Sunday, August 14, 2005

An Open Letter on Cuban Libraries

I recently received an e-mail from Robert Kent of Friends of Cuban Libraries, containing an open letter to the international library community. I am republishing it here with his permission:

Below is a message sent to the IFLA-L listserv in response to an assertion that IFLA's 2001 report on Cuba was able to provide undisputed facts regarding the situation in that country. Sadly, it is becoming ever more apparent that Cuban government officials have engaged in a systematic effort to deceive the international library community with regard to the intense repression and censorship in Cuba.

It is often difficult and painful to realize that we have been deceived, but respect for newly revealed facts can require us to revise our conclusions and take appropriate action. In the words of the Castro government itself, as revealed in secret court documents leaked to the outside world (see below for details), there can no longer be any doubt that the Cuban government is seizing and/or BURNING thousands of library books, including many titles which were shown to IFLA/FAIFE researchers in 2001 in a deceitful effort to conceal Cuba's fierce repression and censorship.

This unpleasant truth can no longer be denied, and IFLA's credibility will be severely damaged unless we in the international library community take principled action in defense of Cuba's persecuted independent librarians and their historic challenge to censorship. A new resolution on Cuba will be introduced by a number of library associations at the Oslo conference, and passage of this resolution will be a key test of IFLA's principled and unbiased commitment to intellectual freedom as a universal human right.


Robert Kent
Co-chair, The Friends of Cuban Libraries

In a message dated 7/20/05 11:30:06 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
(E-mail address deleted-DD) writes:

> They [i.e., IFLA researchers who visited Cuba in 2001] conducted a
> investigation among print associations and government officials....

It appears that (Name deleted-DD) may be unaware of the facts with regard to the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians and the growing support within IFLA for a resolution on this subject at the Oslo conference. The groundswell of support within IFLA for a resolution on Cuba was strengthened by Ray Bradbury's June 27 statement condemning the repression of Cuban librarians and demanding the liberation of those now serving long prison terms; the imprisoned Cuban librarians have been adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty
International. ( As more members of IFLA are beginning to realize, the IFLA research team sent to Havana in 2001 was systematically deceived by government officials in an effort to cover up Cuba's pervasive censorship and repression. This reality, unpleasant as it may be, will be addressed by a number of library associations which will introduce a resolution on Cuba at the Oslo conference .

> When discussing the issue of banned books with key figures of the
> Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), it was indicated that for
> reasons Infante, Manach and Are´┐Żas do not want their works published

Cuba's official library system is modeled on the system of the former Soviet Union. Cuban citizens, as were the Russian people in the old Soviet Union, are routinely denied access to books which criticize the regime. Access to forbidden books, kept locked away in special closed areas of the official libraries, is restricted to a few "trustworthy" readers such as reporters for the government-run press.

As awareness grows of the secret court documents detailing the 2003 trials of Cuban librarians, which were smuggled off the island and published on the Internet, it is becoming generally known that books which Cuban officials claim are freely available to the public are actually being confiscated from the independent libraries and burned by court order. To read just some of these shocking Cuban court documents ordering the burning of thousands of library books, see the following URLs of the librarians' trials:
( and
( .

> They [i.e., Cuba's official librarians] also said that the alleged
unavailability of Orwell's works is a myth; on
> the contrary, the National Library is preparing an Orwell exhibition
> year.

What totalitarian regime would allow its citizens to read the works of Orwell? This absurd claim is just another example of the systematic deception carried out by Cuba's official librarians during interviews with IFLA researchers in 2001. In actual fact, Orwell's classic books, as revealed by the leaked court documents detailing the 2003 trial of librarian Omar Pernet Hernandez, are regarded as "subversive" by the Cuban regime. In the words of the Cuban government, as stated during the trial of Omar Pernet Hernandez, the secret police "carried out a search of his house and confiscated a great quantity of subversive materials... [T]o list all of them would make this sentence interminable..." One of the "subversive" book titles listed in this court document is Orwell's "Animal Farm." So much for the Cuban government's mendacious claim that Orwell's books are available to the public in Havana's National Library, or anywhere else in Cuba for that matter.

Defenders of the Cuban government would like to forget the fact that in 1999 IFLA issued a report which confirmed and vigorously condemned the persecution of Cuba's independent librarians ( For reasons which remain unclear, this report has never been the subject of a resolution by an IFLA conference, and further confusion was caused by the Cuban regime's temporarily successful effort to deceive the IFLA researchers who visited Havana in 2001. Now that the truth of Cuba's grim reality is becoming better known, a number of national library associations attending the 2005 IFLA conference intend to correct this injustice by introducing a resolution to condemn the Castro regime's systematic persecution of Cuba's independent librarians.


Robert Kent
Co-chair, the Friends of Cuban Libraries


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