Nat Hentoff Blasts ALA on Persecution of Librarians in Cuba

Robert Kent writes: “In a stinging rebuke to the American Library Association,
one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties, Nat Hentoff, has
criticized the ALA for failing to take action to defend volunteer librarians in
Cuba who are being subjected to a brutal crackdown.

Robert Kent writes: “In a stinging rebuke to the American Library Association,
one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties, Nat Hentoff, has
criticized the ALA for failing to take action to defend volunteer librarians in
Cuba who are being subjected to a brutal crackdown.
“It would be astonishing – and shameful,” said Hentoff, “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

“This would make the principles of the American Library Association a bad
joke,” added the writer, who himself has won the ALA’s prestigious Immroth
Memorial Award for Intellectual Freedom. Hentoff is a columnist for the Village
Voice and the author of several books on civil liberties, including “Free Speech
for Me but Not for Thee” and “Living the Bill of Rights.”

In March the Cuban government shocked many observers by jailing 75
independent journalists, poets, and human rights activists, including at least 10
directors of independent libraries. Numerous libraries were raided during the
crackdown, resulting in the seizure of thousands of books and circulation records
which reveal the identity of library patrons. Amnesty International has declared
all of the detainees to be prisoners of conscience. Since 1998, when the
independent library movement was founded in an effort to oppose Cuba’s harsh
system of censorship, approximately 200 libraries have been established by
volunteers throughout the island to offer public access to reading materials
reflecting all points of view. As confirmed by human rights groups such as Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch and International PEN, the volunteer librarians
have been subjected to an ongoing campaign of persecution, culminating in the
recent harsh crackdown which, after one-day trials, imposed prison sentences
of up to 26 years on librarians.

“After years of silence, double-talk and cover-ups by the ALA,” said Robert
Kent, a co-founder of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, a support group for the
independent library movement, “the current vicious attack gives the ALA no
excuse for failing to take action. The heel of the Cuban government’s boot has
been stamped on innocent people whose only alleged crime is to have defended
intellectual freedom, which is supposed to be the ALA’s most cherished principle.”

“For four years,” said Kent, “various ALA Councilors and committees have
refused to acknowledge the validity of Cuba’s innovative movement to create
uncensored libraries, but instead have called their directors agents of the US
government or non-librarians because they do not have university degrees, even
though the ALA’s own policy manual recognizes the legitimacy of all libraries.”

“Now that the International Federation of Library Associations and other
major human rights groups have condemned President Castro for this latest
outrage,” asks Kent, “why are certain leaders of the ALA still trying to ignore or
stifle free debate on this issue?”

The head of Cuba’s state-controlled library association, Mr. Eliades Acosta,
who calls the independent librarians “traitors,” “criminals” and
“mercenaries,” has issued a challenge to debate Kent at any time, but so far ALA officials
have refused to allow a debate on this issue at the association’s upcoming
annual convention in Toronto, where Mr. Acosta is scheduled to take part in a
panel discussion on Cuban libraries; ALA officials have refused to permit any
critics of the Cuban government to be members of the panel discussion.

“The situation really is an outrage and a disgrace to our profession,” said
Kent, whose ad hoc organization, founded in 1999, has submitted an emergency
resolution to the ALA condemning the current wave of repression. “But hopefully
justice will now prevail and the ALA will end its long and deplorable history
of ignoring and covering up the historically unprecedented persecution of
librarians in Cuba.”

Several ALA Councilors and other ALA members have in the past condemned
Cuba’s independent librarians as “fakes” and a “CIA front group,” and two signed
the May 1st “To the World’s Conscience” statement from Havana, which sought to
justify the recent trials and imprisonments. “This is a scandalous and
extremist position that flies in the face of many of the ALA’s core values, especially
those found in the Library Bill of Rights and Code of Ethics,” said Walter
Skold, a writer and library graduate student from Maine who drafted the
resolution that the Friends of Cuban Libraries want the ALA to pass at the
association’s conference in late June.

“I took most of the wording of the draft resolution directly from the ALA’s
own policy statements,” he said, “so if the ALA Councilors won’t speak out when
books are burned and librarians are tossed into the Cuban gulag, then they
would betray the values drilled into us in graduate school.”

“If the ALA Councilors remain silent while Cuban librarians rot in jail and
book collections are confiscated,” he added, “they will violate the ALA’s
principled commitment to defend intellectual freedom, individual liberty, and the
freedom to read as universal human rights.”

In response to Nat Hentoff, a spokesperson for the ALA, Judith Krug, said:
“Any time people are attempting to access ideas and information, we have a stake
in assisting them to do so.” But Robert Kent noted that Ms. Krug’s statement
did not address the issue of why the ALA has failed to take action over the
past four years to oppose the systematic persecution of librarians in Cuba, and
he invited journalists to question the ALA regarding its mishandling of this
important issue.

Contact: Robert Kent

718-305-9201or email at [email protected]

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