- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007


The first of two columns.

Michael Moore — enjoying another hit with his “Sicko” film — was asked by the New York Sun whether, while he was shooting the movie in Cuba, he visited any of Fidel Castro’s seriously ill political prisoners. His answer was that in making his cinematic attack on America’s health system in Castroland, he focused entirely on the Cuban alternative.

Among other suffering prisoners in Cuban cells who would have added further dimension to “Sicko” are independent librarians, put away for more than 20-year sentences for the crime of giving Cubans access to books and other publications forbidden in state libraries. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, for example, director of a Las Tunas library, is not being treated meaningfully for intestinal problems, hypertension and other ailments.

The caged independent librarians were, however, at the center of a protest at an American Library Association conference in Washington in June. These protesters are themselves long-term members of the ALA and call themselves Freadomistas, in contrast with Fidelistas (Castro admirers) on the ALA’s governing council. That council steadfastly refuses to demand the immediate release of Cuban freedom-to-read librarians, whom Amnesty International designates “prisoners of conscience.” Indeed, the council voted down an amendment calling for their release.

Bearing such signs as “Book Burning Is NOT A solution to Cuba’s Energy Problems” and “Ray Bradbury (author of “Fahrenheit 451”) Says: ‘Free The Jailed Librarians,’ ” the Freadomistas also handed out fliers that quoted the core ALA policy: “The American Library Association believes that freedom of expression is an inalienable human right… vital to the resistance of oppression… and the principles of freedom of expression should be applied by libraries and librarians throughout the world.” Another ALA policy cited on the flyers “deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property.” Yet, as I have reported previously, the ALA ignores the fact that Cuban court documents (validated by Amnesty International and the Organization of American States) reveal that the entire collections of at least six independent libraries were ordered destroyed.

Among the burned publications are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (not surprisingly); a book on Martin Luther King Jr.; the U.S. Constitution; and a volume by Jose Marti, the father of Cuban independence, who was killed by the Spanish during that struggle to free Cuba.

Despite these facts, the delegates to the June ALA conference were told in the flyer that the American Library Association, on its Web site article “Book Burning in the 21st Century,” repeatedly refuses to post the lists of books Mr. Castro burned after the Independent Libraries were started in 1998. They were started in a courageous and perilous answer to Mr. Castro’s shameless lie that year at the International Book Fair in Havana: “In Cuba, there are no prohibited books, only those we do not have the money to buy.” That reminded me of what the late Che Guevara told me at the Cuban mission to the United Nations when I asked him if he could foresee a time however distant when there would be free elections in Cuba.

Mr. Guevara, who, while in charge of a Havana prison, shot and killed many prisoners of conscience, didn’t wait for the interpreter to finish before he burst into laughter and said to me, “Free elections in Cuba?” At the Washington meeting of the ALA, there were counterdemonstrators with such signs as “Defend the Cuban Revolution!” and “ ’Independent’ Libraries Are A FRAUD!” One passerby wearing an official ALA identification tag looked at the Freadomistas signs, refused to take a flyer and snarled, “I am on the other side.” The governing council of the ALA says it has expressed “deep concern” about the jailed librarians but refuses to recognize that book collections in their libraries were burned.

And the ALA council — in defiance of a Jan. 25, 2006, poll in the official American Libraries e-mail newsletter, AL Direct, in which 76 percent of the rank-and-file membership urged emancipation — continues its refusal to call for the release of what some ALA leaders deride as “so-called librarians.” Yet the library associations of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have vigorously demanded their release. Those countries know what it is to live under communism.

At the ALA conference, a Freadomista flier ended with a reminder from Martin Luther King Jr., whose biography was burned by Castro judges: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” The next time you visit your local library, you might express your support for the extraordinarily courageous independent librarians whose devotion to Cubans’ right to read have put them in these gulags.

Next week: How those American librarians who believe in everyone’s right to read can confront their leadership and bring hope to Cuba’s caged librarians.

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