Lithuanian librarians apologize for being duped by Robert Kent over Cuba

This may be old news to some, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of play.

At IFLA, the Lithuanian and Latvian delegations were planning to present a resolution condemning Cuba for imprisoning dissident “independent librarians.” Robert Kent & Co. floated news of this in advance and pressured ALA Council to instruct ALA’s IFLA delegate to support this resolution. (The resolution did not come up for a vote, but ALA’s delegate had made it clear that he would not support it.)

Here is what Lithuania’s delegation wrote to ASCUBI President Margarita Bellas:

“We are terribly sorry for this missunderstanding. Hope you do understand that our intentions were to help you. We had no idea the Mr. Robert Kent is acting without your knowledge.”

Lithuania’s delegation withdrew their resolution, apologizing for having been misled by Robert Kent.

Knowledge of this situation is generally shallow and prejudiced.

Here is the Lithuanian delegate’s letter to Hungarian colleagues:

Fw: Resolution on Cuba for the IFLA
De: “Emilija Banionyte”
Fecha: Tue, 8 Aug 2006 11:36:52 +0300
CC: “Vida Garunkstyte” , , “LBD” ,

Dear Hungarian colleagues,

It is very strange you got our resolution – we did not send it to anybody, but IFLA. Did you also get the withdrawal of the resolution?

Let me explain the whole situation.

Last year during the IFLA conference in Oslo we were approached by American journalist Robert Kent. He wanted us to support his initiative to sign the resolution to free Cuban librarians that had no freedom, some of them were even imprisoned. He had the draft text of the resolution. But we did not sign it in Oslo, as we had to consult our library community. After we returned back after IFLA Mr. Robert Kent wanted to know immediately what our library community thinks and started bombarding us with letters. What we did not do – and this was our greatest mistake – we did not consult Cuban librarians themselves. Our library community after some discussions supported the resolution and we signed it and sent to IFLA headquarters. The text was written by Mr. Robert Kent – we only signed it. Find attached.

After a coulpe of months we were approached by the President of the Association of Cuban Librarians Ms Margarita Bellas. Her letter simply shocked us (find attached). We started corresponding with her and found out that lots of things Mr. Robert Kent claimed were not true. While Mr. Robert Kent claims Ms Margarita Bellas is lying, as she is acting under the influence of the revolutionary regime and she has to lie. To prove this Mr. Robert Kent started the whole compain – I am receiving various letters from various people. Your letter is one of his compaingn – now he is acting with the hands of some other “former soviet” librarians currently living in the “free” US.

All this seems rather strange.

Our sincere intension was to help Cuban librarians, therefore we signed the resolution. The initaitive was not ours, but Mr. Robert Kent’s. As we found out, that Cubans themselves do not need this help and this is a political game, we decided to withdraw our resolution and we did it. IFLA is informed about it via e-mail and fax.

We are very sory about all this mess. Somebody started some political game with our hands. Because of lack of experience and because of honest approach to our collegues we did believe and got involved into it. In the future we will be much more careful about such situations.

We have got invitation from Cuban colleagues to come and visit their country and see how things are there, how libraries and librarians are working. We are going to meet them at IFLA in Seoul and talk in person.

I hope I managed to explain the whole situation in short. Should you have more questions, please do not hesitate to ask.


Emilija Banionyte
Lithuanian Librarians’ Association, Vice-President
Vilnius Pedagogical University, Library Director
Studentu 39, LT- 01806 Vilnius, Lithuania
tel./faks. +370 5 2750340; mobile +370 698 88192
Skype: emilijaban

This letter and a larger thread is published in Librinsula.

How many public statements in support of Cuba’s “independent librarians” are similar to Lithuanian librarians initial information-poor decision? How many public statements in support of Kent’s cause, by Left intellectuals and others, are based on similarly quick decisions, in the absence of independent research? I hope that some of the Left intellectuals so frequently cited by activists who agree with them on scarcely anything else will follow Lithuania’s lead and actually talk to Cuba’s librarians about the situation. Opposition to the Cuban government in this situation is too convenient and low-cost to resist for many Leftists under pressure, but the real facts demand otherwise.

