Castro's Jailed Librarians.
December 23, 2004; Page A10
It wasn't the Santa Clauses and candy canes decking the halls of the
U.S. diplomatic office in Havana that prompted Fidel Castro to order the
Christmas decorations dismantled there. It was the light display forming
the number 75.
That's how many political dissidents Castro rounded up in March 2003 and
threw into Cuban jails. At their trials, these librarians, journalists
and peaceful political activists received sentences of up to 28 years.
Now a loosely connected international movement of librarians is refusing
to forget their Cuban colleagues.
One inspiring example comes from the town of Vermillion, South Dakota,
whose public library is sponsoring the independent -- that is, not
government-run -- Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana. The Loynaz
Library was one of the institutions singled out during the 2003
crackdown. The director's husband, Hector Palacios, was arrested and
sentenced to 25 years in prison. Most of the library's books were
confiscated by the police.
The French cities of Paris and Strasbourg also support independent
libraries in Cuba. In once-Communist Poland, the Librarians Association
has issued an eloquent statement calling for an end to the repression:
"The actions of the Cuban authorities relate to the worst traditions of
repressing the freedom of thought, expression and information exchange,
exercised by all regimes throughout the history," the statement reads.
Meanwhile, in Havana, Castro insists there is no censorship.
He, too, has the support of some of the world's librarians. The
International Federation of Library Associations has just named an
"official" Cuban librarian to its Intellectual Freedom Committee, which
is to say, they've picked someone who supports government censorship.
Earlier this year the American Library Association's governing council
rejected a resolution asking Castro for the immediate release of the
imprisoned librarians. Some ALA leaders refuse to recognize the
independent librarians because they don't have official library degrees,
which of course they can get only from Fidel.
Mark Wetmore, a Vermillion Library trustee tells us, "It diminishes all
our libraries a little if we know that there are people being persecuted
for trying to operate free, uncensored ones and we don't at least try to
do something about it." It's too bad more of the world's librarians
don't also see a moral obligation to their Cuban brethren who want to