The release cited an open letter to foreign publishers titled, "Book Fair or Carnival of Persecution," which called on foreign publishers to protest the "scandalous repression of Cuba's independent librarians...the only librarians in the world who are being subjected to systematic persecution."
The release also cited as a "cause of dismay...the fact that [the book fair] was being held in Havana's La Cabaña fortress, notorious as the former site of a harsh prison where the Castro administration carried out hundreds of executions." Among the signatories of the open letter were, according to the release, Cuban writers Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Herberto Padilla, and Carlos Franqui, who took part in the revolutionary movement against the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s but later turned against the revolution and now live outside the country. Another signatory is Jorge Castañeda, a Mexican writer who recently published a hostile biography of Argentine-Cuban leader Ernesto Che Guevara.
In fact no protests by foreign publishers were made at the book fair where publishers from 31 countries participated. The book fair was a major event in Cuba, reflecting the decades-long promotion of books by the revolution. It was attended by 130,000 workers, professionals, and young people. An entrance ticket to the book fair cost just two Cuban pesos and a special coach shuttle was laid on to provide easy access; thousands of books were sold to fair-goers at very accessible prices in national currency. In addition to displays of books, the fair also hosted a number of cultural presentations and book launchings.
A few days after the fair closed, the Militant arranged to talk to some of Cuba's leading librarians about the organization calling itself the Friends of Cuban Libraries.
"The so-called independent librarians movement in Cuba is not independent; they're not librarians, nor is it a movement," Eliades Acosta Matos, director of the José Martí National Library, told the Militant. "I invite people to visit Cuba and see for themselves, to go into the streets, and speak with the people."
Also present at the interview, held at the Rubén Martínez Villena Havana Provincial Library, were Cila Delia Pentón Pérez, director of the Havana Provincial Library; Sara Moreno Rodríguez, Havana provincial president of the Cuban Library Association (ASCUBI); and Ofelia Santiel Orozco, ASCUBI's Havana provincial vice-president.
"We were delighted to hold this meeting both because we are keen to publicize the truth about the 'independent libraries' and because of our past relations with Pathfinder," explained Cila Pentón Pérez. "We have been receiving donations of Pathfinder books for many years."
"I was able to visit the Pathfinder stand on the first day of the book fair," added Eliades Acosta. "Pathfinder publishes important books of excellent quality and I was very impressed with the wonderful mural," he added referring to a poster of the six-story Pathfinder Mural in New York.
"It would be more accurate to describe these 'independent' libraries as 'virtual libraries,'" Acosta said. "They really exist only on the Internet. The people associated are not librarians; nor do they have a cultural project. They have a political project. And they receive funding from abroad to mount their political challenge. They say that they receive books from UNESCO but that is simply a lie."
Two of the main foreign financial sources are Freedom House and the Center for a Free Cuba, both of which receive US government money for their activity against the Cuban revolution. Track II of the Cuba Democracy Act enacted by the US government in 1992 (sometimes known as the Torricelli law) provides for US government support to non-governmental organizations in Cuba, including "dissidents" and "independent librarians"
Acosta cited Cuban president Fidel Castro speaking at the 1998 Havana Book Fair. "Fidel said there are no banned books, only those we don't have the money to buy. Fidel was right. The biggest problem we have is lack of resources. With such scarcity, hard choices have to be made as to which books to buy. Similar choices are made in every country. We don't buy racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic literature although important books such as Hitler's Mein Kampf are held in the national library."
Acosta said the Cuban libraries are delighted to receive donations of books from abroad and cited a donation of 800 books made following the book fair by the Spanish government. "There is no policy to exclude literature by people opposed to the Cuban revolution: for example, we have books by Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes; and we maintain (former Cuban dictator) Fulgencio Batista's library, which is part of our national patrimony. But the scarcity is real and the so-called independent librarians try to take advantage of the lack of dictionaries and encyclopedias especially. They call themselves the 'Abraham Lincoln library' or the 'Frank Pais library.' Some young people go to check them out. But when they arrive at the house or store, they find 5 or 10 titles, mainly childrens books and lightweight magazines with articles on topics such as on the heroic life of Richard Nixon. We've gone ourselves and we invite others to do likewise."
Nor are the "independent librarians" subject to repression, Acosta said. "We answer them with words. If they contravene Cuban law, if they commit a crime, that's another question: for example, if their financial accounts are not open to audit. But our basic position is to fight our enemies with ideas not with the police." Acosta contrasted the activity of the "independent librarians" to the efforts made throughout the revolution to take books and culture to the most remote areas of the island. "They don't go into the streets let alone into the mountains."
"In the Sierra Maestra, every small village has a library," said Sara Moreno. "The same is true for almost every sugar production center. On March 15-16 there will be a convention to establish libraries in the remaining centers that don't have them. We organize libraries in hospitals, in ships, wherever.
"In Havana" Moreno continued, "in addition to the main libraries, there is a mini-library system: books from one of the main libraries----there are 25 in the city----will be made available to, for example, a local child-care center for 2-3 months; then the books will be renewed. In Boyeros, one of the outlying Havana districts, local people decided to establish a library in a new building even though there's still a housing shortage. In the Community of Cotorro, a mobile library has been organized, with associated cultural events, poetry readings, etc. Such things have been going on for years."
Acosta paid tribute to the international efforts to tell the truth about the so-called independent libraries and cited the Cuban Library Support Group (CLSG) established last July in the United Kingdom by London librarian John Pateman. The CLSG seeks to win support for Cuban libraries, opposes the economic embargo against Cuba, and collaborates with individuals and organizations in an effort to win the International Federation of Library Associations to take a similar stance. The committee on Freedom of Information and Expression of the IFLA recently issued a report calling on the Cuban government to allow freedom of expression and to stop intimidating the independent libraries.
In the United States, the Progressive Librarians Guild and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association have expressed support for the Cuban Library Support Group campaign.
The CLSG has acknowledged the importance of Pathfinder's Books for Cuba fund and has invited Pathfinder to give an eyewitness report back from the book fair.
Jonathan Silberman is a member of the Transport and General Workers Union in London and was a volunteer in the Pathfinder stand at the Havana book fair.
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