Protest erupts at Cuban book fair


Robert Kent sent this press release in from The Friends of Cuban Libraries.

On February 3, as foreign publishers made travel plans to attend the
Havana International Book Fair (February 9-15), the Friends of Cuban
Libraries released an Open Letter to the publishers signed by more than
thirty authors. The letter, entitled \"Book Fair or Carnival of
Persecution?,\" urges publishers at the Fair to make protests to government
officials against the \"scandalous\" repression of Cuba\'s independent
librarians, whom the authors describe as \"the only librarians in the world
who are being subjected to systematic persecution.\"

In an attempt to establish a civil society in Cuba, the island nation
has recently seen the opening of more than thirty independent libraries with
the goal of offering access to books that are banned under Cuba\'s harsh
system of censorship. Citing reports and statements by Amnesty
International, the International PEN organization of writers, and the
International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), the authors of the
Open Letter condemn the government\'s effort to suppress the independent
librarians through a campaign of harassment, intimidation, death threats,
police raids, evictions, short-term arrests, and confiscations. \"To remain
silent on this important matter...,\" the authors admonish the publishers,
\"would be an act of moral cowardice and would constitute silent support for
this unprecedented violation of intellectual freedom on the part of the Cuban
government.\" In addition to public and private protests, the authors also
urge the publishers to carry out other acts of solidarity such as visits to
the independent librarians in Havana.

Another cause of dismay surrounding the Book Fair is the fact that it
will be held in Havana\'s La Cabana fortress, notorious as the former site of
a harsh prison where the Castro administration carried out hundreds of
executions. Jorge Valls, one of the authors signing the Open Letter, spent
part of his 20-year prison term in La Cabana prison after being convicted of
refusing to register for the military draft. In his published memoirs, Mr.
Valls recalled his grim experience in La Cabana: \"Night was no time for rest.
On the contrary, that was when the horrors began. At nine or so the
executions would start.... We could hear the prisoner being tied to the
pole, his last cries, the command to fire, the volley.... The last sound
would be the screech of the night bird coming to peck at the pieces of flesh
that still clung to the pole and the wall.\"

Mr. Valls, now a member of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, says, \"A
number of the publishers going to the Book Fair have already agreed to carry
out actions in support of the independent librarians, and we hope others will
follow their brave example.\"

Among the many prominent authors signing the Open Letter are Guillermo
Cabrera Infante, a winner of Spain\'s prestigious Cervantes Prize for
literature, Heberto Padilla, a renowned poet whose arrest and show trial in
1971 sparked worldwide indignation, Carlos Franqui, a former editor of the
Cuban newspaper \"Revolucion,\" Zoe Valdes, a rising star among the younger
generation of Cuban writers, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, a poet who suffered
permanent injuries after being attacked during a government-directed mob
assault, and the noted Mexican writers Carlos Monsivais and Jorge Castaneda;
the latter is an acclaimed biographer of Ernesto \"Che\" Guevara.

The Friends of Cuban Libraries, founded in June, 1999, is an
independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit support group for the independent
librarians. The organization opposes censorship and all other violations of
intellectual freedom, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, regardless of whatever administration may be in office in Cuba. The
Friends are funded entirely by their members and do not seek or accept
contributions from other sources.

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