The Friends of Cuban Libraries

On October 10 the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society (APSC), a dissident organization in Cuba, began a series of meetings at independent libraries affiliated with the APSC. Cuba's award-winning independent library movement challenges government control of information by offering public access to uncensored books. The Friends of Cuban Libraries have received reports of a major campaign launched by the Cuban government to prevent the APSC library meetings from taking place. Actions to block the meetings have included threats, interrogations, police raids, arrests, the confiscation of library collections and acts of violence. Photographs of injuries inflicted on two people who attended one of the library meetings have been published on the Internet:

Pictured in the photos are facial injuries inflicted on Orestes Suárez and his wife Nancy Suárez García, directors of the Diosdado Manrique Independent Library. According to news reports, on October 10 the couple attended an APSC library meeting held in Santa Clara at the house of Noelia Pedraza Jiménez. The house was besieged by a group of government supporters known as a "Rapid Response Brigade." The leader of the mob was Yormany Junco, a martial arts instructor. Rapid Response Brigades are government-organized mobs assigned the task of harassing and sometimes assaulting dissidents.

When the ten persons assembled at Noelia Pedraza Jiménez's house tried to leave at the end of the library meeting, they were attacked by the pro-government mob. Accompanied by several of their persecutors, Orestes and Nancy Suárez were forced into a taxi and driven to their home in Ranchuelo. During the taxi ride they were again assaulted by members of the Rapid Response Brigade, inflicting cuts and bruises on the victims. Orestes Suárez also suffered three cracked ribs. Upon arrival in Ranchuelo, members of the Rapid Response Brigade refused to allow Orestes and Nancy Suárez to leave their home or to receive medical attention. The photographs of their injuries were taken a week after the attack.

The October campaign launched against the APSC-sponsored meetings marks the first major offensive against Cuba's independent library movement since 2003, when numerous libraries were raided, thousands of books were seized or burned by court order, and about a dozen librarians were sentenced to 20-year prison terms. The independent librarians jailed during the 2003 crackdown have been named as Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International, which is calling for their immediate release. Cuba's innovative independent library movement also receives the support of Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, International PEN and Pax Christi. With the goal of providing public access to uncensored books, the first of a network of independent libraries was formed in Cuba in 1998 by Ramon Colás and Berta Mexidor. Despite ongoing harassment and persecution, hundreds of independent libraries have been established on the island.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: The Friends of Cuban Libraries are asking people around the world to express concern over the brutal attacks on Orestes Suárez and Nancy Suárez García. Please send messages protesting the repression of Cuba's independent librarians to Mr. Felipe Pérez Roque, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs. His e-mail address is: ([log in to unmask]) with COPIES to ([log in to unmask]) and ([log in to unmask]).

(, Oct. 12, 2006