9 comments on “Lithuanian librarians apologize for being duped by Robert Kent over Cuba

  1. Has there ever been a case in recent years where an ASCUBI official has criticized any repressive policy of the Cuban government? Like, for example, when the ALA protests sections of the Patriot Act? Would anyone seriously expect ASCUBI to protest the imprisonment of any dissident in Cuba, including those trying to set up their own libraries? Maybe there are Cuban librarians who would protest such repression, but I doubt you would find any among the leadership of the national association. It is naive to rely on ASCUBI leaders as if they are objective commentators on the degree of intellectual freedom or freedom of access to information that exists in Cuba today.

  2. Thoughtful post and thanks for bringing attention to the Lithuanian Librarians Association volte face. However, I thought the comments that the situation is “too convenient and low-cost to resist” is pretty sneering and snarky.

    Someone can still be a progressive and support those in Cuba who want greater political freedom. I understand that the US funding as tainted the Cuban “librarians” and no one can deny the corrosive impact of US imperialism. However, it is possible to be against the Castro dictatorship and US imperialism. It is a respectable position that doesn’t deserve sneers.

  3. Respecting independent dissidence in Cuba is not the same as supporting the “independent library movement.” The “independent library movement” is US directed and funded (meaning not independent, hence the quotation marks). It is part of the overall US strategy toward regime change. There is a degree of independent dissidence, but people in those groups are scrupulous about not accepting funding that comes from the US. So, they are not a part of the “independent library movement.” Those independent dissident groups are not treated so harshly by the Cuban government, which is primarily interested in defending its sovereignty against the United States, very understandably in my opinion.

  4. I don’t know how will the following table will appear on the Juice blog, so if you want a clean copy, ask me at Here goes:

    It is alleged that the Independent Library Operators received funds as well as equipment and literature from the US Interests Section in Havana. The USIS does not deny supplying these persons with equipment and literature, but does deny providing cash to them.

    Based on Cuban court documents posted at here is a Summary of Funds Received by the LIBRARY PRISONERS, by wire or transfer from U.S. shores:
    Joe Gabriel Ramon Castillo: $7,000 during 2002 and forward.
    Luis Milan Fernandez: No funds mentioned.
    Leonel de Peralta Almenares: No funds mentioned.
    Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos: $1,300.
    Jose Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernandez: $2,000.
    Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodriguez: No dollar amount stated, but accused of receiving “dollars and other goods.”
    Ricardo Severino Gonzalez Alfonso: No funds mentioned.
    Raul Ramon Rivero Castañeda: No dollar amount stated, but accused of receiving “payment for his harmful writings.”
    Hector Palacio Ruiz: Wrote articles “in exchange for $15 to $100 … magazines, newspapers and web pages … paid him between $15 and $25.”
    Julio Antonio Valdes Guevara: No funds mentioned.
    Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona: Deposited $315.03 (USD) in a Cuban bank. Received 2001 through 2003 a total of $2070.10.
    Fidel Suarez Cruz: No funds mentioned.
    Felix Navarro Rodriguez and “… through supposed friends and family
    Ivan Hernandez Carrillo: members … receiving … $3352 between November 2001 and March [2003].”
    Guido Sigler Amaya: Received $500 in 2001, $2400 in 2002 and $200 in 2003, from antirevolutionary Angel D’Fana.
    Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero: Received $1,380 in the 18 months from October 2001 to his March arrest.

    These funds are quite similar to the amounts of remittances sent home to Mexico and Central America by recent immigrants in the United States, as well as remittances sent during the past four decades by members of the Cuba exile community in the US, Europe and elsewhere to friends and relatives still on the island.

