An Open Letter to World Library Associations

An Open Letter to World Library Associations
August 14, 2006
From the Friends of Cuban Libraries

Dear colleagues:

Currently the IFLA 2006 agenda contains one resolution on Cuba, which will be voted on at the Seoul conference. The resolution was placed on the IFLA 2006 agenda by the Latvian Library Association, and it focuses on the Cuban government's persecution of the island's independent library movement and the seizure and burning of thousands of library books. In keeping with IFLA's commitment to defend intellectual freedom as a universal human right, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries would like to once again ask you to support this resolution, which we had the honor of drafting and which was formally adopted by the Latvian Library Association.

In response to the Latvian-sponsored resolution, Cuba's official library association (ASCUBI) plans to introduce a counter-resolution entitled "Necessity of Putting an End to the Negative Effects of the U.S. Government's Blockade of Public Libraries in Cuba." The counter-resolution contains some valid points which the Friends of Cuban Libraries would support. For example, as noted and condemned in the Latvian resolution, the U.S. government restricts the direct sale of computers to Cuba. Because intellectual freedom is a universal human right to which everyone in the world is entitled, we believe it is just and proper for IFLA to oppose the U.S. government's ban on computer sales to Cuba, along with other high-tech materials such as software.

By way of background, U.S. trade legislation on embargoed nations (including Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Burma) contains an exemption for informational materials such as books, magazines, newspapers and recordings. Traditional informational materials, such as books, are sent between the U.S. and Cuba without restriction. But this U.S. legislation was enacted decades ago, before computers became widely used, as a result of which high-tech equipment such as computers is not recognized among the informational materials exempt from trade embargos. To oppose this injustice, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries join with the official Cuban library association in calling for a condemnation of U.S. restrictions on computer sales to Cuba. In a similar manner, we joined with the official Cuban library association to condemn the recent banning of a Cuba-themed book from a Florida school library.

But the Cuban counter-resolution about to be introduced at the IFLA conference, instead of recognizing intellectual freedom as a universal human right, tries to blame other countries for the Cuban government's own legislation outlawing freedom of access to information. The counter-resolution tries to ignore the fact that it is the Cuban government which criminalizes the ownership of computers and access to the Internet on the island. A Cuban official has even denounced the Internet as the "great disease" of the 21st century. Many governments try to block or filter individual websites, but Cuba is one of the few governments which makes it a crime to access the World Wide Web, except for a few privileged persons and foreign tourists. All but a few of the Cuban citizens who are allowed to use computers are limited to surfing an "Intranet" containing a limited number of websites sponsored or approved by the government.

The government allows full Internet access to foreign tourists and a few members of the Cuban elite, so why can't the same right be enjoyed by all Cubans?- Please do not allow the Cuban governement to get away with blaming others for the laws it imposes on its own citizens.

We hope IFLA delegates, when analyzing how they will vote on the Cuban Library Association's counter-resolution at the Seoul conference, will keep these important realities in mind. As noted previously, we believe the counter-resolution does contain some valid statements condemning U.S. restrictions on sales of high-tech materials. But we hope the counter-resolution, if passed, will contain amendments recognizing the Cuban government's responsibility for outlawing the unlicensed ownership of computers and its ban on the World Wide Web, printers, fax machines and other technology essential to freedom of access to information in the modern world.

The FAIFE committee has already issued a report on the Cuban government legislation which criminalizes the ownership of computers and access to the World Wide Web. The FAIFE report, entitled "Librarians' Deep Concern Over Cuba's Move to Restrict Internet Access," is available at: (http://www.ifla.org/V/press/cuba160104.htm).

Even greater detail on the Cuban government's assault on intellectual freedom, computers and the Internet can be found in reports by internationally respected organizations such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. The latter group has named Cuba among the world's leading "Enemies of the Internet"
(http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15613).

Printed at the end of this message are excerpts from the segment on Cuba in the Reporters Without Borders report entitled "Internet Under Surveillance."

Sincerely,

Robert Kent
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries

[Excerpts deleted for brevity; see RSF's "Internet Under Surveillance" (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10611).