Carrying Fidel's Water; the Hypocrisy of the American Library Association

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

Carrying Fidel's Water; the Hypocrisy of the American Library Association


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Although Fidel Castro has imprisoned 10 independent librarians for such crimes against the state as circulating copies of the United Nations' International Declaration of Human Rights and George Orwell's "1984," the leadership of the American Library Association (ALA) - the world's largest organization of librarians - has been resisting calls by some ALA members to urge the Cuban dictator to let them out.

Along with 65 other Cuban dissenters, the "subversive" librarians were sentenced to 20 or more years in Mr. Castro's gulag. Some urgently need medical attention, which they're not receiving.

At the ALA's annual midwinter meeting earlier this month in San Diego, Karen Schneider, a member of the ALA's governing council, wanted to amend a final report to call for their immediate release. Mrs. Schneider, in proposing her amendment, told her colleagues that Mr. Castro's police had confiscated and burned books and other materials at the independent libraries.

The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated by the 182-member council. The report was swept through by a raising of hands.

From Sept. 25 to Oct. 2, libraries across this country will invite their communities to the annual Banned Books Week, decrying censorship. I've spoken, by invitation, during those weeks at libraries around the country. Will any library invite me this year to talk about the burning of library books in Cuba?

In the final report, also passed overwhelmingly by raised hands, there was some pious language expressing the ALA's "deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba" - but this deep concern does not extend to asking the Cuban dictator to liberate all of the 75 imprisoned in his crackdown last spring, including the 10 librarians.

Steve Marquardt, an ALA member who believes in everyone's right to read everywhere, wrote to Eliades Acosta Matos, the director of Cuba's National Library (Biblioteca Nacional Jose Marti), and they discussed Mrs. Schneider's amendment, which Mr. Marquardt supports.

In his answer, Mr. Castro's appointee said, "I send to you the text of the report on Cuba, approved in San Diego. Ask yourself why the resolution proposed by Ms. Schneider was defeated." The response also - like some members of the American Library Council - blamed the "aggressions" of the American government against Cuba, "including 'lies and subversion, such as the independent libraries.' " But these books were sent to the independent libraries by people from many countries, including individual Americans. …

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