As the tragic and damaging uproar over the ALA's mishandling of the Cuba
scandal intensifies, here is what Nat Hentoff has to say in his latest column in
the Village Voice:
"As I've been reporting in this column, there has been a fierce civil war
within the American Library Association as to whether that body--the
largest organization of librarians in the world--will help free the 10
librarians locked up in Fidel Castro's gulag for the next 20 or more
years for making available to Cubans such subversive documents as the
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and George Orwell's
"At its mid-winter meeting in San Diego, the ALA was finally going to
reveal whether it would live up to its principles...
"But that very day, the governing council of the American Library
Association shamed rank-and-file librarians across this country...
Karen Schneider, a member of the governing council, proposed an
"And this is how the vote went down on Schneider's amendment to free the
prisoners, some of whom are of an age that makes it likely that, unless
liberated, they will die in the gulag for the crime of thinking and
acting as free individuals in a dictatorship.
"Karen Schneider's amendment was overwhelmingly voted down by the
182-member ALA council....
"So much for the ALA leadership's devotion to 'free speech everywhere.'
"It is the leadership I accuse of hypocrisy, of being whited sepulchres....
"It is hard for me to believe that the majority of rank-and-file
librarians agree with the spinelessness of their governing council,
which couldn't bring itself to ask the luminous Fidel Castro to let
these people go.
"In the ALA's final report, there is a classic sanctimonious, Uriah Heep
expression of 'deep concern....,' but nothing about unlocking the cells.
Gee, maybe ALA president Carla Hayden and other members of the hierarchy
will send the prisoners, including the 10 librarians, a quote from Fidel
Castro when he was imprisoned by the dictatorship that preceded his.
Wrote Castro: 'In prison, there were no rifles for training, no stone
fortresses from which to shoot. Behind those walls, our rifles were
books. And through study, stone by stone we built our fortress, the only
one that is invincible: the fortress of ideas.' (Emphasis added.)
"In their filthy cells now, Castro's own prisoners might take some
comfort clutching that quotation in the small hours of the night. Surely
their guards would not confiscate as contraband a quotation from the
Maximum Leader himself! Or would they?
"After sentencing the independent librarians, Castro's judges, in a
number of cases, declared the confiscated library materials 'lacking in
usefulness' and ordered them burned. Will the American Library
Association hold a memorial service?
"... By invitation, I have spoken during Banned Books Week at libraries in
various towns and
cities. Will any library invite me this year during Banned Books Week
(from September 25 to October 2) to tell about the bonfires of books
from formerly independent Cuban libraries?
"Karen Schneider, in her scorned amendment to the final report, mentioned
my support of her amendment, and that I had received the prized ALA
Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom. The citation reads: 'For
courageous and articulate advocacy of the First Amendment as an author,
speaker, and activist for human rights' (June 1983).
"I now publicly renounce the Immroth Award and demand that the American
Library Association remove me from the list of recipients of that honor.
To me, it is no longer an honor. Someone I know in the ALA, who was at
the San Diego meeting, explained to me that some members of the council
whispered privately that they agreed with the amendment calling for
freeing the librarians but had to vote it down because they didn't want
to be vilified as being 'on the wrong team.' They have put themselves in
their own prison."
For the complete text of his article, and for background information on the
growing scandal, please refer to the website of our organization:
The Friends of Cuban Libraries