An appeal to the library associations of the world

Dear, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am writing to solicit your assistance in holding the government of Cuba accountable for its unconscionable mistreatment of independent librarians. You can do so by voting to adopt a resolution that will be put forward at the 72nd IFLA Conference in Seoul, South Korea, this August.

In March of 2003, the government of Cuba engaged in a sweeping crackdown on journalists and independent librarians. This latter group consists of private citizens who had the temerity to open lending libraries out of their homes and using their own meager collections, without the permission of the state and outside of the state controlled library system. Seventy five people were rounded up, ten of whom were independent librarians, and they were given one-day trials. In the case of the librarians, the average sentence was nineteen years six months, with the longest being twenty-six years.
The charges were levied under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba’s National Independence and Economy.

In at least four of the cases, the judges ordered the seized materials to be burned. While some of the books were fiction, most of the seized materials dealt with political and human rights matters, including, but not restricted to:

* The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
* Cuba's Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the
Revolution, by Human Rights Watch;
* The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in
Central-Eastern Europe, by Vaclav Havel;
* Reporters Without Borders, Mission report in Cuba;
* The Constitution of the United States;
* copies of Time Magazine;
* textbooks on journalism.

Since that time, the American Library Association has engaged in a program of both tacit and active support for the jailing of Cuban independent librarians, and support for these fullscale human rights violations has also tainted the International Federation of Library Associations. Discussion of the actions by the Cuban government has been forbidden in Listservs. The ALA invited Eliades Acosta to the 2003 annual ALA convention in Toronto, Ontario, where he was to take part in a panel discussion on Cuban libraries. Mr. Acosta challenged Mr. Kent to a debate on the topic at the convention, but the ALA reportedly refused to permit any critics of the Cuban government to speak. Mr. Acosta is the head of the Jose Marti Library and effectively the government official in charge of repudiating any efforts to see the injustices against the independent librarians rectified.

More recently:

Andrei Codrescu was the keynote speaker at the ALA's mid-winter conference for 2006, where he called upon the ALA to oppose this movement by the government of Cuba (you can read the text of his speech at "http://www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org/"), which raised a protests at his daring to demand an upholding of freedom and liberty. Mr. Codrescu was subjected to barrages of invective, not alone by the ALA members who are working to maintain the status quo, but also by Eliades Acosta (a translation of Mr. Acosta's reply is also at Friends of Cuban Libraries).

This was followed by the Latvian and Lithuanian library associations submitting a Cuba resolution, drafted with the aid of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, which was added to the agenda of the 72nd IFLA annual conference. The draft resolution was sent directly to the IFLA Secretariat to avoid its being blocked by the censorial elements in FAIFE.

Another blow against the anti-independent librarian movement was struck by Madeleine Albright, who delivered the keynote speech on 24 June, at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. Ms. Albright is a former U.S. ambassaodor to the United Nations, and was Secretary of State to President Bill Clinton. In her speech she called on libraries to be "laboratories for freedom" and also defended the right of Cubans to loan books and to open libraries free from
government control. This generated another round of invective and extremism, in particular by Eliades Acosta, who wrote a propagandist diatribe in Librinsula filled with personal attacks against Ms. Albright, but none of which refuted any of the points she raised.

The tide seems to have turned back in favour of the Cuban bookburners and the censorial elements in the ALA and IFLA when the Lithuanian Library Association asked that its resolution be removed from the agenda of the upcoming conference (although it is not certain if it can be removed from the agenda now, which seems to be set). The Cuban government had apparently contacted both the Lithuanian and Latvian Library Associations and lobbied them to do so. The Latvian Association, however, declined to withdraw its draft resolution immediately, pending further investigation of the issues raised.

Given statements made by Mr. Robert Kent, co-founder of Friends of Cuban Libraries, the issues raised consist of at least the following points:

* No Cuban librarians have been jailed;
* Robert Kent does not represent the librarians of Cuba.

I maintain that Senor Acosta's position is based solely on a semantic trick. Those private-citizen lenders of books are not librarians only from the viewpoint that they did not have permission from the state to identify themselves in that manner, and that they had no credentials in librarianship. Other than these technicalities, they did function as librarians in every other regard. Which brings me around to my viewpoint on the matter of independent librarians.

John Miller, a professor of journalism, once made this point: In a free society, a free press belongs to everybody. A fine and lofty principle that means: in a free society, everyone is necessarily a journalist in the eyes of the principles of freedom, if not necessarily in fact. Under this viewpoint, it then becomes necessary to further categorize everyone into
two of four possible subgroups. Credentialed, uncredentialed; practicing, non-practicing.

