The co-founder of a movement that put George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic “Animal Farm” in the hands of Cubans says the American Library Association is ignoring the plight of 14 colleagues imprisoned in a March crackdown by the Castro regime.
Ramon Colas, who launched the Independent Library Project of Cuba with his wife in 1998, came to the ALA’s annual conference in Toronto last weekend in search of “solidarity” but went away disappointed, he told WorldNetDaily.
“The behavior of the ALA in Toronto showed the level of its complicity with the Havana regime,” said Colas, who left Cuba in December 2001 with his wife, Berta Mexidor, and now lives in Miami.
Colas brought to Toronto an official request from the executive director of the library project, Gisela Delgado Sablon, asking the ALA to demand that Castro release independent librarians imprisoned for up to 26 years.
An ALA subcommittee, however, is prepared to submit a resolution to the broader council that only expresses “concern” for recent arrests, without specifying the targets.
The influence of a delegation of five officials sent from Cuba’s state-run libraries has much to do with that, said Colas, who spoke through an interpreter.
Eliades Acosta, Cuba’s national libraries director, accuses the independent book lenders of being tools of the United States to topple Havana’s communist government.
“The independent libraries have … demonstrated they are receiving money to subvert the institutional order of Cuba,” Acosta said in a speech Saturday at a book convention in Toronto, according to the Associated Press.
Colas insists his peaceful movement has no weapons or plans to overtake military bases, but focuses on opening the minds of “people so they can choose the culture they want.”
“The one who is subverting the cultural order of Cuba is Fidel Castro,” he said. “While Castro is imprisoning civilians, the librarians are opening their homes to allow Cubans to read things they wouldn’t be allowed to see otherwise.”
Titles barred by the regime include biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document Cuba has signed.
Colas said it was clear the official librarians were acting in the Cuban dictator’s interest in Toronto, noting he was to be part of a debate that was called off at the last minute.
Ramon Colas with children and wife, Berta Mexidor
“I heard from them Fidel Castro’s discourse, not their individual thinking,” he said.
But similar sentiments were heard from ALA members, including an influential policy-maker on the international relations committee, which will decide on a resolution today.
“This is not, and never has been, an issue of intellectual freedom, books or libraries,” said Ann Sparanese, an ALA board member who also belongs to the Venceremos Brigade, a U.S. group that has supported Castro’s revolution for three decades.
“The people who were arrested were not arrested because they had books, or because they are ‘librarians,’ ‘library workers’ or ‘journalists,'” she said in an e-mail to an ALA colleague, “but because they broke the kinds of law against serving as an agent of a foreign power, for which the U.S. also imposes harsh prison time.”
Sparanese noted under the Torricelli and Helms-Burton acts, millions of dollars have been poured into Cuba in an effort to change the government.
She wrote: “Unless you believe and promote the idea that no country has the right to protect its sovereignty – including our own – and that every country is required to allow the free infusion of foreign funds to corrupt its political processes – including our own – then you need to categorically reject the argument that this is an intellectual freedom issue.”
That approach is an “outrage” to Robert Kent, a New York City librarian who supports the independent book lenders with a group called Friends of Cuban Libraries.
“For several years the ALA has ignored, covered up, or denied the fact that Cuba is the only country in the world which imprisons people for the alleged crime of opening uncensored libraries,” he told WND.
The ALA, with 64,000 members, is run by an elected board of 175 councilors.
Kent insists ALA’s rules require that requests of the kind made by the independent librarians be heard.
“The statutes have a provision that when foreign nationals complain about human rights violations, the international relations office of the ALA is required to bring it to the attention of the ALA council,” said Kent, who notes Amnesty International has declared the librarians and the other 61 people arrested in March “prisoners of conscience.”
Delgado’s request, addressed to Michael Dowling, director of the ALA international relations office, said the project was founded “due to four decades of literary censorship to which our nation has been subjected.”
The movement has established 103 libraries in homes throughout the country, she said, in addition to about 100 independent libraries founded by other groups.
She wrote to Dowling:
Since March 18th of this year numerous Cubans were detained, including about a dozen librarians and dozens of human rights defenders, independent journalists and dissidents. This was accompanied by raids on the homes of these persons and the seizure of books, typewriters, cameras, radios, computers, etc. These raids have impacted more than thirty libraries, and other librarians were taken to detention centers by the political police and warned that if they if they continued their work to promote independent cultural activities they would be imprisoned.
What we are asking, sir, is that your association show solidarity with our project and with the innocent persons who are now in prison. We would like you to ask the Cuban authorities to immediately release these detained persons.
Attempts to reach Dowling yesterday for comment were unsuccessful.
Walter Skold, a library science graduate student from Brunswick, Maine, has drafted an alternative resolution that he believes fulfills Delgado’s plea.
The key paragraph in his document reads:
The American Library Association joins with library colleagues around the world, Amnesty International, various non-governmental organizations, and numerous individual writers and human rights activists from all walks of life in deploring these actions, and we call on the government of Cuba to immediately release all  of the independent librarians who have been jailed for exercising their rights to free expression, and to return all books which have been confiscated from the book collections.
Skold said the ALA is reluctant to simply add to its resolution: “We call on the government to release the librarians.”
“The rest of the resolution is fine,” he told WND.
He believes the ALA is putting itself in a unique situation.
“What other professional group has failed to come to the aid of colleagues who are jailed?”
Colas believes a strong statement by the ALA can help hasten democratic change in the island nation.
“In Cuba today, already there is a transition taking place and the Castro regime is in the process of collapse and agony,” he said. “This is the final stage.”
He cites the fact that Castro has been forced to acknowledge the existence of an opposition movement within Cuba as evidence he is losing his grip.
Even Castro’s inner circle sees the collapse coming and wants change, he said, but they are still under the dictator’s power.
“That’s precisely why it’s important for the rest of the world to support the opposition movement,” he said. “The vast majority of Cubans don’t want the transition to be prolonged.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s high court has upheld tough sentences handed to the 75 dissidents in April. Among them are Delgado’s husband, economist Hector Palacio, who is serving a 25-year term.
Colas said Delgado, who has a young daughter, is periodically visited by state security agents who threaten that if she continues in her opposition, they will bar her from visiting her husband in prison and will jail her also.
In Cuba, prisoners depend on their relatives for food and clothing.
“The interesting thing is she is not conceding at all and continues denouncing what the government is doing and fighting for the rights of those in prison,” Colas said. “It’s because of people like Gisela and what they stand for that this opposition will succeed.”