The Cuba Debate – Why the “middle” is not the middle

It is still not dead. A resolution has just been sent to the ALA Council list for discussion, calling on ALA to recognize the dissident “independent librarians” as members of the library community who deserve our support as colleagues, calling for the return of “library materials” to the “independent libraries,” and calling for the release of prisoners.

As this debate has worn on and grown tiresome over the years, many people who understandably just want it to go away try to close the books on it by saying, “I’ve heard all the arguments, and I think both sides have a point. They just need to sit down and be rational about it for a change instead of haranguing us on our listservs. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.”

Well, what are both sides saying, and what would the middle be?

On the one side, you have Robert Kent and company, who are campaigning for the cause of Cuban dissidents who have set up “independent libraries” in their homes. He acknowledges that they are dissidents and that their activities contra the Cuban government are the reason for their libraries. But in Kent’s campaign, there is no angle on the issue other than intellectual freedom in a pure, undiluted form. No room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question. For Kent, there is only one side. It is a question of good and evil.

On the other side, you have members of the Progressive Librarians Guild, myself included, and others who have engaged Kent on the listservs where he has sent his campaign messages. We have never advanced the Cuba issue other than to counter Kent where he needs to be countered.

Because we have written and spoken counter to Kent, it would be easy to assume that our message is equally black and white, but this has never been the case.

What we have pointed out, to oversimplify, is that the “independent libraries” are propaganda distribution centers set up in people’s homes rather than libraries in the usual sense, and that they are set up using funds coming from the U.S. government and routed through “pro-democracy” NGO’s that are staffed by members of the Cuban exile community who want their land and property back. (Jorge Sanguinetty should be named, because he is the originator of the “independent library” movement.) The “independent librarians” who have been arrested were arrested for violating a Cuban law that bans citizens from accepting money or material support from a foreign state for the purpose of undermining the government. The United States has a parallel law, as well as a set of more specific laws directed at individuals aiding Cuba, which American citizens also go to prison for violating, a fact which Kent has understandably avoided dealing with, because it does not fit into his simplistic picture.

Some of us who have written against Kent’s campaign are lifelong socialists and friendly toward the Cuban revolution. But readers should not conclude from that that any of us deny support to real, homegrown dissidents in Cuba, or deny that more freedom of speech in Cuba would be a good thing, or that there are serious problems in Cuba that are partly the result of failures of Castro’s government. On this side, you will not find anybody avoiding the true complex nature of the question. This side, I argue, IS the middle.

That is why everybody in the Progressive Librarians Guild who has been working contra Kent over the years was happy with the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s 2003 Report on Cuba, despite its being a response that validated many of Kent’s concerns. We supported it as the final word of the Association. The report is based on ALA’s long history of support for intellectual freedom, and took the occasion to join IFLA in its prior statement on Cuba, which it arrived at because of the same issue. IFLA in 2001 and ALA in the 2003 IFC Report called on Cuba to “eliminate barriers to access to information imposed by its policies,” and expressed their deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of the dissidents, as well as calling on the Cuban library community to monitor violations of the right to free access to information and work to promote civil liberties in Cuba.

Note that PLG liked the report and Kent found it totally inadequate.

PLG liked the report because it dealt with the complexity of the issue. The report recognized the relevance of the US blockade of Cuba in contributing to the conditions there that have led to such a defensive posture, and called on the US to end its economic embargo, because it is also an embargo of information exchange. The report also acknowledged that the “independent librarians” do not consider themselves librarians at all (this based on interviews by members of an IFLA delegation), and that the dissidents are in prison for violating the Cuban law against accepting material support from a foreign power to undermine the state. (The IFC didn’t point out that the U.S. also has such laws, as that would have been to advocate for the Cuban state’s action, which, whether comparable to what the U.S. does or not, is still essentially contrary to intellectual freedom in an absolute sense.)

Kent did not like the Report because it fell short of condemning Cuba for not releasing the imprisoned dissidents. Unlike Kent, the Intellectual Freedom Committee sees the complexity of an issue involving the policies of a sovereign state that has rule of law. I think the IFC used a mature, diplomatic approach in its choice of language regarding the imprisoned dissidents. (The Report says, “ALA joins IFLA in its deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba in spring 2003 and urges the Cuban Government to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – hardly a defense of the Cuban government!)

