ALA and Cuba (Again)
ALA's Annual Convention is underway in Anaheim. Those of you who remember my reaction to last year's ALA conference in DC will not be shocked to learn that I have skipped this year's festivities. Amazingly for an election year, this year's speakers lineup seems mercifully free of partisanship, though the Opening Session did feature that "impassioned, informed and gifted speaker" Ron Reagan.
To be fair, though, if the Cognotes summary (PDF) of his remarks is accurate, Reagan really did not give his audience the partisan red meat many of them undoubtedly desired. In fact, Cognotes has him saying the following, which probably did not endear him to his hosts:
“only when we stand everywhere [for freedom of information]”— in Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma, and elsewhere — are we true to our commitments.
It is to Ron Reagan's credit that he referenced Cuba, especially since the issue has once again come up for debate at ALA Council. There are plans to introduce a new resolution on the Cuban independent library issue in Anaheim. The proposed resolution calls for council to demand "the immediate and unconditional release of those persons involved in the operation of independent libraries arrested in March 2003" and that the Cuban regime"return any materials confiscated from independent library collections which have not been incinerated or destroyed". (link via Stephen Denney)
The debate over this resolution promises to be bitter. The radical left wing opponents of this measure have taken the initiative in the information campaign. ALA Councilor and PLG member Peter McDonald has published a piece in the June/July issue of American Libraries defending the association's current position on Cuba, which he describes as "sufficiently nuanced--calling on both Cuba and the U.S. to break down official barriers and respect human rights." (McDonald's article is available in PDF from the PLG web site)
The main argument made by opponents of the proposed resolution, such as McDonald and ALA International Relations Office director Michael Dowling, is that the independent librarians have received funding and resources from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Thus, it is implied that they are tools in the hands of neocon American imperialism and therefore unworthy of support. Steve Marquardt has shown the utter absurdity of this argument, pointing out that the "federal budget line for the Bibliotecas Independientes de Cuba would not be enough to pay the average salaries plus fringe benefits of 2.5 FTE librarians employed at an average U.S. university library." In addition, he has noted that Cuba is merely one of dozens of countries where USAID has funded local civil society activists.
Of course, most Americans would see nothing wrong with the U.S. government aiding supporters of free thought and expression in their struggle against a totalitarian dictatorship. Nor would they feel the need to take anything like a "nuanced" stand on such a matter. Only in a profession skewed as far to the left as American librarianship could supporting persecuted librarians even be a source of controversy. Unfortunately, for all too many in our profession knee jerk opposition to American foreign policy overrides commitment to intellectual freedom. Factor in the influence of the openly pro-Castro PLG and ALA's shameful inaction on the Cuba question is explained.
It needs to be noted that there are many exceptions within American librarianship. Leftists such as Sanford Berman and liberals like Karen Schneider and Stephen Denney have forthrightly condemned the Castro regime's crushing of intellectual freedom. I believe Steve Marquardt is himself left of center on many issues (please correct me if I'm wrong). In fact, the main dividing line on this question isn't between left and right: it is between those librarians who put support for intellectual freedom ahead of political ideology versus those who don't.
For the sake of the Cuban independent librarians and for ALA's credibility, an already endangered commodity, I hope this resolution passes. Sadly, I'm not optimistic.
For more on this issue, the aforementioned Steve Marquardt has done some amazing work supplying facts and analysis on his Cuba 451 Letters list. In addition, the Safe Libraries blog, Stephen Denney and Annoyed Librarian have all posted some interesting thoughts on this question.