R. Kent replies to A. Sparnese

What I'd like to know is: how does someone who showered shit and derision in all directions just because a publisher demanded expurgation become an apologist for Stalinist oppression of people who lend other people books.

From the Friends of Cuban Libraries:

Ms. Sparanese's analysis of the Seoul conference, as in the case of her other writings on this subject, is rife with factual errors and failures of principle. This response will focus on a few of the more obvious ones:

>What happened at the IFLA conference is an indication of the growing
>awareness of the library community worldwide....

Ms. Sparanese states a partial truth, although not in the way she intended. The Seoul conference was indeed helpful in increasing awareness on the part of the world library community regarding the only nation in the world where people are persecuted for the alleged crime of opening uncensored libraries. Like the free libraries themselves, this important issue refuses to die, despite the intense efforts of the Cuban government and its supporters abroad.

>The resolution against Cuba proposed by the Latvians
>could not even get a second!

Wrong again. First of all, the resolution was not against Cuba. On the contrary, it was in defense of the the right of Cubans, and by extension the people of all countries, to enjoy intellectual freedom, honored as the most basic principle of the world library community. And the resolution was placed on the IFLA agenda after complying with with IFLA regulations. Due to confusion and a lack of information on the part of the Lithuanians, the resolution was withdrawn by one co-sponsor, leading IFLA to remove it from the agenda for technical reasons. Next year is a different story.

>The reason for this is that it is becoming well-known and understood that
>this "library" campaign is part of the broad well-funded strategy... to bring about "regime change"
>in Cuba.

As in her previous comments on this subject, Ms. Sparanese again fails to specify how reading uncensored books can be a threat to anyone. Cuba's innovative independent library movement was founded by Cubans in 1998 to challenge a national system of censorship. The movement serves as a model for other nations where rulers seek to suppress their people's right to intellectual freedom. The independent librarians receive support from many nations, just as Cuba's "official" librarians enjoy support from other countries. Does Ms.Sparanese believe that Cuba's official librarians, like the independents, should be sentenced to life imprisonment and have their books burned for the "crime" of receiving donations from abroad?

Discerning readers will note that Ms. Sparanese tries to focus on library aid sent to the independent librarians from the U.S. while ignoring aid sent to them from other countries, just as she ignores the fact that books donated to Cuba's independent librarians from other nations are treated no differently than the ones sent from the U.S. That is, the books are seized and burned by the Cuban government. And the librarians who commit the "crime" of accepting them are sentenced, after one-day trials, to prison terms of up to 26 years. All of the librarians arrested during Cuba's 2003 crackdown have been named as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, which is calling for their immediate release. They are also being defended by other prominent human rights groups, such as Pax Christi Netherlands, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.

>Cubans who accept this cash AND equipment from the US government are in
>violation of Cuban law....

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone in the world the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." It cannot be a crime to send books to other nations, no matter what any government may claim to the contrary.

>By US law, foreign governments are not allowed to fund the
>political process in our country and we have laws to make sure
>that they don't.

Once again, Ms. Sparanese fails to specify how reading uncensored books can possibly be a crime, political or otherwise.

>"Trading with the enemy" is a criminal offense in the US.

Informational materials such as books, magazines, newspapers, recordings, art works, etc. are exempt from the U.S. trade legislation on embargoed nations such as Burma, North Korea and Cuba. It is true that trade in computers and software is not presently exempt due to the fact that these laws were passed decades ago, before computers became widely used. We in the Friends of Cuban Libraries support abolishing the present ban on computer sales to Cuba. Besides, these trade restrictions on computers distract attention from the fact that surfing the World Wide Web or owning a computer is a crime in Cuba, except for the privileged few who receive government permission.

And where would South Africans and Eastern Europeans be if their peaceful efforts for freedom had not benefited from the moral and material support sent from abroad? It cannot be a crime to aid the victims of human rights violations, no matter what any tyrannical government may claim to the contrary.

>The site (http://www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu) that claims to have the actual
>sentencing documents is of mysterious provenance for the simple reason that
>it is funded anonymously.

Ms. Sparanese wants to shoot the messenger while ignoring the truth of the message. What matters is the accuracy of the court documents obtained by the FSU website, not who funds the website. The court documents published by FSU prove, in the words of the Cuban government itself, that the defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and had their book collections burned for the alleged crime of opening uncensored libraries. And if Ms. Sparanese has any question as to the funding of the FSU website, she is free to send them an inquiry via e-mail: ([email protected] ). Sadly, the independent librarians, like the rest of the Cuban people, enjoy no such right, as they can send e-mail only with the permission of the Cuban government

>But a detailed reader will also see that when you
>read the descriptions of individual dissidents, only TWO of them actually
>have something to do with "independent libraries"!

Another factual error. Steve Marquardt of the Freadom organization ([email protected]) has made an extensive study of the trial documents of the independent librarians, approximately 12 of whom are still serving 20-year prison terms for daring to challenge censorship. He also analyzes the court documents to detail the titles of some of the library books seized or burned by Castro's secret police, such as Orwell's "Animal Farm" and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

>In fact if one were to believe
>Kent's press releases about over a hundred "independent libraries" existing
>on the island, one would have to conclude that most of their owners are NOT
>in jail.

So they have no right to complain until all of them have sentenced to life imprisonment? In fact, over 200 independent libraries were reported to have been open in Cuba before the 2003 crackdown, when many of them were raided by the secret police and shut down. Despite the determined efforts of the Cuban government to crush the movement, new libraries continue to be founded by brave people who boldly defend the right of the Cuban people to enjoy intellectual freedom.

>NOT ONE of these library "operators," (to use Mr. Marquardt's term) has EVER
>been a librarian, library worker or even associated with libraries in any
>way before their incarnation as "independent librarians!"

Another factual error. The court documents identify many of the prisoners as independent librarians and name the institutions they founded. For a partial directory of the libraries still open in Cuba, please refer to the Address section of the Friends' website (http://www.friendsofcuban libraries.org).

>And NOT ONE
>genuine Cuban librarian or library worker has joined the "independents."
>That should tell us something.

Not true. At least two "official" librarians that we know of have joined the free library movement since going into exile. And more importantly, all library workers, whether or not they have a library degree, have a right to defend intellectual freedom. And who, exactly, qualifies as a "genuine" librarian or library worker? For example, the director of Cuba's National Library does not have a library degree. In the view of Ms. Sparanese, does this fact make him a criminal, too?

>Of course, Kent already admitted... [and] I quote, "Kent told LJ his group was 'ad hoc'
>and did not have official members but that it was funded by supporters, though he later
>acknowledged it receives U.S. government funds" (p.42).

Not true. The Friends of Cuban Libraries are funded entirely by our members, although we defend the right of all libraries to accept donations from any source.

Sincerely,

The Friends of Cuban Libraries
(HTTP://WWW.FRIENDSOFCUBANLIBRARIES.ORG)