Now three Councilors, inspired by Kent’s campaign (without which this would not be an issue at all, as he has worked with Sanguinetty from the beginning) are bringing forth a resolution that goes far beyond the IFC report and takes us into quite un-diplomatic territory.

I say the 2003 IFC Report is sufficient and nuanced, and expresses our commitment to intellectual freedom while at the same time respecting the real complexity of the issue. In a very general way, I think it is a much better example of what intellectual freedom means to us as librarians than are Kent’s absolutist missives. I hope you’ll contact a Councilor and express your opposition to the resolution.

44 comments on “The Cuba Debate – Why the “middle” is not the middle

  1. Not everyone in the PLG liked the report. Mark Rosenzweig wrote a letter of apology to the Cuban Library Association in which he described the ALA report/resolution as an affront to his Cuban colleagues.

    Regarding the reasons behind the arrests and trials of these and other dissidents in Cuba in 2003, it would be helpful to refer to reports from human organizations such as Amnesty International, which considers all the individuals to be prisoners of conscience who received unfair trials and who should be released immediately.

  2. Rory Litwin says, “But in Kent’s campaign, there is no angle on the issue other than intellectual freedom in a pure, undiluted form. No room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question.”

    This is the pot calling the kettle black. To the ALA, and specifically its Office for Intellectual Freedom, “there is no angle on the issue other than intellectual freedom in a pure, undiluted form. No room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question.”

    And the question to which this applies in my opinion for one example? The question of whether to allow children access to sexually inappropriate material. The ALA says intellectual freedom requires children to be able to access anything, then choose for themselves what to winnow out. The ALA has “no room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question.”

    What complexity? Here’s a great example, straight from a former ALA councilor who I know to be “progressive” but honest:

    It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much — the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.

    “Totally different.” Get that? I cannot believe you expect people to be swayed that Robert Kent has “no room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question” when your own “progressive” former ALA councilor is clearly stating the ALA itself has “no room for the complexity which we know characterizes the question.”

    Similarly, the US Supreme Court said in US v. ALA, a case the ALA lost and lost big, “The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree.” But I have no doubt you and others like you will find a reason that does not apply. And “intellectual freedom” tops that hit parade.

    By the way, I find it intellectually dishonest that you, Rory, and others are saying who cares about the Cuban librarians, after all we discussed them five years ago, and anyone who raises the issue now is just causing trouble. Really? You win an argument by clamming up and referring to what you said five years ago?

  3. Book Burning is “Complex?”

    Here is a response to Peter McDonald’s fallacious article on the ALA/Cuba controversy in the June/July 2008 issue of American Libraries:

    Peter McDonald (“ALA’s Stand on Cuba’s Independent Libraries,” June/July 2008) seems puzzled as to why this controversy continues. He asserts that the ALA’s “nuanced” reports and resolutions on Cuba show an “abiding understanding” of this “complex” issue.

    In reality, there is nothing “nuanced” about the decade-long effort within the ALA to ignore the appalling truth: Cuba is the only country in the world where library workers are being systematically persecuted.

    There is nothing “complex” about the burning of library collections, mob attacks against librarians and 25-year prison terms for the alleged crime of operating a library, all of which the ALA and Mr. McDonald are trying to ignore. If Mr. McDonald doesn’t believe Amnesty International, People for the American Way and other human rights groups protesting these outrages, he can refer to the Cuban government’s own court records on the one-day trials held in 2003. Mr. McDonald, like the ALA’s Cuba researchers over the past decade, ignores these damning documents as if they do not exist, even after copies were obtained by Amnesty International and published on the Internet.

    Sadly, the well-meaning but complacent majority on the ALA Council has been maneuvered into passing resolutions blaming other nations for Cuba’s human rights violations while expressing vague regret over the arrest of unnamed Cubans for unnamed offenses, in the platitudinous style of beauty contestants who “want the whole world to be happy.” In sharp contrast, 76% of respondents to the only ALA membership poll on Cuba called for a condemnation of the repression in Cuba. When will the Council begin to listen to the evidence-based concerns of the membership?

    Celebrated speakers at ALA conferences have repeatedly urged the association to honor its principles with regard to Cuba. At the ALA’s most recent conference, speaker Anthony Lewis told the audience: “I think there can’t be anything worse than putting librarians in prison because of their being librarians and giving people books to read…. Cuban librarians who have been in prison are entitled to the utmost support from this organization.” And Mr. McDonald is wrong in implying that Anthony Lewis has retracted his comments. After the event, he told Nat Hentoff that he was “proud and happy with what he had said.”

