BY CHRISTINA HOAG | Knight Ridder Newspapers
Seeking to overturn restrictions against publishing works from Cuba and other blacklisted countries, a group of scholarly publishers and authors on Monday sued the U.S. Treasury Department.
“Ideas should not be embargoed,” said Janet Francendese, editor in chief of Temple University Press, one of five publishers that have frozen Cuban projects for fear of being fined from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Six publications from Cuba - the most from any embargoed nation - are on the groups’ list of in-limbo works. Their topics range from birds to music to short stories.
The suit comes amid a Bush administration crackdown on relations with Cuba. Earlier this year, travel to the island was curbed and the amount of family remittances slashed. Now publishers say they, too, are falling victim to the get-tough policy.
According to OFAC, presses must obtain licenses to publish works from embargoed nations, which also include Iran and Sudan, or risk fines of up to $1 million or prison sentences of up to 10 years.
The Treasury Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said.
But Millerwise noted that OFAC’s rules were designed not to curtail “the free flow of information and exchange of ideas” but to prohibit providing a service to citizens of the countries in question.
“Publishers are free to reproduce, translate, style and copy edit and engage in peer review with respect to informational materials from countries subject to sanctions,” an OFAC statement read.
“There’s a line between informational material being exempt and providing a service,” Millerwise said.
Such services include making deals with writers for unfinished works, altering or collaborating on works and promoting or marketing new or existing works.
“This is the whole business of publishing,” said Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at the PEN American Center.
“As far as we know, these regulations had never been enforced,” Siems said.
PEN, a literary group, is a plaintiff in the suit, as are the Association of American Publishers’ Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division, the Association of American University Presses and Arcade Publishing. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in New York.
“How can the United States uphold our position as a beacon for the free exchange of ideas and science if we ourselves censor authors because of where they live?” asked Marc Brodsky, chairman of the AAP/PSP.
The issue first arose in August 2003, when the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers asked OFAC for a ruling on whether copy editing an Iranian document and submitting it for review by other engineers before publication violated the rules.
Publishers said they were surprised when, at first review, OFAC said it was a violation. Publishers had always been protected under the 1988 Berman Amendment to the Trading with the Enemy Act, which prohibits restrictions to informational exchanges.
In April, OFAC ruled that copy editing did not constitute “providing a service.” The publishers, who have met with OFAC officials, said they chose to sue in a bid to end the issue definitively.
Cuba watchers say the issue stems from the Bush administration’s hardened stance toward the island.
“They want to limit the amount of money going into Cuba from publishing anything,” said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “Anytime a document from Cuba is published in the U.S., it validates the revolution.”
Others argue that because the Cuban government does not allow documents from the United States to be published in Cuba, the United States should reciprocate.
“Why should we publish theirs?” asked Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.