    Steve Marquardt
    212 Sundance Pass
    Brookings, South Dakota 57006-3600

  5. I would expect you to have been following the debate a little more closely than that. The funding mostly flows, as Ann Sparanese, Dana Lubow and other have said, through NGOs that are funded by the State Dept. Here is an excerpt from Ann Sparanese’s January, 2001 report to the ALA IRC, which is available online.

    Who funds Cubanet, the Directorio, and the “independent libraries” – and why is this important?

    A recent book entitled Psy War Against Cuba by Jon Elliston (Ocean Press, 1999), reveals, using declassified US government documents, the history of a small piece of the 40-year-old propaganda war waged by our country against the government of Cuba. The US has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars over these years to subvert and overthrow the current Cuban government – US activities have included complete economic embargo, assassinations and assassination attempts, sabotage, bombings, invasions, and “psyops.” When even the fall of the Soviet Union and the devastation of the Cuban economy in the early 1990’s did not produce the desired effect, the US embarked on additional, subtler, campaigns to overthrow the Cuban government from within. One element of this approach is the funneling of monetary support to dissident groups wherever they can be found, or created. This includes bringing cash into the country through couriers such as Mr. Kent, and increasing support to expatriate groups operating inside the US, such as the Directorio, Cubanet and especially, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) The website Afrocubaweb ( ) has gathered information from the Miami Herald and other sources to document the recipients of this US funding. USAID, a US government Agency, supported the Directorio Revolucionario Democratico Cubano to the amount of $554,835 during 1999. This is the group that supports the “independent librarians” in Cuba and is listed as their “foreign representative.” The money that they send to Cuba, as well as the “small amounts” of cash that Mr. Kent carried illegally to Cuba violates Cuban law, which does not allow foreign funding of their political process. Neither does the United States allow foreign funding of its own political process – the furor around alleged Chinese “contributions” to the Democratic Party is a case in point. The “independent libraries” may be independent of their own government, but they are not independent of the US government. The US government is not the only anti-Castro entity that has adjusted its policy to changing times– the most right-wing forces in the Cuban expatriate community have also stepped up their support of dissident elements inside Cuba over the last few years. The Miami Herald reported in September 2000 that “the leading institution of this city’s exile community plans to quadruple the amount of money it sends to dissident leaders on the island…” This leading institution is the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), and the article reports that part of the group’s $10,000,000 budget will begin “flowing to the island through sympathetic dissidents by the end of the year.” More specifically, CANF will, among other declared activities, “increase funds to buy books for its [Cuba’s] independent libraries.”

    What is CANF? What is its record on free expression, intellectual freedom, and democratic rights here in the USA?

    The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) was founded by Jorge Mas Canosa, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and CIA operative, at the behest of the Reagan administration in 1982. It has become the most wealthy and powerful voice of the right-wing Cuban community in South Florida and has wielded extraordinary political power for the last twenty years. It has been connected to violence and terrorism both in Cuba and in Miami. Its newest tactic, as described above, is to “support” dissidents in Cuba, including buying books for “independent” libraries, presumably to support “freedom of expression” in Cuba. Mr. Kent and Mr. Sanguinetty claim to be proponents of human rights and frequently refer to the “landmark” IFLA “report.” But they seem to have no problem with their libraries’ CANF connection, even though CANF was the subject of a truly “landmark” report issued by Americas Watch, a division of Human Rights Watch, in 1992. The Americas Watch report on CANF is the first that organization ever issued against a human rights violator in a city of the United States. It states that “a \’repressive climate for freedom of expression’ had been created by anti-Castro Cuban-American leaders in which violence and intimidation had been used to quiet exiles who favor a softening of policies toward Cuba.”(7) The executive director of Americas Watch at that time, said “We do not know of any other community in the United States with this level of intimidation and lack of freedom to dissent.”(8) The report documents “how Miami Cubans who are opposed to the Cuban government harass political opponents with bombings, vandalism, beatings and death threats.”(9) A campaign spearheaded by CANF against the Miami Herald in the early nineties resulted in bombings of Herald newpaper boxes and death threats to staff.(10) Pressure from CANF closed the Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture because it showed work by artists who had not “broken” with Cuba.(11) Anyone who followed the Elian Gonzalez case this past year noted that tolerance for dissenting views by Cuban Americans was completely lacking in Florida and a hostile atmosphere was maintained by CANF during the duration of the affair. Can you imagine what the life expectancy of a pro-Castro “independent library” in the middle of Little Havana would be, given this history? CANF does not respect freedom of expression or democratic rights in the USA, yet it is a direct financial supporter of Mr. Kent’s independent libraries. Neither Mr.Kent nor Mr. Sanguinetty have disowned this support – in fact they haven’t even mentioned it! They have not chosen to examine or criticize the lack of free expression among the very people that give them succor and publicity here at home, yet they claim to be its great champions in Cuba!