    Mr. McDonald claims that the Friends of Cuban Libraries engage in “politics.” Like the anti-racism activists around the world who organized to oppose apartheid in South Africa, we in the Friends of Cuban Libraries believe the unprecedented repression of library workers in Cuba deserves international attention. Our members hold a range of views on many issues, but we are united in believing it cannot be a crime to oppose censorship or to open a library, in Cuba or any other country. Our efforts to defend intellectual freedom and to oppose book burning are a matter of principle, not partisan politics.

    We continue to defend Cuba’s brave and innovative independent library movement, a uniquely Cuban contribution to the worldwide struggle for human rights. As for the ALA’s failure to oppose book burning and library repression by the Castro regime, we agree with the statement Nat Hentoff made before renouncing the ALA’s Immroth Award for intellectual freedom: “It would be astonishing and shameful if the American Library Association does not support – and gather support for – the courageous independent librarians of Cuba, some of whom have been imprisoned by Castro for very long terms for advocating the very principles of the freedom to read and think that the American Library Association has so long fought for in this country.”

    Robert Kent
    The Friends of Cuban Libraries

  4. Re: “Obvious propaganda from Kent, ignoring a number of essential points…”

    Reporting the findings of Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, IFLA, et al. is not propaganda. How about the Cuban government’s own court records, which prove that the librarians were sentenced to 25-year jail terms for the “crime” of opening libraries? Not to mention court orders to burn entire library collections, including such “propaganda works” as Animal Farm and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    For librarians, what can be more “essential” than protesting the ultimate act of contempt for our principles: the burning of library collections?

    Perhaps there some aspect of the term “book burning” which Mr. Litwin feels the ALA should continue trying to ignore.

    And for photos of what happens when government-mobs assault library workers, take a look at:

    Mr. Litwin wants us to ignore these outrages, too, along with all the others.

  5. This is propaganda. The idea that the Cuban government is burning the International Declaration of Human Rights is absurd.

    Kent and Co. have written repeatedly about books banned that are not, books burned that were not. The whole thing is a propaganda project. As I said, Sanguinetty and Kent have been involved in this together from the beginning. But more on that to follow.

  6. Wrong again, Mr. Litwin. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a key document in the ALA’s own Library Bill of Rights, is repeatedly listed among the confiscated library materials ordered to be burned by the Cuban courts. These damning trial documents, which the ALA “researchers” and Mr. Litwin don’t want ALA members to know about, have been removed from the island and published on the Internet for all the world to read. All mention of these key documents “disappeared” from the ALA’s report on Cuba written in 2004.

    For chilling details from these grim documents, specifically the case of library director Julio Valdes, see the article below from our website (

    Library books burned by court order

    NEW YORK, Sept. 28, 2003 (Friends of Cuban Libraries) – On April 5, after a one-day trial before the State Security Court in the city of Santiago, Cuban dissident Julio ValdĂ©s was convicted of conspiring with U.S. diplomats to commit “crimes against the national sovereignty and economy of Cuba” and sentenced to 20 years in prison. One of the accusations made against Julio ValdĂ©s was the founding of a “self-proclaimed Independent Library” to “ideologically subvert the reader with the clear purpose, by means of inducing confusion, to recruit persons for the counter-revolution…” After sentencing the defendant to 20 years in prison, the judges also condemned Valdes’ library materials as “lacking in usefulness” and ordered them to be destroyed by fire.

    These startling details are contained in leaked court documents on the case of Julio ValdĂ©s and other dissidents convicted during the Castro regime’s spring crackdown on the island nation’s emerging civil society. The voluminous legal documents relating to these trials, smuggled off the island and recently published on the World Wide Web by Florida State University, can be seen at: ( The legal papers, in the original Spanish and in English translation, confirm Amnesty International’s conclusion that the defendants arrested in the spring roundup are prisoners of conscience detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The newly-published documents also contradict government denials that Cuban citizens are being persecuted for opening a network of independent libraries. Since 1998, approximately 200 independent libraries have been established across the island with the goal of challenging the Castro regime’s system of censorship.

