"Yet, here is the ALA with its rallying cry, 'Free People Read Freely,'
abandoning these extraordinarily courageous Cuban librarians..."
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
By Nat Hentoff (Washington Times Op-Ed, 12-8-03)
What has particularly irritated the attorney general is the vigorous
dissent of many American librarians to Section 215 of John Ashcroft's Patriot Act,
which allows the FBI to match lists of certain books with their borrowers as
part of investigations into terrorism. The attorney general finally declared
he is not using that provision of the act, but librarians point out that he did
not say he will never implement it in the future.
Accordingly, more and more librarians are informing people who come to
the libraries about that law, and suggest they urge the attorney general to
protect their right to read without being put into a government database.
Meanwhile, however, the American Library Association (ALA), with its more
than 64,000 members, is ignoring a much more pressing human rights issue. The
organization refuses to condemn Fidel Castro for sending to his gulag, for
prison terms of up to 28 years, 10 independent Cuban librarians — who were
included among the 75 independent journalists, union organizers, economists, human
rights workers and other dissidents who were rounded up. The librarians resist
the dictator's censorship of ideas, as do all those captured in the raids.
This crackdown on freedom of speech — and freedom to read — took place
last April at summary trials in remote locations that were closed to foreign
journalists. Amnesty International considers these 75 dissidents, including the
independent librarians, to be "prisoners of conscience."
Yet, at the ALA's annual conference last June in Toronto, Cuban
independent librarians were refused a speaking place on the program. Only Mr. Castro's
official librarians were accorded the freedom to speak — for nearly three
hours. And there was no ALA resolution to demand that Cuba's leader release the
independent librarians. Some of them — like a number of other prisoners of
conscience in Castro's gulag — badly need and are being denied medical attention.
Declaring "the fundamental rights of all human beings to access
information without restriction," the International Federation of Library Associations
and Institutions in The Hague has condemned this brutal suppression of
nonviolent dissent. And Jose Miguel Vivanco — executive director of the Americas
Division of Human Rights Watch — says "Cuba is flouting fundamental human rights
Moreover, in a Sept. 18 Washington Post article, Vaclav Havel, former
president of the Czech Republic; Lech Walesa, former president of Poland; and
Arpad Goncz, former president of Hungary joined to condemn Mr. Castro's draconian
imprisonment of Cubans "merely for daring to express an opinion other than
the official one."
And in the July issue of the Progressive magazine, a long list of
Americans who dissent from their own government — among them:historian Howard Zinn;
linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky; Progressive Editor Matthew
Rothschild; and philosopher Cornel West — condemn Mr. Castro's arrests and "the
shockingly long prison sentences ... imposed after unfair trials" of the Cuban
dissidents, including the independent librarians.
The signers of that ad oppose the American embargo on Cuba, but emphasize
that "the imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of
free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Castro
government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and
Yet, here is the ALA with its rallying cry, "Free People Read Freely,"
abandoning these extraordinarily courageous Cuban librarians, who, under a
dictatorship, advocate, to their own great peril, the same right to read freely
that we Americans enjoy. The ALA's membership booklet proclaims "the public's
right to explore in their libraries many points of view on all questions and
issues facing them."
In our American libraries, we can borrow George Orwell's "1984" and a
copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but those, and many other
publications, were only available in Cuba in the homes of the independent
librarians who dared to offer them to their fellow citizens.
The ALA will have its next Midwinter Meeting from Jan. 9 to Jan. 14 in
San Diego. Those in attendance — ALA officials, including officers of libraries
around the country and rank-and-file members — will have a chance to rescind
the shameful silence of the ALA.
Mr. Ashcroft has put none of the delegates to San Diego in prison; and it
takes no courage — only self-respect — for them to insist on the freedom of
those librarians in Cuba who may not be "professional" librarians. But they
certainly are the very exemplars of the ALA's purported dedication to everyone's
freedom to read — and freedom of conscience.
The next time you go to a public library, ask the librarians if they
stand with their colleagues in Mr. Castro's prisons.