  6. In addition, this more recent information, from a report of NED grants for the Carribean:

    Bibliotecas Independientes de Cuba (Independent Libraries of Cuba, or BIC)
    Special DOS Cuba Funds
    To promote intellectual freedom and debate inside Cuba. BIC will continue to provide direct financial and material assistance to independent libraries in Cuba and promote international awareness of the library movement. BIC staff will travel to Latin America and Spain to meet with libraries, universities, think tanks, and other organizations to enlist their support for individual libraries and the libraries movement. 6/05

  7. Speaking of disinformation, would be kind enough to provide me with copies of the contracts Mr. Kent and Ms. Albright have with the C.I.A. or whichever branch of the U.S. government is funding their overtly subversive activities against the government of Cuba. And documentary evidence, similiar to the sentencing documents of those private citizens who lent books out of the privacy of their homes, and which were posted to the internet, should also be posted in support of such contentions.

    Also, what funding does the U.S. government disburse to NGO’s dedicated to Freedom of Information and literacy programs in countries which are not currently under despotic rule? How does such funding compare, proportionally, to that sent to Cuba?

    Thank you, Rory.

  8. What happened at the IFLA conference is an indication of the growing awareness of the library community worldwide that there is much more to the case of the “independent librarians” in Cuba than meets the eye. Even Mr. Marquardt is now calling them independent library “operators.”

    The resolution against Cuba proposed by the Latvians could not even get a second!

    The reason for this is that it is becoming well-known and understood that this “library” campaign is part of the broad well-funded strategy, restated with vigor in the 2006 Cuba Commission report to bring about “regime change” in Cuba. (This report also has a secret,classified appendix, planning what, I wonder.)


    Although most of the $80 million dollars earmarked for this program will be disbursed among the lucrative anti-Cuba industry (mainly) in South Florida, some of it is indeed cash that goes to dissidents on the island. See the article in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel on just this subject:,0,5833072.story

    Cubans who accept this cash AND equipment from the US government are in violation of Cuban law. As would any US citizen be subject to arrest if he/she accepted so much as a dollar or a fax machine from the Cuban government. By US law, foreign governments are not allowed to fund the political process in our country and we have laws to make sure that they don’t. You can go to jail and there are a few people in jail right now for being “unregistered agents of a foreign power.” “Trading with the enemy” is a criminal offense in the US.

    BTW, the AP, through a FOIA request, got a list of the USAID funds spent to influence the political situation in Venezuela, another sovereign nation on the Bush hit list. Most of the names of the recipients are “not identified.” And the “transition initiatative” dollars allocated to Venezuelan are only $26 million. (see

    Why should the U.S. government do to other countries what it does not allow other countries to do to us? And why should we support that?

    This funding, and the fact that some Cuban dissidents have taken it and are now in prison, is problematic to other well-known members of the political opposition in Cuba (namely Osvaldo Paya and Elisardo Sanchez, who are NOT in prison). As Wayne Smith, former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (in effect, the U.S. Embassy), says, “…when the U.S. says its objective is to bring down the Cuban government, and then says that one of its means of accomplishing that is by providing funds to Cuban dissidents, it in effect places them in the position of being paid agents of a foreign power seeking to overthrow their own.”