    The court papers published on the Internet detail a March 19 raid on the home of Julio ValdĂ©s, during which he was arrested and the contents of his library were cataloged and seized, along with medicines, photographic film, an audio cassette and radios. Among the “subversive” library materials cataloged in the trial proceedings were copies of “Cuba’s Repressive Machinery” by Human Rights Watch, issues of TIME magazine, pamphlets on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Catholic periodicals, “Letters from Burma” by Aung San Suu Kyi, and the text of speeches made by various persons during the European Parliament’s ceremony awarding the Sakharov Prize, in absentia, to Cuban dissident leader Oswaldo PayĂĄ. The court condemned Julio ValdĂ©s for “accumulating books, magazines and pamphlets by counter-revolutionary authors in foreign countries, principally in Miami, Florida, United States of America, which exhort civil disobedience, twisting historical events and the achievements of illustrious thinkers and revolutionary patriots…” in order to “provoke the destruction of the political, social and economic order now existing in Cuba….”

    After sentencing Julio ValdĂ©s to twenty year in prison, the presiding judges in his case also decreed: “As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack usefulness.”

  7. Nobody who knows a bit about propaganda can deny that this your press releases like the one above are perfect examples of it. The actual court documents cite a few documents destroyed (what else is the Cuban government supposed to do with counter-revolutionary materials sent in from USAID?) but not anything like the hundreds repeatedly cited in your propaganda. And you should note that the choice examples you cite are books and documents that are freely available in Cuba’s public libraries, not banned at all as you have claimed.

    And I notice no denial of any association with Jorge Sanguinetty….

  8. More non sequiturs from Rory Litwin.

    After we posted the document on the trial of Julio Valdes (see above), there has still been no correction by Mr. Litwin of his denial that the Universal Declaration is listed among the titles burned following library raids in Cuba.

    As to your question about “no denial of any association with Jorge Sanguinetty,” Jorge’s position as co-chair of the Friends has been publicized since our organization’s first press announcement, issued in June 1999.

  9. Do you deny that Sanguinetty has been on the payroll of USAID for “pro-democracy” activities re Cuba?

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available in Cuban Public Libraries. Note that the United States has not ratified one of the two treaties that codify the declaration into law, and has ratified only sections of the other. (These are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.) That Cuba is in a similar position, having signed but not ratified these treaties, and that they are doing a better job than us in some human rights areas and a worse job in others, makes it hard for us to beat Cuba over the head with the declaration without looking stupid. The US has tended to fight off human rights claims that have economic implications, just as Cuba, under seige from the US, has unfortunately felt the need for policies that are counter to intellectual freedom. I think the ALA IFC’s 2003 Report on Cuba addressed the situation in the best way possible. It expressed our own beliefs about intellectual freedom and about how they should deal with the situation, but in a way that respects their national sovereignty.

  10. Rory. You say Robert Kent is using “propaganda.” You say this over and over again.

    Propaganda is the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. (Courtesy of Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia.)

    It appears to me that Robert Kent is only trying to advocate on behalf of the very freedoms the ALA claims to advocate as well.

    If Robert Kent is seeking intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, or freedom from being beaten and jailed for life for being a librarian, are these not good things?

    Propaganda is usually used in context of something negative. Am I wrong about this?

    So if Robert Kent is attempting to free people from jail and get them medical attention and the freedom to speak, are these not good goals? Are you saying propaganda is being used to promote these good goals?

    Please explain your claim of his using propaganda. How is he doing it? What are his claimed goals? What are his actually goals in your opinion? What are examples of propaganda you see him doing? Please specify.

  11. As to Jorge Sanguinetty, we value his support for intellectual freedom. If you have questions about his work as a consultant, he is best qualified to respond.

    And thanks, Mr. Litwin, for illuminating in these exchanges the Rosenzweig faction’s ongoing refusal to deal rationally or ethically with book burning and library persecution. We can only hope that many ALA leaders are monitoring these exchanges as they prepare to vote on the Cuba resolution.

  12. “what else is the Cuban government supposed to do with counter-revolutionary materials sent in from USAID?” That is a revealing comment. I suggest the materials described in this sentencing document are not counter-revolutionary and in any case, the government had no business confiscating and destroying these items.

  13. It is indeed amusing that Robert Kent has as one of his advocates here Dan Kleinman from the PRO-CENSORSHIP “Safe Libraries” organization, like FCL, another anti-ALA hate group. (see “Safe Libraries” web site at ).

