Cuba Culture

Castro’s helpers: American librarians

Posted June 21, 2005 by Cubana in Cuba Culture.

By Duncan Currie
Published: Monday, June 20, 2005 in the Washington Examiner

A more accurate report on Cuban Independent Librarians and the ALA than Diana Barahona’s propaganda piece

Librarians attending the American Library Association’s conference in Chicago this week will hear a speech from that great man of letters Henry Winkler (a.k.a. “The Fonz”). But a bigger story involves who won’t be appearing at the podium: Ramon Coles and Berta Mexidor, the co-founders of Cuba’s independent library movement.

The ALA claims they did not apply to be speakers through the proper channels. But critics say the group’s refusal to accommodate this brave husband-and-wife team is part of a broader hypocrisy on Cuba.

Two years ago, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro jailed 75 dissidents in a brutal clampdown. Fourteen of them were librarians, members of a movement that collects books, newspapers and periodicals and loans them to interested readers. In Castro’s island paradise, this is a crime.

The ALA took notice ó sort of. At its Toronto summit in June 2003, members briefly mulled a resolution on Cuba before postponing the decision until the following January. By that time, the ALA faced mounting pressure to condemn the arrests and demand the release of those imprisoned.

Would the ALA call on Castro to free the jailed librarians? No. The best it could muster was an expression of “deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents.” It noted that some were private librarians, but stopped short of insisting on their release. It urged the Cuban regime to respect “basic human rights” and “eliminate obstacles” to the free flow of information.
Curiously, the ALA report also took a dig at the U.S. embargo because it “restricts access to information in Cuba.” It likewise zinged the U.S. travel ban for hampering “professional exchanges” between the two countries. In its fit of moral equivalence, the ALA blamed both governments ó the one in Washington and the one in Havana ó for the “political climate” that led to the arrests.

This prompted journalist Nat Hentoff, a staunch civil libertarian, to renounce his Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom, which the ALA bestowed upon him in 1983. “To me, it is no longer an honor,” Hentoff wrote in his Village Voice column.

But John Berry, who was then head of the ALA, was not impressed. In a debate with Hentoff, he defended the ALA’s position and questioned the credentials of the jailed librarians. “Cuba is a bit of a special case for us,” he added, because of the embargo and “the aggressiveness of the American attitude toward [Cuba].”

The ALA’s current leadership seems to consider the matter settled, and prefers to spend its political capital these days bashing the Patriot Act.

But don’t tell Robert Kent, a public librarian in New York, that Cuba is a dead issue. He co-chairs “The Friends of Cuban Libraries.” He also recently penned a letter asking outgoing ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano to invite Col?s and Mexidor to speak in Chicago. “Your response to this request,” he wrote, “will establish, once and for all, your stand on this momentous issue.”

The ALA balked at Kent’s challenge. “It’s way too late to schedule something,” explains Berry, now chair of the ALA’s international relations committee.

“Nonsense,” Kent replies. He says the ALA president has the authority to invite the Cubans.

Kent may have lost this latest battle, but his group is preparing to release a scathing analysis of the ALA’s position on Cuba. He believes that the vast majority of the ALA’s 64,000 members have no idea about the ongoing Cuba flap. Because of low turnout in ALA elections, he says, “a small group of extremists can dominate the organization.”

In the meantime, the world’s largest and oldest library association works in silent complicity with the Western hemisphere’s most brutal dictator.

Member Comments

On June 21, 2005, rcurzon wrote:

USAID, CANF… our beloved US government loves democracy so much, it pays millions in taxpayer money to subvert open discussion forums like this.

An open forum on the web can be a wonderful democratic force.

But in times like this, aren’t you (Havana Journal) just playing into the hands of these dishonorable forces? 

Anonymous posters like our friend Cubana, funded by millions in taxpayer money, are ready willing and able to spend all day, every day, posting anti-Castro articles like this. 

Myself… I would say it’ time to disable open public postings.  The current US administration has shown it has no integrity, no respect for democracy and free discussion, and it will subvert all possible discussions. 

On June 21, 2005, Cubana wrote:


I wish I was funded by millions in US taxpayer’ money!!! Then I wouldn’t have to do a full time job here in the UK!

On June 21, 2005, rcurzon wrote:

Thanks for the reference to the article you are “refuting”.  I was able to find it, and I recommend it to readers.  It’ quite refreshing in its appeal to real rational thought compared to your article.

You might want to avoid giving that information in the future…  it allows people to make up their own minds.

It may be that you truly think it’ “rational” that anything done by the hand of Castro is bad.  It may be that you do not receive compensation for posting such stuff anonymously.

But I wonder, are you affiliated with CANF, USAID, or other funded anti-Castro propaganda organizations? 

And how many such “accurate” articles do you post in the average day?

Since the announcement of funding of this we have seen a flood of postings, anywhere and everywhere Cuba is discussed on the web. 

Usually when I’ve asked the question, people decline to answer that question clearly.

Editors have been receiving many article submissions for publication such as your offering by Duncan Currie.  Evidently the Washington Examiner needs to fill some space, or finds it fits their agenda. 

Traditional democratic thinkers would find this public funding of propaganda unseemly in a democracy.  Granted, the word is losing it’ meaning under Bush!

On June 21, 2005, rcurzon wrote:

I see someone posted the “real” article here too, sorry.  I just got to Mr. Cubana’ article and had to respond.  Could have saved myself a Google wink.

On June 22, 2005, Cubana wrote:

“are you affiliated with CANF, USAID, or other funded anti-Castro propaganda organizations”

No. My interest in Cuba is as the husband of a Cuban woman and the father of Cuban-British children.

What’ yours?

On June 22, 2005, rcurzon wrote:

I’d have to guess you spend as many hours a day reading, copying, posting anti-castro articles as most people spend working… so I admire your dedication, given you have no affiliations with the funded organizations who do the same thing.

I am appalled by your apparent stupidity however.  I use the word “stupidity” in the sense of this link:


There is a stupidity craze is sweeping America, and everywhere there are examples like yours. 

TV promotes stupidity as logic, the government promotes stupidity as logic, the papers promote stupidity as logic.  There hasn’t been a dominant civilization as devoid of intelligence since Attila the Hun.

So don’t be too offended when I call your position “stupid”, it’ actually a compliment to some people, and quite fashionable!

My position is the increasingly rare one, of actually demanding that positions make sense, that conclusions follow from arguments, that evidence be allowed to determine opinions.  Never mind, it’ passe… wink

On June 22, 2005, Cubana wrote:

I notice that you did not answer my question (what is your interest in Cuba?) in your tirade! Also, perhaps you might care to explain why you think my position on Cuba is “stupid”, particularly as you in your own words “actually demanding that positions make sense, that conclusions follow from arguments, that evidence be allowed to determine opinions”!!!