionally, in the specific case of the Cuban librarians, it is a source of constant assault to the work that we perform. Suffice it to say, it prevents us from buying books, computers, and conservation material in the United States, to subscribe to OCLC’s services, or maintain a stable interchange among colleagues. Would you be disposed to tackle this matter in San Diego?
3) The so-called “independent libraries” isn’t a subject linked with our profession, as some have tried to demonstrate without success, and others have said believing, with naïveté. If you really want to know all the facets about this subject, which is political, I refer you to the numerous reports from U.S. librarians and from your ALA colleagues, as well as IFLA authorities who have visited Cuba, since I presume that you haven’t done it.
I specifically am recommending for you to draw your own conclusions, taking all the possible information about this subject, before committing the error of adopting an inaccurate and unfair position. This is healthy advice, from one information professional to another.
4) Around this subject what is discussed is if some people, under the cloak of “librarians”, looking for the support of public opinion for their political agenda, and at the service of a hostile superpower that, as has been demonstrated with photos and proven documents, pay their services, coordinate and promote their activities and supply them with support material, have the right of violating the laws and the constitution that governs my country, by majority decision of the population, defending the overthrow of the constituted authorities. This, Mrs. Schneider, and not freedom of speech nor free access to information is what is what one should discuss around your resolution about Cuba. The United States Code punishes those who, at the service of a hostile power, conspire against the stability of the institutions of your country.
5) Bear in mind, finally, that in Cuba it isn’t a crime to have private libraries, to loan books, or to read what you want. Cuba doesn’t have illiteracy and it is the country of the world with more teachers per capita, and where books are sold at a low price. Doesn’t it seem to you, that if Mr.
Robert Kent’s accusations were true, our reality would be different?
I don’t know if you know who Mr. Kent is and who supports his campaign against the real Cuban librarians. I recommend for to you to find out before putting yourself on his side, or collaborating with his objectives.
I hope that these points of view are of your interest and help you to qualify your position towards Cuba. I hope from you rationality and good sense, and I thank you for your interest that you take in my country, where I hope to welcome you some day.
Lic. Eliades Acosta Matos, Director
National Library "José Martí"