    Mr Kleinman, who objects to Rory Litwin’s characterization of Kent’s efforts as “propaganda”, is quite understandably perturbed because, like his fellow ALA-hater, he is in charge of a similar classic propaganda effort aimed at ALA , a monomaniacal web site which attempts to distort what is going on in American libraries to suggest that ALA “promotes porn” and to make the further point that porn-loving ALA somehow actually “controls” local libraries. This is much as, in Mr Kent’s fanciful propaganda world, the mythical “Rosenzweig faction” “controls” ALA. As the “Rosenzweig” in question, I can assure readers of this blog that the existence of such a faction under my leadership , never mind the dominating influence of such a group on ALA, is as true as Kent’s constantly re-iterated assertions about things like Cuba’s “banning” the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “the [sic] biography of Martin Luther King”, and countless other assertions he makes in constructing his fable of the “independent librarians” — the latter a group of non-librarians with no interest in or connection to librarianship, whose utter _non-independence_ from the US’ anti- Cuba operations is so patently obvious.

    As in all propaganda, such claims are made not for their truth-value but for their usefulness in affecting opinion, a purely instrumental notion of truth which is based on the idea that if you say something enough times, loudly enough and with utter conviction, and get others to repeat it after a while, it makes it appear true.

    As Rory Litwin has been suggesting, truth is always complex, propaganda is always simple. Kent and Kleinman believe in keeping it simple and saying it often and loud. It is, unfortunately, a strategy which has often worked in the past. Goebbel’s was a great admirer of it: he called it “the big lie” technique.

    It was usefully characterized as follows by an OSS analyst:
    ” … never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

  14. Close readers will note that Mr. Litwin now concedes the authenticity of the Cuban court records which order the burning of confiscated library collections.

    And since Mr. Rosenzweig insists that the “truth is always complex,” would he like to clarify why burning books is complex?

  15. The situation cannot be summed up as “burning books.” To try to do so is to oversimplify the situation in the extreme, and a good example of a propaganda technique.

  16. Setting aside for the moment other aspects of this debate, I have a question for Mark and Rory: it is now five years since the rigged trials took place in Cuba. Do either of you believe that any of the remaining prisoners should still be in jail?

  17. For my part, I’ll say that it’s not something I have an opinion about, and that I think it would be rather arrogant for me to have an opinion about it, since I’m not a Cuban citizen but an American observer. It’s their country, not mine.

  18. It isn’t arrogant to speak up on behalf of people unfairly imprisoned in Cuba or elsewhere. Otherwise Amnesty International would be out of business. It is a false humility.

  19. I don’t think so. I’m not saying categorically that I am opposed to having an opinion about what goes on in another country, just that in this case it’s not my business to judge whether five years is “long enough.” They have a legal system and sentencing guidelines. They also know a lot more about the details of what actually happened. A lot of what American observers think they know about these cases has turned out to be wrong. I think I’d be stepping out of my place in this case to have an opinion about the length of their sentences. It isn’t something that can be separated from American power and from our country’s attempts to have its way with Cuba over the years. My opinion is that our country should have more respect for Cuba’s sovereignty, even if there are things going on there that we don’t approve of.

  20. Unfortunately none of the individuals in question received fair trials, so even the authorities there don’t know if the sentences are justified under their own legislation. But according to Amnesty International (not an American organization) all of these detained individuals are prisoners of conscience detained for the nonviolent expression of their dissident views. Other human rights organizations share this view. For its part the American Library Association says it is deeply concerned over the arrests and trials.

  21. One thing you will not find in the Amnesty International report is any reference to these dissidents as librarians. It’s AI’s business to address situations across the globe that fall into this category. Cuba is not at the top of their list. If you look at the reports they file about human rights abuses worldwide, I think you’ll find that the US shows up more frequently than Cuba. (Anyway, that’s what I found the last time I checked.) So this focus on Cuba is not quite fair. It seems to be because it is about “librarians,” but we’re only discussing this in a library context because calling of the success of the propaganda tactic of calling them librarians in the first place.

