Cuba Update for ALA 2008 Annual Conference

by Michael Dowling, Director
ALA International Relations Office


This report provides an update for the International Relations Committee (IRC) and the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IRC) on the issue of the "independent library" movement in Cuba.

It includes:

  1. A chronological background on some of the major activities over the past 10 years.

  2. An update on ALA's March 2007 Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) to USAID and the State Department.

  3. Information known to date on the U.S. government to support for "independent library" movement in Cuba.

  4. Some activities of the Friends of Cuban Libraries (FCL).

Some findings:

  • U.S. government funds used to try to influence library associations outside of the United States (Latin America and Europe) to support the "independent library" movement in Cuba.
  • Bibliotecas Independientes de Cuba organization in 2005 and 2006 received 98% of its support from U.S. government funds.
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office 9GAO report in November 2006 notes that 8 of 12 grantee organizations audited supported the "independent libraries" in Cuba in 2005.
  • In GAO report USAID program director said that the [Cuba] program office and grantees were concerned about creating records that might be released under the Freedom of Information Act, because the release of such information could damage program activities and/or result in the harassment or imprisonment of aid recipients in Cuba.



  • In March 1998, Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor, who are husband and wife, opened up their home library in Cuba as the start of an "independent library" movement. A quick succession of "independent libraries" opened in homes of other individuals. Based on their biographies, most were individuals who had been imprisoned or harassed by the Cuban government for their political beliefs/activities before they set up their " independent libraries."


  • By June 1999 a group called the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" had formed in the United States. One of the co-founders, Robert Kent, was an ALA member and librarian at New York Public Library. The other co-founder was Jorge Sanguinetty, who reportedly worked for Radio Martí (which is funded by the U.S. government to broadcast into Cuba)
  • Note: Mr. Kent is not currently a member of ALA.

  • IFLA's Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE), in response to messages from the "Friends of the Cuban Libraries" describing harassment of these "independent libraries," issued a report on the situation in 1999 based on phone conversations to Cuba without a site visit.
  • Concerns were quickly raised by a number of individuals (in the U.S. and elsewhere) on independence of this library movement.


  • In January 2001, ALA's Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee held an open hearing on the issue in which Mr. Kent and others participated. Due to the inconclusiveness of determining the accuracy of claims brought forward on both sides of the issue, the committee's recommendation was not to take any action.
  • In June 2001, ALA leaders and IFLA leaders take advantage of the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL) Conference in Havana to discuss the "independent library" movement with members of the Cuban Librarians Association (ASCUBI), and to meet with owners of "independent libraries."
  • IFLA issues a new report, and ALA issues a separate report on their investigations and findings. ALA's delegation was led by ALA President John Berry and Past President Barbara Ford.

  • In June, ALA Council passes " Resolution on Access to Information by Cuba's Libraries" urging ". . .the U.S. government to share information materials widely in Cuba, especially with Cuba's libraries, and not just with individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations . . . ."
  • In August at the 2001 IFLA Conference in Boston, following another open hearing on the issue, IFLA passes a resolution asking both the U.S. government and the Cuban government to eliminate obstacles to access to the Cuban people to information.


  • Independent Library founders Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor emigrate from Cuba to Florida.


  • The U.S. Interest Section in Havana, led by Chief of Mission James Cason, increases their open activity by having high-profile meetings and engagement with Cuban dissidents. In March, the U.S. invades Iraq. In April, the Cuban government arrests 75 individuals and sentences them to long prison terms, including a number who operated "independent libraries."
  • The main designation of individuals who are identified as operating "independent libraries" in most reports define them under their other activities, such as "independent journalist", "union organizer", etc.

    Note: The number of incarcerated individuals who operated "independent libraries" seems not to be a definite number. Reports from supporters vary from 10 to up to 17. In June 24, 2004 article in the Orlando Sentinel interview of Ramon Colas notes "as many as 17."

  • On May 8, IFLA, through FAIFE, expresses their deepest concerns to the Cuban government about the arrest, trial and long prison sentences given to Cuban political dissidents.
  • In June, IFLA issues call on U.S. government to allow visits and information to and from Cuba.
  • In June, ALA jointly held its Annual Conference in Toronto with the Canadian Library Association. ALA's International Relations Office was able to secure a grant to support the attendance of 5 Cuban librarians, which would have been impossible had the meeting been held in the United States.
  • At the program on Cuban libraries Ramon Colas, Mr. Kent and others were able to question Cuban librarian leadership on the "independent libraries."

    The International Relations Committee brought forward a resolution on Cuba, which Council sent back to both the IRC and IFC to create a joint task force to further study the issue, and submit a report.

    The Canadian Library Association did pass a resolution requesting "IFLA to convene an international Commission of eminent librarians to hold public hearings to investigate further the role of "independent libraries" in Cuba and charges that they are funded through foreign agencies whose political program is regime change."

    Note: The IFLA Governing Board decided not to undertake such an investigation due to lack of resources.

  • A Task Force of IRC and IFC members review materials and resources on the issue, including the Rule of Law and Cuba website set up at the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.
  • Note: Documentation on the Rule of Law website were provided to the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights from the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.


