Sunday, October 01, 2006

Cuban Libraries Update: The Banned Books Edition

Recently, Freedom House released its ranking of the world's most repressive regimes. Included in these rankings is a list of the "worst of the worst", the eight countries that most effectively suppress the exercise of human rights. It should come as little surprise that Fidel Castro's Cuba is one of those eight.

The full report includes a useful summary (link in PDF) of the human rights situation in Cuba. It describes the Castro regime's brutal campaign against independent librarians and other dissidents. The repressive, totalitarian nature of the Cuban dictatorship is worth remembering when discussing the issue of intellectual freedom in that country. With that in mind, here is a roundup of recent news on the Cuban libraries issue:

-ALA Councilor Ann Sparanese has produced an essay attacking the Cuban independent librarians' movement as a tool of the US government. This is because the US has provided independent librarians and other dissidents with funding and equipment. Sparanese argues that this amounts to "foreign subversion" that we Americans would never tolerate.

The problem with Sparanese's argument is that "foreign subversion" has in fact been tolerated in US history. The Communist Party USA was intimately involved in Soviet espionage in the 1930s and 40s, and received millions of dollars in annual Soviet subsidies until the late 1980s. Yet it was never banned. Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Cuban independent librarians are involved in anything more "subversive" than widening the scope of intellectual freedom in a country ruled by a brutal dictatorship. That the Castro regime fears this speaks volumes about its true nature.

For additional criticisms of Sparanese's essay, see Freadom and Conservator , and the comments section of the original article.

-Hopefully, Ann Sparanese saved some bile for the neocon, warmongering Swedes, since Friends of Cuban Libraries reports that a Swedish NGO is providing assistance to Cuban independent libraries:

Erik Jennische is showing me books written by [Cuban exiles]. For Cubans living on the island, it is in principle impossible to have access to them. The books are not necessarily of a political nature; they can be any type of literature, says Erik, and he believes the intention of these authors is not to criticize Cuba, but rather their goal is to freely describe the country and what is happening there. In Cuba there are two types of libraries: the [state-run] public ones and the illegal ones, free libraries, also known as independents. The books by authors whose works are sent to Cuba by SILC wind up on the shelves of the independent libararies. In the public libraries it is impossible to find works by authors who question the ideology of the Cuban regime, he says....

"The independent libraries in Cuba and our collaboration with them," says Erik Jennische, "began with a statement made by Fidel Castro at the Havana International Book Fair in 1998. He said that there are no prohibited books in Cuba, only a lack of money to buy them. We took him at his word.... We have plenty of books, and we send them to Cuba. We have gathered hundreds of books in Sweden through donations, and we have collected a lot of money to buy even more; we send them with tourists and other persons traveling to Cuba, who then deliver them to the independent libraries. The Cuba regime claims that it alone has the right to describe what is happening in Cuba. Only one version of the truth is allowed in Cuba, the image put forward by the regime, and it is this version which is being challenged by the dissident literature [supplied to the independent libraries]...."

-However, this this other bit of news from the Friends site isn't quite so positive:

The Friends of Cuban Libraries have received information on a new wave of repression being directed against Cuba's independent library movement since early 2006. Juan Carlos González Leiva, a librarian, lawyer and human rights activist in Ciego de Avila, provided information on the heightened repression to the Independent Libraries Project, directed by Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor.

According to a preliminary report issued by the Independent Libraries Project, Mr. González Leiva states that since early 2006 "the Cuban government... has been carrying out a wave of violent and arbitrary raids on independent libraries and peaceful dissidents throughout Cuba. On repeated occasions, these raids have been conducted by paramilitary mobs during 'acts of repudiation' and at other times by the combined forces of the National Revolutionary Police and the State Security police."

-Freadom has a letter from Steve Marquandt documenting the Castro regime's burning of books.

-Finally, for additional background on the Castro dictatorship's campaign against independent libraries and other forms of free expression, see Theresa Bond's essay from the September/October 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Banned Books Week 2006 concluded yesterday. One need only look at Cuba to see what book banning looks like.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another ALA Councilor & SRRT leader, Al Kagan, is getting nervous because children might actually get to read the horrible truth about Cuba.

From Al Kagan 10/2/06:

FYI. A friend sent this to me. She says it is being touted on the
YALSA listserv. Perhaps a YALSA member could respond?


Librarians Launch Two New Services
>> To Recommend Cuba Books for the Young
>> Includes Open Forum for Librarians, Students and Parents
>> October 1, 2006 -- Two new book review and online discussion groups
>> have been launched for teachers and students that will highlight the
>> best
>> books and resources on Cuba for young people.
>> "As a way to celebrate banned books weeks all year we are proud to
>> lauch
>> both Cuba4Kids and YACUBA," said Walter Skold, the co-chair of
>> the library group which is sponsoring the new project.
>> "In light of the legal and social battles in Florida recently over
>> several
>> books for children, it is important that parents and educators know
>> what
>> kind of quality -- and substandard -- publications are available,"
>> said
>> Skold,"And to have an open forum where these resources can be
>> discussed."
>> "We agree with the position of the Florida ACLU that the answer to
>> inferior books is more and better books, not banning," he added.
>> Along with a service of professional reviews on the FREADOM website,
>> the
>> group has started the Cuba4Kids and YACUBA Yahoo groups where
>> students,
>> teachers, and parents can post their own reviews and have a dialogue
>> with
>> others who recommended materials.
>> "We are proud to provide a professional service that promotes free
>> speech
>> and expands the national debate over the issue of what our kids
>> about
>> the tyranny of Fidel Castro in schools," said Skold.
>> "In Cuba, there is no independent library association, no open
>> on the
>> Internet about censorship, and the books that children read in the
>> classroom
>> are subject to total control by the ruling Party," he added, "With
>> dissenting parents or elected school boards non-existent."
>> FREADOM has assembled a team of professional librarians who have
>> widely on Cuba and who understand the issues children and young
>> need and want to learn about.
>> They also understand that it takes more than pictures of smiling
>> children
>> to make a good children's or young adult book or webpage.
>> "While it is an intellectual freedom to publish all sorts of views
>> Castro's dictatorship, it is also an academic crime for teachers to
>> recommend books that merely parrot pro-communist myths about Castro,
>> Che,
>> and the conditions under which Cubans labor," Skold added.
>> FREADOM maintains there are plenty of excellent books and web
>> resources
>> available for children and young adults that are balanced and
>> accurate, and
>> don't read like Fidel dictated them to someone in his obedient
>> writer's
>> union.
>> "Children like to see pictures of other children smiling, and that
>> a
>> beauty of life, but we also teach our children not to lie," said
>> Skold.
>> "Therefore, books that consistently misrepresent history (as opposed
>> to an
>> author making a mistake here and there), are poorly researched, or
>> which
>> merely repeat vapid Castro mythologies should not see the light of elementary school collections." "Such prudent choices are NOT acts of censorship," said Skold. "They are and exercise of wisdom and responsibility in book selection."
The first few reviews have been added to the FREADOM website and the Yahoo groups are ready for adults and young people to begin posting their own reviews.
FREADOM is a 3-year old library group with an emphasis on Cuba that
advocates for human rights and the freedom to read. The group hopes
to solicit reviews from famous Cuban-American writers in the ongoing effort to celebrate literature and have open debate regarding what kids read about Cuba. Parents, students, and teachers are welcome to vistit the new discussion
groups and FREADOM'S page of professional reviews:
Cuba4Kids -

4:29 PM  

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