  22. I never felt the issue was about whether the individuals in question qualified as librarians, but rather their right to establish libraries, or collections if you prefer, and make these available to the public. Cuba is a country where up to now all avenues of information have been controlled by the government. As to Amnesty International, in their report on this crackdown, they did not use the term “librarian” but did refer to “private libraries” held by many of the arrested dissidents and declared all of them to be prisoners of conscience who were unfairly tried and who should be released immediately. See:

  23. I think a small collection of books (generally smaller than yours or mine) does not make a library. As librarians, I think we should be stressing this, because it is our expertise that makes a library. These collections were supplied by USAID for propaganda purposes, not for the purposes of responding to any information needs of Cubans (note that the books that Kent & Co. have said are banned in Cuban public libraries are not). The lack of any training in librarianship for these dissidents is not insignificant. We should be stressing that it takes a librarian to make a library, in the interest of our own profession, which we know doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

  24. Rory Litwin places an emphasis on one Amnesty report which does not mention the librarians while ignoring all of the other Amnesty reports which do mention this fact.

    As for the Rosenzweig group’s usual charge that the independent librarians are “not librarians” because they do not have degrees in librarianship, they fail to mention that many library workers around the world, inluding past and present Cuban National Library directors such as Eliades Acosta, also lack degrees.

    And Mr. Litwin is not eager to publicize the fact that Eliades Acosta is apparently in hot water after recently declaring himself in favor of an open, pluralistic society where diverse opinions can be expressed without fear. For more on Acosta’s startling break with official orthodoxy, see the Recent News section of the Friends’ website: (

  25. Kent, to us, Acosta’s statement is not startling because we know that he and Cubans in general have much more freedom of speech than anti-Cuban propaganda has led Americans to believe.

    Regarding the dissidents’ non-status as librarians, their lack of degrees is only one small criterion. The more important facts are that they don’t consider themselves librarians, have no training in library service whatsoever, and are not attempting to function as librarians or offer any kind of library service. The name “librarian” has been applied to them as a propaganda tactic to generate sympathy from Americans, especially American librarians, as you should know because it seems to have been your and Sanguinetty’s idea in the first place.

  26. As in all propaganda, such claims are made not for their truth-value but for their usefulness in affecting opinion, a purely instrumental notion of truth which is based on the idea that if you say something enough times, loudly enough and with utter conviction, and get others to repeat it after a while, it makes it appear true.

    Here, Mark Rosenzweig accurately defines the methodological history of all Western socialist movements.

  27. After visiting Cuba in 2001, Susanne Seidelin, director of IFLA’s FAIFE, noted that Cuban regulations on public libraries “suggest that should a work hold opinions that contradict the cultural or educational policy of the country it is not likely to be selected and made publicly available. On this ground, Cuba’s government politics provides a fixed framework for the selection of materials and thus the possible infliction of censorship in various degrees through selection policies. From what we learned, there is no doubt that a wide range of information or literature expressing current opinions is unavailable in the libraries of Cuba. Even when publications are held, their use may be restricted or monitored to the extent that ordinary people may be inhibited or even prevented from gaining access to them.” She said the independent libraries in Cuba provided an alternative source of needed information in Cuba, and that “the argument that they are not ‘professionals’ is largely irrelevant.” See:

    Since the ALA has gone on record in the 2004 resolution as joining with the IFLA in expressing its deep concern over the 2003 crackdown in Cuba, and since the ALA also called for Cuba to allow a U.N. Special Rapporteur to visit the country to investigate this situation, the question now is how to properly follow up on this deep concern. Joining with Amnesty International and other human rights groups in calling for the release of the remaining prisoners would seem appropriate after five years of detention for these individuals who were sentenced in rigged trials. At the very least the ALA could act on its deep concern by inquiring why a UN Special Rapporteur has not yet been allowed to visit Cuba; it could also inquire about the health and well-being of the remaining prisoners and their families.

  28. At this point I want to direct readers of this thread to a follow-up post. It links to a very nice, detailed history of the “independent library” movement, Friends of Cuban Libraries, and ALA and IFLA’s activities in relation to them, just released by the ALA International Relations Committee. I think it is going to be an essential point of reference on this issue for years to come, and I applaud the IRC for putting it together and doing such a thorough job.

  29. Any people interested in this issue will find in this report, now blogged on Library Juice, an excellent summary. Kudos to those in the ALA International Relations Office who worked on this Cuba Update. As Rory Litwin remarks, it will be a touchstone for any subsequent consideration by ALA of this matter It provides the basis for any objective consideration of the issues as they might be presented to ALA.

  30. Re Rory Litwin’s claim that the independent lbrarians don’t consider themselves librarians, this is another myth created by ALA-supplied “interpreters” during the IFLA visit to Cuba in 2001. And the independent librarians have their own training courses in librarianship, as well as regular programs in their libraries to offer classes, exhibits, film showings, children’s programs and uncensored debates.