  • At Midwinter 2004, Council adopted the International Relations Committee and Intellectual Freedom Committee's Report on Cuba and joined IFLA in its deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba.
  • It also noted "This political climate brought on primarily by U.S. Government and Cuban Government legislation and policies in recent years should not be countered by censorship and imprisonment."

    Note: IFLA has not called for the release of individuals. The Council overwhelmingly voted down an amendment to call for the release of individuals.

  • Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor set up the 501 C3 Bibliotecas Independientes de Cuba.
  • Bibliotecas Independientes de Cuba pay for an exhibit booth at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando.


  • Eastern European library associations are contacted by the Friends of the Cuban Libraries, and urged to pass resolutions in support of the "independent libraries," and the release of those operating independent libraries that were arrested and imprisoned. Estonia, Poland and the Czech library associations pass resolutions.
  • Mr. Kent announces on the ALA WORLD discussion list that a resolution on Cuba will be brought forward by some of these associations at the IFLA Conference in Oslo in 2005. Mr. Kent attends the Conference. No resolution is brought forward to IFLA.

    In 2006, the Latvia and Lithuania library association pass resolutions, but the Lithuania leaders retract their resolution, sending out a message that they were duped by Mr. Kent into passing the resolution. Mr. Kent had tried to use the Lithuanian resolution to convince the Hungarian library association to also pass a resolution.


  • In March 2007, ALA Submits FOIA request for information from USAID and the U.S. State Department.


  • A table talk on the "independent library movement" is held at the Public Library Association National Conference in Minneapolis, organized by ALA member Steve Marquardt, who is also the Amnesty Legislative Coordinator for Minnesota. Ramon Colas attends.

2. U.S. Government Support of the "Independent Library" Movement in Cuba

ALA FOIA Request

To find out the extent of U.S. government support for the "independent library" movement in Cuba, the International Relations Office, with the assistance of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, submitted Freedom of Information Requests (FOIA's) to USAID and the State Department in March 2007.

The request was spurred by a report from the Government Accountability Office November 2006 Report (GAO-07-147) entitled "Foreign Assistance: U.S. Democracy Assistance for Cuba Needs Better Management and Oversight."

The report raises concerns about the lack of control of oversight on the spending of 74 millions of dollars (1996 to 2005) from various organizations that received money in mainly non competitive grants from USAID and the State Department for "U.S. Democracy Assistance for Cuba."

The report notes (on page 23) that of the 12 organizations audited, 8 received funds in 2005 to support the "independent libraries" in Cuba. The names and details on the organizations are not listed in the report.

ALA's FOIA request is to get the names of these organizations and information on their activities, as well as information on other organizations back to 1997 that might have been supporting the "independent libraries."

ALA has yet to receive any documents so far. Recent correspondence with USAID suggests some documentation has been gathered. USAID FOIA staff is currently reviewing them. One grantee, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) is being notified to address how to release some confidential information. No timeline has been given for when ALA may receive anything.

In footnote 40 in response to GAO staff noting that USAID and grantees did not prepare trip reports or summaries of their meetings:

40 The USAID program director said that the program office and grantees were concerned about creating records that might be released under the Freedom of Information Act, because the release of such information could damage program activities and/or result in the harassment or imprisonment of aid recipients in Cuba. However, in technical comments on this report, USAID officials said that concerns related to protecting sensitive information have been addressed through the application of Freedom of Information Act exemptions and, thus, in the future, will not present an obstacle to recordkeeping.

A May 29, 2008 article in Granma, entitled " Mercenary NGOs meet in Washington USAID reveals its plans for subversion in Cuba," alleges that at a recent meeting of USAID officials and grantees, USAID staff stated that should applications for the declassification of documents be made via a FOIA, USAID would only issue a "general summary" and would keep secret details of each NGO's program, given that these concern "secret materials."

Note: Granma is official news agency of the Cuban government, a biased source, but information is included as it supposedly pertains to FOIA requests.

What Is Known So Far About U.S. Government Support?

Even without receipt of any material from the FOIA requests, some information is known regarding U.S. Government support for "Democracy Assistance in Cuba" and support for the "independent library movement."

Freedom House and Robert Kent

  • Freedom House, in 1995, is one of the first grantees to receive funds from USAID for "Democracy Assistance in Cuba."
  • "Mr. [Robert] Kent acknowledged that some of his 10 trips to Cuba were paid for by Freedom House, a human rights group, and the Center for a Free Cuba, an anti-Castro organization, which had received grants from the United States Agency for International Development. And the co-founder of the Friends group, Jorge Sanguinetty, is a Cuban exile and economic consultant whose main client is the aid agency." ("A Library in Cuba: What Is It?" by Felicia Lee, New York Times, June 28, 2003)

Sabre Foundation

  • Sabre Foundation, which received funding from USAID and the United States Information Service (USIS) [now part of the State Dept.] reported in their 1998 990 Form (p. 25) $12,980 in inventory (books) to "individual recipients through USIS/Cuba."
  • Note: Sabre Foundation provides books around the world that are donated from publishers and other sources. Inventory costs listed in their reports are the suggested retail cost of materials.

