Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Visiting an Independent Library

Norm Geras reports that the new issue of the online journal Democratiya is available. As usual, this issue includes a number of excellent articles. One in particular will be of interest to most readers of this blog: Evan Daniel's account of his recent visit to Cuba:

There have been important developments at the level of civil society since the 1990s as well. Independent organizations of agriculturalists and professionals including lawyers, economists, journalists, doctors and librarians have emerged outside the purview of the state. [5] While an independent organization of librarians may seem mundane or even unnecessary in a state like Cuba that prides itself on its public education system, it is an important development in a country lacking freedom of speech protections and where the press is not just rigidly controlled but close to non-existent. In this context, individuals have established libraries inside their homes at great risk to themselves. In March 2003, after coming under increasing scrutiny, seventy-five independent journalists, pro-democracy activists and independent libraries were imprisoned, books were seized and libraries were shut down. [6]

My wife and I attempted to pay a visit to one of the independent libraries. We were staying in a neighbourhood that was a short walk away and decided to show up unannounced. We rang the doorbell a few times and looked around. I thought, ‘Were we followed? Is the apartment being watched?’ We considered leaving the books we brought on the doorstep but thought that might not be the best idea. We returned twice but nobody ever answered the door. I found out after I returned to the U.S. that the librarian’s husband had recently been released from jail and she was caring for him.

Daniel's overall assessment of the possibility of democratic change in Cuba is mixed, but he notes that there is room for optimism. Not everyone will agree with his policy proposals for helping bring change about, but he makes a very good case. Please read it all.


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