    As to Michael Dowling’s new opus, isn’t it interesting that his account has no room for any mention of intellectual freedom or book burning in Cuba? Instead of worrying about U.S. government appropriations to support libraries and intellectual freedom , shouldn’t he and the ALA be more concerned about Cuban appropriations to raid libraries, burn their collections, and sentence library workers to 20-year prison terms?

  31. Mr. Kent,

    I would be very interested to know the full extent of your involvement with the Cuban “independent librarians” themselves. It is striking the way you know details like this that aren’t available to other Americans. How did you first learn about them? Were you involved in setting them up in the first place? I have heard (second hand) some rather scandalous reports from a Cuban agent about your activities there, not that I am ready to believe what I have heard. I am wondering if you would be willing to answer the question: what is your specific involvement with the “independent librarians?”

  32. Well Robert Kent? Will you respond to the questions posed by Rory Litwin? You have been asked them before and have failed to respond.

    In a previous comment in this thread you said:

    “In sharp contrast, 76% of respondents to the only ALA membership poll on Cuba called for a condemnation of the repression in Cuba. When will the Council begin to listen to the evidence-based concerns of the membership?”

    Yes, Robert Kent does indeed engage in propaganda. For instance, this is not the first electronic communication in which the claim has been made of a majority response to an ALA poll. This is false. ALA issued no such poll. “American Libraries,” a magazine of the American Library Association, has from time to time conducted online polls. “American Libraries” states that these polls are not scientific. In other words, they do not carry reliability or validity. According to the “American Libraries” web site: “These are unscientific polls that reflect the opinions of only those AL Direct readers who have chosen to participate.” And I’m not sure how many times an individual was allowed to “participate.” Yet, on at least several occasions, it has been implied that this is an official ALA poll of the association’s membership. Robert Kent is well aware of the fact that this poll does not provide “evidence-based concerns of the membership.” It has been pointed out to him on several occasions.

    Robert Kent consistently distorts facts. In my opinion this is because ALA did not say and do exactly as he wished. He does not appear to value the democratic process, but seems instead to want to dictate what our association says and does. It isn’t about accepting what has been decided after reasonable periods of debate. The wishes of the few trump those of the many. At times it seems he will stop at nothing to achieve his ends. He has repeatedly spammed subject-specific discussion lists and those who have asked him to stop have been personally and publicly attacked – to the point of viciousness. He has publicly attacked ALA staff, councilors, and various members. Yes, he engages in propaganda – and slander and libel as well.

  33. There has been plenty of propaganda, personal attacks and distortions from both sides of the Cuba-ALA debate, no party has a monopoly on such behavior.

  34. I have not observed anyone who opposes Robert Kent’s position behaving in the abhorrent ways, and employing the odious means, I have observed from Mr. Kent. But even if I had, this excuses the Mr. Kent’s behavior?

  35. I have observed such behavior and have been on the receiving end of some personal attacks and distortions myself for taking a position similar to Robert Kent on this issue. Of course I am not excusing such behavior by either side of this debate.

  36. Robert Kent posted to this thread on June 15, 16, 17, 18, & 19. There has been no post from him since he was asked to disclose the full extent of his involvement with the Cuban “political dissidents” or “independent librarians” (depending on your point of view). Robert Kent has been asked to detail the full history and extent of his involvement. I have seen him dodge this question in the past. This gives the impression there is some covert reason for the lack of adequate response. Will Mr. Kent now give a clear and full response or an partial and/or evasive answer? Or will he simply disappear from the discussion?

  37. If we were discussing Pinochet in the 70’s and a hypothetical persecution of book lenders there does anyone doubt Rory would be screaming from every rooftop in support of the oppressed librarians?

  38. Pinochet didn’t just put a few people in jail. He terrorized his entire country, rounded up thousands and killed them in secret. If Castro were doing anything like that, then yes, I wouldn’t have the same attitude. Cuba is not the kind of place that Chile was.

  39. Sharon McQueen wrote: “There has been no post from [Robert Kent] since he was asked to disclose the full extent of his involvement with the Cuban “political dissidents” or “independent librarians…” This gives the impression there is some covert reason for the lack of adequate response. Will Mr. Kent now give a clear and full response or an partial and/or evasive answer?”

    ANSWER: Please see:

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