Friday, August 19, 2005

Speaking Out on Book Burning in Cuba

Courtesy of Tim Blair, comes this column by Nat Hentoff, who has been resolute in his opposition to Fidel Castro's brutal suppression of intellectual freedom. The highlight of the article is Hentoff's description of his discussion with author Ray Bradbury, among whose works is the famous novel of a future society where books are regularly burned, Fahrenheit 451:

We were talking about Fidel Castro's recurring crackdowns on those remarkably courageous Cubans who keep working to bring democracy to that grim island where dissenters, including independent librarians, are locked in cages, often for 20 or more years. Bradbury knew about the crackdowns, but until I told him, was not aware of Castro's kangaroo courts (while sentencing the "subversives") often ordering the burning of the independent libraries they raid, just like in "451."

For example, on April 5, 2003, after Julio Antonio Valdes Guevara was sent away, the judge ruled: "As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack usefulness." Hearing about this, Bradbury authorized me to convey this message from him to Fidel Castro: "I stand against any library or any librarian anywhere in the world being imprisoned or punished in any way for the books they circulate.

"I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison, and to send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people."

Among the books destroyed through the years by Fidel's arsonists have been volumes on Martin Luther King Jr., the U.S. Constitution, and even a book by the late Jose Marti, who organized, and was killed in, the Cuban people's struggle for independence.

Hentoff ends his column with a suggestion that I hope more librarians will pursue:

...There is one librarian who is very concerned with Castro's crackdowns of conscience, free speech and the freedom to read. Robert Boyce at the reference department in Lincoln City Libraries in Lincoln, Neb., tells me that he hopes to adopt a suggestion I made in previous writings on Castro: Every fall, libraries across America display — during Banned Books Week — actual volumes that have been banned. Why not include books banned by Castro?

Boyce writes: "We are going to be putting together a very small display of banned books for the fall of 2005 Nebraska Library Association Conference in late September," and he wants to include some titles forbidden in official Cuba libraries.

This will be a significant reaching out to Cuba's imprisoned librarians by an individual American library state association — the first time it's happened. Yet, the national Governing Council of the American Library Association continues to refuse to ask Castro to release the independent librarians in his prisons. Admirers of Castro on that governing body have blocked that clear support of the freedom to read — the very credo of the ALA.

There is little I can add to Hentoff's apt summary of ALA Council's hypocrisy on this issue.


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