Bloggers revolt in Anaheim

A call to action from Robert Kent of Friends of Cuban Libraries:

Dear bloggers:

One of the most interesting events at the upcoming American Library Conference in Anaheim will be a warmly-debated resolution before the ALA Council. The resolution supports volunteer librarians in Cuba who are being persecuted for opposing censorship. In an innovative contribution to the world human rights movement, since 1998 hundreds of libraries have been founded in Cuba to provide uncensored books to the Cuban people. In response to this challenge to censorship, Cuba’s independent librarians are being persecuted and their books are being burned. Several of them are serving 20-year jail sentences imposed after one-day trials.

As just one example of the grim situation in Cuba, a photograph of two library workers who were beaten by a government-led mob, from Bitacoracubana:


Can there any greater assault against our principles than the court-ordered burning of library books and mob attacks against library workers? We in the Friends of Cuban Libraries hope you will cover this important story in your blog reports from Anaheim.

Sadly, a faction which denies the existence of repression in Cuba has gained control of key offices within the ALA, and they have used their power to cover up the truth and to distort ALA committee reports and resolutions on Cuba. They claim that Cuba’s independent librarians are U.S. government agents. In contrast, 76% of respondents to the only ALA membership poll on this subject called for strong action against the outrages being committed against Cuba’s independent librarians.

The ALA’s pro-Castro faction even tries to ignore the existence of court records, removed from the island and published on the Internet, which prove, in the words of the regime itself, that library workers are being persecuted for daring to oppose censorship. These court documents also order the burning of entire library collections seized from the independent librarians, including classics such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

As expected, the ALA’s pro-Castro faction at the Anaheim conference is trying to defeat the upcoming Council resolution on Cuba. Their first action was an article on this controversy by Peter McDonald in the June/July issue of “American Libraries” (the ALA’s magazine) which completely ignores the repression in Cuba. The editor of “AL” refuses to allow us to publish an article responding to Mr. McDonald’s distortions and factual errors, so our response to McDonald is printed at the end of this message.

The refusal by “AL” to allow both sides of the controversy be heard illustrates the importance of bloggers at the Anaheim conference. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world which criminalizes access to the entire World Wide Web, another fact which the ALA’s pro-Castro faction tries to ignore. We in the Friends of Cuban Libraries hope bloggers will give both sides of the issue a fair hearing and, after evaluating the evidence, will speak out in defense of intellectual freedom within the ALA and in Cuba, too.

We welcome your questions and comments, and background information on the Cuban library issue can be found on our organization’s website. And once again, please review our response to Mr. McDonald which is appended below.


Robert Kent
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries

Read Robert’s response to Peter McDonald’s Article (Rejected by “American Libraries”) below the fold. Support Friends of Cuba Libraries, and Independent libraries in Cuba. Adopt a library in Cuba!

If any of our readers from Southern California are interested in staging a protest at the event email me.

Peter McDonald (“ALA’s Stand on Cuba’s Independent Libraries,” June/July 2008) seems puzzled as to why this controversy continues. He asserts that the ALA’s “nuanced” reports and resolutions on Cuba show an “abiding understanding” of this “complex” issue.

In reality, there is nothing “nuanced” about the decade-long effort within the ALA to ignore the appalling truth: Cuba is the only country in the world where library workers are being systematically persecuted.

There is nothing “complex” about the burning of library collections, mob attacks against librarians and 25-year prison terms for the alleged crime of operating a library, all of which the ALA and Mr. McDonald are trying to ignore. If Mr. McDonald doesn’t believe Amnesty International, People for the American Way and other human rights groups protesting these outrages, he can refer to the Cuban government’s own court records on the one-day trials held in 2003. Mr. McDonald, like the ALA’s Cuba researchers over the past decade, ignores these damning documents as if they do not exist, even after copies were obtained by Amnesty International and published on the Internet.

Sadly, the well-meaning but complacent majority on the ALA Council has been maneuvered into passing resolutions blaming other nations for Cuba’s human rights violations while expressing vague regret over the arrest of unnamed Cubans for unnamed offenses, in the platitudinous style of beauty contestants who “want the whole world to be happy.” In sharp contrast, 76% of respondents to the only ALA membership poll on Cuba called for a condemnation of the repression in Cuba. When will the Council begin to listen to the evidence-based concerns of the membership?

Celebrated speakers at ALA conferences have repeatedly urged the association to honor its principles with regard to Cuba. At the ALA’s most recent conference, speaker Anthony Lewis told the audience: “I think there can’t be anything worse than putting librarians in prison because of their being librarians and giving people books to read…. Cuban librarians who have been in prison are entitled to the utmost support from this organization.” And Mr. McDonald is wrong in implying that Anthony Lewis has retracted his comments. After the event, he told Nat Hentoff that he was “proud and happy with what he had said.”

Mr. McDonald claims that the Friends of Cuban Libraries engage in “politics.” Like the anti-racism activists around the world who organized to oppose apartheid in South Africa, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries believe the unprecedented repression of library workers in Cuba deserves international attention. Our members hold a range of views on many issues, but we are united in believing it cannot be a crime to oppose censorship or to open a library, in Cuba or any other country. Our efforts to defend intellectual freedom and to oppose book burning are a matter of principle, not partisan politics.

We continue to defend Cuba’s brave and innovative independent library movement, a uniquely Cuban contribution to the worldwide struggle for human rights. As for the ALA’s failure to oppose book burning and library repression by the Castro regime, we agree with the statement Nat Hentoff made before renouncing the ALA’s Immroth Award for intellectual freedom: “It would be astonishing and shameful if the American Library Association does not support – and gather support for – the courageous independent librarians of Cuba, some of whom have been imprisoned by Castro for very long terms for advocating the very principles of the freedom to read and think that the American Library Association has so long fought for in this country.”

Robert Kent
The Friends of Cuban Libraries