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January 05, 2004

Nat Hentoff: Round Three on Cuba

In his January 5, 2004 column in the Village Voice, Nat Hentoff once again takes on the issue of ALA and Cuba, replying to a letter to the editor by librarian Ann Sparanese who among other comments insists that Victor Arroyo, the man jailed for maintaining a collection of over 6,000 books, is not a librarian and is an agent of the state.

In the couple of weeks since I first wrote about this issue, I have had a number of librarians try to "educate" me about Cuba-U.S. relations, librarianship, free speech, and the professional credentials of Victor Arroyo. The (somewhat arrogant) assumption is that anyone questioning Cuba's actions, let alone suggesting human rights is a growing edge for Castro, is a dupe of the far right--even though the issues swirling around Cuba are those over which, as Nat Hentoff notes, the U.S. left appears to be divided; he observes, "there remains a division among the American left regarding Castro's recent crackdown that needs answering."

I have witnessed shameful, if unintentional, hypocrisy among my peers on the issue of Arroyo's status as a librarian, an issue which has also served as a convenient red herring for librarians clearly suffering from cognitive dissonance on the issue of free speech, as they swing like a screen door in the wind between their righteously clarion calls for free speech and privacy rights in this country, and their silence and ennui, amounting to a collective shrug, if not a wink, when the issue is free speech and human rights in Cuba.

Cuban-U.S. relations are horrendously complicated, and no side of this issue is free of shadows or impurities. (I am writing a much longer piece about our complex dance on the Cuba issue, and that has somewhat inhibited my blog postings, since this would amount to pre-publishing, but close your eyes and think "folie a deux.")

However, I am not without plenty of thoughts and conclusions, and, finally, a desire for action. I spent the last week, while on vacation, reading and thinking about Cuba and our library association, and I am ready to move into a second phase of activity. I will be bringing a resolution to ALA Council. I will be working on the wording of the resolution Tuesday, and it should be on the ALA calendar fairly early in the schedule, as so far there is only one other resolution on the docket.

I believe this resolution can at least survive a discussion on the floor of Council. And which side are you on? Do you realize how free you are to express your point of view?

Posted by kgs at January 5, 2004 11:36 PM

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Excellent editorial!! I am certainly proud that at least one ALA Council member is willing to do something about our friends imprisoned in Cuba. It is time for everyone in the world to stop letting Castro use this "David vs. Goliath" thing to crush the millions of people in his country. SRRT members have done a real disserve to ALA and the profession by supporting Castro no matter what he does - including imprison librarians.

Posted by: Steve Fesenmaier at January 6, 2004 10:45 AM

53.4 Governmental Intimidation

The American Library Association opposes any use of government prerogatives which leads to the intimidation of the individual or the citizenry from the exercise of free expression. ALA encourages resistance to such abuse of government power, and supports those against whom such governmental power has been employed.

58.3 Abridgment of the Rights of Freedom of Foreign Nationals
Threats to the freedom of expression of any person become threats to the freedom of all; therefore ALA adopts as policy the principles of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The Association will address the grievances of foreign nationals where the infringement of their rights of free expression is clearly a matter in which all free people should show concern. Resolutions or other documents attesting to such grievances will be brought to the attention of the Executive Board and Council by the ALA International Relations Committee.

Thank you so much for speaking up Mrs. Schneider! At Council, please ask what has happened to the appeal from Mrs. Delgado, whose husband was jailed and who made an appeal to our association. Here is the text of the appeal she made, at great personal risk. We cannot ignore this and remain true to our principles.

Message from Gisela Delgado to Michael Dowling
Director of the ALA International Relations Office
Havana, June 4, 2003

I send you this recorded message due to the fact that my fax was seized during a raid on my home, during which my husband Hector Palacios was arrested. They also seized materials related to the Independent Libraries Project. Sir, I would like to send this message seeking your solidarity with this library project and because of the repression to which we have been subjected. Many Cubans have been arrested because of their manner of thinking and for their promotion of culture within Cuba.

Sir, I greet you and other members of the ALA on behalf of the members of the Independent Library Project of Cuba. Our project was founded on March 3, 1998, due to four decades of literary censorship to which our nation has been subjected. Our library movement was founded with the goal of offering the Cuban people access to uncensored reading beyond the limits imposed by a required ideology. We have now established 103 libraries throughout the country [in addition to about 100 independent libraries founded by other groups - editor's note]. I append an annual report that was completed at the end of the year 2002 in which we explain the varied activities that we carry out and the achievements of this project in favor of a civil society in Cuba.

Since March 18th of this year numerous Cubans were detained, including about a dozen librarians and dozens of human rights defenders, independent journalists and dissidents.
This was accompanied by raids on the homes of these persons and the seizure of books, typewriters, cameras, radios, computers, etc. These raids have impacted more than thirty libraries, and other librarians were taken to detention centers by the political police and warned that if they if they continued their work to promote independent cultural activities they would be imprisoned.

What we are asking, sir, is that your association show solidarity with our project and with the innocent persons who are now in prison. We would like you to ask the Cuban authorities to immediately release these detained persons.

Gisela Delgado Sablon
Independent Library Project of Cuba

Posted by: Walter Skold at January 6, 2004 11:12 AM

I'd suggest a tightly focused resolution that calls for 1) release of those imprisoned for nonviolently attempting to exercise their freedom to read; 2) return of materials confiscated from them; and 3) an end to the harassment of those exercising their freedom to read and attempting to develop independent libraries and reading rooms.

Posted by: Steve Marquardt at January 6, 2004 11:57 AM

Why do people always assume that if you speak up about Cuba you must agree exclusively with one 'side' or the other?

If you criticise Castro et al for violations of human rights (like oppression of gay people, for instance), some right wing nutter comes along and praises your bravery at speaking out against the politically correct multitudes who want to make the world Communist. Or some lefty Fidel ass-licker gives you a hard time.

Likewise, if you criticise US policy, you must be a commie, so you hate the US in its entirity and are probably working for Al-Quaida.

Its like Stalin all over again- with people like Barbara Castle not believing in the gulags or mass starvation.

There are loads of good things about Cuba- neither the mob nor other US representatives put a policy together anything close to the mass literacy programmes, for instance. Batista was not good for most Cubans. Saying this does not mean that I think Fidel is the best thing for Cubans now.

Posted by: vapid at January 7, 2004 08:58 AM

Karen Schneider needs to be commended for standing on the side of what is clearly right. This is after all a clearcut issue. It's not about whether the imprisoned librarians have Masters of Library Science, it is not about the size of the collection and it is certainly not about the canard [cooked up by the Castro government] that the Independent Librarians are agents of the American government.

Despite the thick black bellows of smoke being furiously blown out by the certain spinmeisters at ALA in an endeavor to erect an impregnable wall of blinding smoke, the only issue here is INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM and the terrible injustice carried out by the Castro government against Cuba's independent librarians.

Thank you Ms. Schneider for seeing through the smoke and for standing on the side of justice.

Posted by: Radames Suarez at January 7, 2004 06:09 PM