"Your government's response to The
Independent Libraries in Cuba Project clearly violates basic human rights to
intellectual freedom.... In persecuting and harassing members of the Cuban
library community, your government is striking at the heart of the principles
espoused and acted upon by librarians worldwide."
- Letter to President Castro from Kathleen De Long, President of the
Canadian Association of College and University Libraries
Ramón Colás, far left, and Berta Mexidor, far right, co-founders of the
Independent Library Project, with their children (photo by Pedro Portal, with
permission of Encuentro en la Red)
OVERVIEW: The general human rights situation in Cuba has been
investigated by numerous human rights organizations in recent years. Among the
groups which have published reports on Cuba are Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Pax Christi Holland,
and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The Links section of this
database allows immediate access to the websites of these organizations. A
concise but thorough overview is "Cuba's Repressive Machinery" by Human Rights
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: For the sixth year in a row, the Committee to
Protect Journalists has named Cuba among the world's "Ten Worst Enemies of the
Press" (www.cpj.org/enemies/_00.html). For a report by Reporters Sans Frontieres
on the repression of dissident journalists, see: "Harassment, Exile,
Imprisonment" in the Americas section of the RSF website (www.rsf.fr/uk/home.html).
For an IFEX bulletin, issued by the Inter American Press Association, protesting
"the complete lack of freedom in Cuba," see (www.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=7720).
THE INTERNET IN CUBA: A lengthy article by Patrick Symmes on Cuba's
restriction of access to the Internet, e-mail, and personal computers appeared
in "Wired" magazine (February, 1998). An article on Cuban censorship of e-mail
was published by "Wired.com" (www.wired.com/news.culture/0,1284,19402,00.html).
Reporters Sans Frontieres features Cuba in a report entitled "Enemies of the
Internet," available on the RSF website (www.rsf.fr/uk/home.html).
THE FRIENDS OF CUBAN LIBRARIES: The Friends issued our first press
release soon after our founding in June, 1999. On an average of once per month,
we issue a press release and post reports on a number of listservs. A complete
backfile is available upon request. An article critical of the Friends was
published in the October, 1999, issue of the British Library Association
"Record." In rebuttal, a letter-to-the-editor appeared in the "Record" issue of
December 1999 or January 2000.
FAIFE REPORT ON THE INDEPENDENT LIBRARIES: In September, 1999, the
intellectual freedom committee of IFLA, known by the acronym FAIFE, published an
investigative report on the independent libraries (www.faife.dk, in the "news
and events" section). The committee documented and condemned the Cuban
government's "campaign of threats, intimidation, harassment, eviction,
short-term arrests and the confiscation of incoming book donations or book
collections." The committee chair, Alex Byrne, wrote a letter on behalf of IFLA
to President Fidel Castro calling for an end to the repression. Further, the
committee resolved to publicize its findings and to ask other interested
organizations to join in protesting the persecution in Cuba. Library
associations in Canada, Holland, Denmark and Spain have taken a variety of
actions to express concern about the situation of the the independent
librarians. Support and publicity for the independent librarians has also been
provided by IFEX, Index on Censorship, International P.E.N., the Norwegian Forum
on Free Expression and prominent Latin American authors such as Ariel Dorfman
and Jorge Castañeda.
"Annex 1" of the FAIFE report is "Background Information on the Independent
Libraries Project." The annex translates essays on intellectual freedom and the
foundation of the library project by the movement's co-founder, Berta Mexidor.
"Annex 2" of the IFLA report is an "Official Response from the Library
Association of Cuba (ASCUBI)." Except for a denial that any of the indpendent
librarians had ever been arrested, this response from ASCUBI - as the IFLA
report notes - "doesn't address the issue of intimidation" and "does not comment
on the issue of intellectual freedom."
In addition to critiques published on listservs, Ann Sparanese condemned the
IFLA report in a letter to the "IFLA Journal" (26  1). Responses from the
FAIFE committee chair, Alex Byrne, and the Friends of Cuban Libraries appeared
in the following issue (26  2).
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Three reports by Amnesty have independently
confirmed the campaign of persecution being directed against the independent
librarians. In November, 1999, Amnesty International declared the co-founder of
the independent library movement, Ramón Colás, to be a Prisoner of Conscience
when he was arrested before a summit meeting held in Havana
(http://220.127.116.11/CNews/y99/nov99/15e25.htm). Additional details on the
repression of the independent librarians were contained in an Amnesty report
published in March, 2000 (www.cubanet.org/CNews/y00/apr00/03e9.htm). In its
"Annual Report 2000," (www.amnesty.org), Amnesty has further information on the
repression of Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor (see the chapter on "evictions" in
the Cuba section). Amnesty concludes its comments in this section of the report
by noting: "Other independent librarians were also subject to threats,
short-term detentions and the confiscation of their books."
VARIOUS CRITICS: Numerous critiques of the independent librarians, the
Friends of Cuban Libraries, IFLA and Amnesty International have been published
on listservs, and several organizations have focused on this issue. The Cuban
Libraries Support Group and Information for Social Change (http://libr.org/ISC/who.html)
are managed by John Pateman, a British librarian. As an illustration of Mr.
Pateman's perspective on human rights issues, he asserts that a free press
exists in Cuba; he also denies that the Khmer Rouge were responsible for mass
killings in Cambodia (Letter to the editor, New Internationalist, June,
articles critical of the independent librarians and the Friends of Cuban
Libraries are published in supplements of a weekly online journal, "Library
Juice" (http://libr.org/Juice). for example, "Library Juice" gave detailed
coverage to a delegation of librarians who visited Cuba and reported that
intellectual freedom flourishes in government-run libraries. This delegation
also visited two independent libraries and asserted that they are "not really
CUBANET: Extensive coverage of the independent libraries is published in
the CubaNet database (www.cubanet.org). A link to "bibliotecas" has a partial
backfile of news articles and documents relating to the independent libraries.
Most are in Spanish.
"Independent Libraries Mix Politics, Culture in Cuba," by Karen DeYoung,
Washington Post, Aug. 3, 2000, A26. A follow-up letter-to-the-editor written by the
Friends was published in the Post on Aug.10 , 2000.
"Cuban Private Libraries Have Novels," by Vivian Sequera, Associated Press, Nov.
8, 2000 (www.cubanet.org/CNews/y00/nov00/08e2htm).
"Free Books: The Forest Advances," by Ricardo González Alfonso, published in the
"From Your Cuba Correspondent" section of the Reporters Sans Frontieres homepage