    This is an ongoing debate within the political opposition in Cuba – but whether or not some dissidents have done this is not disputed.

    site that claims to have the actual sentencing documents is of mysterious provenance for the simple reason that it is funded anonymously. But a detailed reader will also see that when you read the descriptions of individual dissidents, only TWO of them actually have something to do with “independent libraries”! And BTW, Hector Palacios has never been an “independent librarian.” It is his wife, Gisela Delgado, who makes that claim and SHE is not in jail. In fact if one were to believe Kent’s press releases about over a hundred “independent libraries” existing on the island, one would have to conclude that most of their owners are NOT in jail. That figures, since it is not against the law to have a shared library in Cuba, but it is against the law to accept financial support from Cuba’s admitted arch enemy, the US.

    NOT ONE of these library “operators,” (to use Mr. Marquardt’s term) has EVER been a librarian, library worker or even associated with libraries in any way before their incarnation as “independent librarians!” And NOT ONE genuine Cuban librarian or library worker has joined the “independents.” That should tell us something.

    The idea of calling longstanding political oppositionists “librarians” was brilliant; it is a strategy that trades on our good name to gather sympathy for people who have never had anything to do with libraries in their lives. (This includes Ramon Colas, the “founder” of the “Independent Library Movement” – a psychologist by education, who then migrated to the US and was immediately employed by the rightwing Cuban American National Foundation – and not as a librarian.)

    As far as documentation for the funding of Kent’s group, asked in one comment to this blog, read the New York Times article of July 28, 2003 (“A Library in Cuba: What Is It?”) which states that Kent’s co-founder of the “Friends of Cuban Libraries,” Jorge Sanguinetty (an economist, not a librarian) is a paid consultant for USAID (it says the USAID is his “main” client!) So the connection is more than a little transparent. In the same article Kent admitted that he was a paid operative for both Freedom House and Center for a Free Cuba, another anti-Castro group, both of which receive funds from the US government. Of course, Kent already admitted similarly to a reporter from Library Journal in its conference wrap-up in the August 1, 2003 issue. I quote, “Kent told LJ his group was ‘ad hoc’ and did not have official members but that it was funded by supporters, though he later acknowledged it receives U.S. government funds” (p.42). So let’s not be naïve.

    Those of us who have spoken in defense of real Cuban libraries and librarians do not do so because we believe that Cuba has all the political democracy it needs. On the contrary, we believe that the political space that Cubans need will only be possible once the threat of US aggression is ended. I personally take no pleasure in seeing ostensibly “non violent political opposition” in prison. But as someone with some understanding of the history of US-Cuba relations, I am painfully aware of the violent character of US policy towards Cuba over these past 45+ years. The latest Cuba Commission report reiterates the intention of the US to impose a totally different economic and political system on the Cuban people, as if these people and their sovereignty do not exist at all. That the US would attempt to buy a “fifth column” of dissidents – such as the so-called “independents” of every stripe — ready to assist in any way necessary in these plans for “transition” – is not far-fetched. That’s why I don’t think librarians should be taken in by what is, in its essence, another attempt by the US to destabilize Cuba.

  9. I do not wish to get into a prolonged debate over Cuba here at Rory’s blog. We have had this debate elsewhere. I have already made my point that those involved in this movement or in prison deserve to be judged as individuals, and that the IFLA/FAIFE has gone on record in expressing “their deep concern about the continuing violations of the basic human right to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in Cuba.”

    Regarding Ann’s emphasis that these people are not librarians, to me this is a semantical argument. I agree with Susanne Seidelin, then director of FAIFE, who after a 2001 visit to Cuba, said that
    these “libraries and the collections offer an alternative and seem to some effect to fill a need for information, which for whatever reason, is not easily available at the public libraries;” noted that “most of the owners of the collections are well educated and committed people doing the best they can to support the spread of information,” and concluded that “the argument that they are not ‘professionals’ is largely irrelevant.”

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