The American Library Association refused to respond yesterday to a plea from independent book lenders imprisoned in Cuba to demand that dictator Fidel Castro release them and end a crackdown on free expression.
As WorldNetDaily reported, 14 members of Cuba’s Independent Library project were arrested last March on charges that included making available the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and books such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”
A joint task force of the American Library Association, which ended its mid-winter meetings in San Diego yesterday, refused to act on the plea from Cuban independent library leader Gisela Delgado Sablon, whose husband is among the prisoners.
Sablon asked the librarians to demand that Castro release the prisoners. But the task force voted down yesterday an amendment to its report, submitted by ALA council member Karen Schneider, calling for the Cubans’ immediate release. After it became apparent the ALA council would not deal with the Cuban request before the meetings closed, Schneider also withdrew a council resolution she had submitted earlier.
Members of the task force, comprised of members from the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and International Relations Committee, felt their report “finesses” the complex Cuban situation, said Schneider.
She added, ALA councilors called on the task force to “stay away” from foreign relations. Members of the association who lobbied strongly for a resolution calling for the prisoners’ release found that request ironic.
They point to the ALA’s strong pronouncements in the past on issues such as the plight of Palestinian libraries and apartheid in South Africa.
During the time of South Africa’s apartheid regime, the ALA refused to send books to the country.
“I am greatly saddened for the independent librarians in jail whose captors will laugh at them tonight when they tell them the ALA has ignored their plea for solidarity,” ALA member Walter Skold of Freeport, Maine, told WND.
Schneider said, however, the task force report “goes farther in criticizing human rights abuses in Cuba” than than it would have without information and influence she and others provided, “but it’s not going to help Victor Arroyo.”
Arroyo, 51, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for directing an independent library. He now is in solitary confinement for protesting the treatment of another prisoner.
The issue confronted the ALA last June when Ramon Colas, a founder of the Independent Library Project of Cuba, came to the the association’s conference in Toronto with Gablon’s request, but went away deeply disappointed.
Colas said a delegation of five officials sent from Cuba’s state-run libraries swayed ALA members.
“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.
The ALA decided to pass off the issue to the task force, which would prepare a report for the San Diego conference. But the panel’s final report ignored the Cuban prisoners’ plea.
“There’s not any mention of this lady and the people in jail – not even a letter saying they disagree with the request,” Skold said. “They did not even have the courtesy to respond to this appeal from Cuba.”
A U.S.-based group called Friends of Cuban Libraries noted the ALA’s statutes say the group “opposes any use of government prerogatives which leads to the intimidation of the individual or the citizenry from the exercise of free expression. ALA encourages resistance to such abuse of government power, and supports those against whom such governmental power has been employed.”
ALA member Skold said the association “should be applauding the resistance of those who are trying to break the [Castro] regime’s monopoly of information.”
“But ALA policy has been hijacked to Cuba by a gang of Stalinist hacks working in complicity with silence and utter political stupidity,” he said.
One of the ALA leaders opposed to the resolution is Ann Sparanese, a member of the policy-making council who maintains the Cubans are not “professional librarians.”
Sparanese, who also belongs to the Venceremos Brigade, a U.S. group that has supported Castro’s revolution for three decades, wrote in a Dec. 9 letter to a colleague:
“Despite the fact that we as librarians prize them highly, political rights – for instance, intellectual freedom – is only one of a constellation of human rights, some of which Cuba respects in greater measure than the United States.”
One of those rights she said, is “free education.”
Last year, Eliades Acosta, Cuba’s national libraries director, accused 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 at a book convention in Toronto.
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.”