    On 1999 990 Form $2,713 in inventory (books) provided to Center for a Free Cuba, which is headed by Frank Calzon, former head of the Freedom House Cuba Program.

    On 2000 990 Form reports providing $75,219 in books, and $704.47 in cash and purchases to individual recipients in Cuba.

    On 2001, 990 Form reports $9,464 in books for individual recipients in Cuba and $58,536 in books to the Center for a Free Cuba.

    On 2002 990 Form reports $138,397 in books to individual recipients in Cuba, and $3,455 in cash.

    From GuideStar (premium service)

Commission for a Free Cuba: Report to the President

Pan American Development Foundation

The People in Need Foundation

  • The People in Need Foundation (PINF), a Czech non-profit, received $65,000 in 2004 from the National Endowment for Democracy (U.S. Govt Funds).
  • "to work with various independent groups in Cuba to develop their capacity to produce and distribute samizdat. PINF will also help organize the first meeting of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba [ICDC] to be held in Prague."

    From " Literacy, Censorship and Intellectual Freedom: The Independent Library Movement in Contemporary Cuba (PDF)," by Kelsey Vidaillet, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Masters Student, at Florida International University, p. 40.

    The only U.S. member of the ICDC is Madeline Albright, who criticized ALA's position on "independent libraries" in Cuba at ALA Annual 2006.

    PINF Annual Reports from 2000 (earliest available) show funds received from National Endowment for Democracy, Center for a Free Cuba, and Freedom House for activities in Cuba. Annual reports acknowledge PINF Cuba program began in 1997.

    Ramon Colas attends the 2004 Summit in Prague and the May 2007 International Committee for Democracy in Cuba (ICDC) Conference in Prague/Berlin.

Biblioteca Independientes de Cuba

  • Biblioteca Independientes de Cuba's 2005-990 Form reports that it received $81,821 ( 98% of its income) from a U.S. federal government grant.
  • Biblioteca Independientes de Cuba's 2006-990 Form reports that it received $129,945 ( 98% of its income) from a non-profit grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (U.S. Govt. Funds).

Mississippi Consortium for International Development and Jackson State Univ.

  • The USAID Cuba site lists a number of initiatives for Freedom House and the Center for a Free Cuba, along with many other grantees.

    Two funded projects listed are:

    1. Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) for an "Center for Study of Afro-Cuban issues."
    2. Jackson State University--"Helps develop Cuba's independent libraries."
    3. The MCID site makes no mention on its website of the Center for Study of Afro-Cuban Issues, but MCID's 2006 990 Form lists Ramon Colas receiving a salary of $80,000 (the largest salary of any staff member) as a Program Manager for 60 hours a week of work.
    4. From GuideStar (premium service)

    5. Jackson State University is one of 4 institutional partners of MCID. Under the Division of International Studies, Berta Mexidor is listed as Director of Independent Libraries of Cuba.
    6. Job postings on the Bibliotecas Independientes de Cuba website lists posting from May 1, 2007 for two part-time positions from MCID- For an Independent Libraries Assistance and Support Coordinator and an Independent Humanitarian Aid Program Coordinator (with expertise in activities of Independent Librarians). Both positions are for Miami, not Jackson, Mississippi.New Funding For Cuba- 20 Million

After the GAO report on unsolicited bids for grants in the past, USAID now has an open call for proposals:

  • USAID grant GRO-LMA-0002-APS, with a deadline of Dec 31, 2008, is for $20 million dollars for:
    The purpose of this APS is to support programs that expand the reach and impact of independent civil society in Cuba, and thereby hasten a peaceful transition to democracy. Successful Applicants will provide assistance to Cuban individuals or independent Cuban NGOs. In full compliance with U.S. Government policies, Applicants will undertake activities to: (1) Break the information blockade by increasing access to, and the flow of, accurate information on democracy, human rights, and free enterprise to, from, and within Cuba, including through independent uncensored access to the Internet particularly with the provision of innovative technology capable of by-passing Cuban Government restrictions. (2) Support advocacy efforts in Cuba that educate, train, provide equipment, and promote adoption of democratic rule of law, free market principles and internationally recognized human rights standards. Advocacy efforts shall promote human rights principles in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.(3) Aid the development of Cuban independent, nongovernmental groups and entities engaged in political competition and consensus-building activities that support democratic and representative processes. (4)Assist the Cuban people to develop peaceful, strong, and independent nongovernmental civil society organizations, professional associations, democratic political parties and other groups through capacity building, equipment assistance (including its use), and technical training. (5) Develop and maintain a dialogue with Cuban human rights activists and other independent groups in Cuba, with special focus on Afro-Cuban and other marginalized communities, on specific issues that must be addressed by a future democratic transition in Cuba. (6) Promote development of a free labor movement and small, independent enterprises.

    From 2008 APS-Hastening Transition to Democracy in Cuba

Back to Access to Information and Intellectual Freedom in Cuba