In the same fashion, the victimized lenders of books can call themselves librarians. They are uncredentialed, but do practice librarianship. Denying that they can possibly be librarians, however, allows Senor Acosta to hold that no librarians have been jailed. The phrase used by those who fail to oppose this oppression is, "they are not real librarians". A charge to which I would reply: "There is no such thing as an unreal librarian, they are merely unlicensed librarians."

As to the second point and as a corollary to the first, Mr. Kent does not represent the librarians of Cuba because he is not an official of that government, and every licensed librarian is under state control. What Mr. Kent does do is to represent those who have been silenced and imprisoned and who must struggle mightily to have their smallest utterance escape to the outside world. In this regard he is a self-appointed representative. And I would like to add, for the benefit of those who might scoff at the idea that he can simply adopt this mantle, that Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, two men whose actions overthrew thoroughly entrenched systems of injustice, took their respective tasks upon themselves. Neither was selected by a higher temporal authority or granted their positions by plebescite.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us now set aside rhetoric and semantics and deal instead with the cold, hard facts of reality.

1: The people of Cuba, regardless of what else they might do in the privacy of their lives, are human beings.

2: Cuban public libraries are state controlled, as opposed to those that are merely state funded or administered.

3: The government of Fidel Castro has ordered the arrest of certain private citizens who have lent books out of the privacy of their own homes in the same manner as any public library in any free country.

4: Acting as agents of the government, the judges trying the cases, some, if not all, of which lasted but one day, inflicted sentences with an average duration of nineteen years six months; the longest sentence being twenty-six years.

5: Pursuant to finding the defendants guilty, the judges then ordered, in some cases, that the collections be destroyed by "incineration".

6: Even before this pogrom against independent lenders of books, the government of Cuba seized a shipment of American books intended for independent lenders and dissident groups, claiming the reason for the seizure was not the content of the books, but the intended recipients; the government claimed that such groups rely on American contacts to help support their opposition of Castro's policies.

7: The materials destroyed were primarily of matters political, and pertaining to human rights and democratic ideals (copies of the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance); this is known from sentencing documents from four of the trials, that are internet accessible (written in Cuban-Spanish).

8: The government of Cuba has kept some Cuban citizens, such as the group known as Ladies in White, from traveling to foreign countries to receive recognition of their political activism, while sending others, some of them lenders of books, into external exile.

9: Under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy:

* Article 6: Sets prison terms from three to eight years for those
"who accumulate, reproduce or spread material of subversive
character from the government of the United States of America, its
agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials, or from any
other foreign entity.

* Article 7: Sets penalties from two to five years in prison for
"anyone who...collaborates in any way with foreign radio or
television stations, newspapers, magazines or other mass media with
the purpose of...destabilizing the country and destroying the
socialist state." The penalties rise to three to eight years in
prison if such collaboration "is carried out for profit."

* Article 9: Sets prison terms of seven to 15 years to "anyone
who...carries out any action aimed at hindering or hurting economic
relations of the Cuban state."

* Article 11: Sets prison terms of three to eight years to "anyone
who...directly or through third parties, receives, distributes or
participates in the distribution of financial, material or other
resources, from the government of the United States, its agencies,
dependencies, representatives, officials or private entities.

10: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states and delares:

* Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set
forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, . . . ;

* Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention
or exile;

* Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless of frontiers;

* Article 27: (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the
cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in
scientific advancement and its benefits;

* Article 29: (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone
shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law
solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for
the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just
requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a
democratic society.

Any one of the above articles of Law 88 can be abused and exploited to lock up any person who attracts the attention of the government, and indeed, such seems to have been the case of Julio Valdes. The sentencing document from his trial (translated) says that he was condemned for:

"accumulating books, magazines and pamphlets by counter-revolutionary
authors in foreign countries, principally in Miami, Florida, United
States of America, which exhort civil disobedience, twisting historical
events and the achievements of illustrious thinkers and revolutionary
patriots..." [in order to] "provoke the destruction of the political,
social and economic order now existing in Cuba...."

[...]

"As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette,
medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents,
they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack
usefulness."

Moreover, given the serious sentences set out, one would expect a defendant facing any of those charges to be given more than one day for a trial.

Can there be any doubt that the government of Cuba is a fullscale violator of human rights, and its attack against the independent librarians is an affront to those people everywhere who staunchly maintain and defend the free flow of information and the free exchange of ideas? Does not the destruction of their collections for "lack of usefulness" smack of the most vile type of censorship? And is it not rather paradoxical that copies of some of the destroyed materials reside on the shelves of some licensed libraries?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to have your representatives at the 72nd IFLA conference strike a blow at this heart of darkness and vote in favour of the Latvian and, if applicable, the Lithuanian resolution opposing the unconscionable mistreatment of private-citizen librarians in Cuba.

Thank you for considering my request.

Michael Nellis