Report on Cuban issue

American Library Association
International Relations Committee
Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee

January 15, 2001


At the request of ALA International Relations Committee (ALA-IRC), the Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee examined issues around access to information in Cuba during its Midwinter Meetings, 2001. The topic had been referred by Jordan Scepanski, Chair, ALA-IRC.

ALA member Robert Kent, representing Friends of Cuban Libraries, wrote to Mr. Scepanski on July 6, 2000, stating his concerns regarding the "situation of Cuba's independent libraries" and the "shocking and unprecedented persecution of Cuba's independent librarians." He asked that these matters be "placed on the agenda" of ALA-IRC. The matter was consequently referred to the Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee.

The Subcommittee, in response to its charge, conducted a hearing, consulted numerous written sources (see attached list) and discussed the issues at length. This is a report of the review and the recommendation of the Subcommittee.

Speakers at 1/13/01 Subcommittee Meeting

Robert Kent of the New York Public Library spoke as a representative of Friends of Cuban Libraries, the organization that initiated the request that ALA and the IRC address the issue of "independent libraries" in Cuba. He touched on the fact that many groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented cases of human rights violations in Cuba.

Stating that his organization's only concern is intellectual freedom, he explained that it is difficult to find materials that do not support the Castro government in Cuban libraries. The "independent library" movement began in 1998 to address this deficiency and make more diverse materials available to Cuban readers. According to Mr. Kent the "independent librarians" have been met with intimidation, harassment, and repression by the government. In September 1999, IFLA issued a report documenting repression of these "independent libraries," and national library organizations in Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada have officially condemned this oppression.

Mr. Kent and Friends of Cuban Libraries want ALA to draft a resolution containing two parts: 1) a condemnation of the Cuban government's oppression of the "independent libraries" and 2) a proposal that ALA provide support to the "independent libraries."

Ann Sparanese of the Englewood (N.J.) Public Library responded to Mr. Kent's remarks by stating that Friends of Cuban Libraries is an organization sponsored and funded by the U.S. government, Freedom House, the Cuban American National Foundation, and a variety of other anti-Castro groups. According to Ms. Sparanese, Freedom House receives money from the U.S. government to spread dissident material, which is delivered to Cuba by couriers such as Mr. Kent, who, she pointed out, has been deported from Cuba in the past. She also said that Mr. Kent's associate in Friends of Cuban Libraries, Jorge Sanguinetty, works as a commentator for Radio Marti, which broadcasts anti-Castro messages into Cuba from Florida.

Ms. Sparanese says that the "independent libraries" are collections of books in individual's homes and are not operated by librarians or library workers of any type. Almost all the individuals operating these "libraries" identify themselves as dissidents and members of anti-Castro political parties. She also asserted that she has seen no evidence of censorship or confiscation of books in her many visits to Cuba.

Ms. Sparanese concluded by stating that she believes this issue is not one ALA should become embroiled in because it is really a political issue that does not in fact involve libraries as ALA recognizes them.

Rhonda Neugebauer, Wichita State University, spoke about her personal experiences visiting two "independent libraries" in Cuba. The first one she described consisted of four or five dusty shelves of books, a collection she says is typical of that of any private citizen in the country. She spoke with a woman at the location who said no books had ever been confiscated, that she was not being intimidated or threatened by the government as a result of having this collection, and that she did not think the government would be opposed to any of the books in her collection. She said the director had never been harassed or imprisoned and that he, in fact, had left the country in 1994, years before the "independent library" movement began. The woman receives many of her books as well as payment for her activities from the U.S. and Mexico, but would not identify individual sources. She said she was asked to operate the library because she is a dissident. She also works for Radio Marti.

The second library visited by Ms. Neugebauer had no books, which the person she talked to explained was because the operators had given the books away in preparation to emigrate. Ms. Neugebauer specifically asked if the books had been confiscated by the government and was told no.

Ms. Neugebauer's observation is that ALA should avoid becoming involved in the political issue and should therefore take no action.

Finally the Subcommittee heard from three other individuals speaking on behalf of Friends of Cuban Libraries: Alba Rohdes, Radames Suarez, and Mario Ramirez. Ms. Rohdes, a Cuban, said she did not see what harm the group's activities did to the Cuban government, the Cuban people, or the American people. She says they are simply providing an alternative for readers in Cuba and asked whether it really matters where the materials originate. She, Mr. Suarez, and Mr. Ramirez reiterated Mr. Kent's statements on the importance of intellectual freedom.

During the discussion, Ms. Neugebauer affirmed her belief that any condemnation by ALA at this point, based on information that may be inaccurate and politically loaded, could be offensive to library colleagues in Cuba and might harm the peer relationships American librarians are trying to develop with Cuban librarians.

George Eberhart, senior editor for American Libraries, stated that he visited the National Library of Cuba recently and had an informative discussion with the staff. Mr. Eberhart's article about his trip to Cuba will be published in American Libraries in February 2001. Mr. Eberhart described a test of the collections at the Library. When asked whether they owned any books by Cuban expatriate authors Reynaldo Arenas and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a search of the public catalog revealed multiple titles by both authors.

Summary and recommendation

Data presented on both sides of the issue are inconclusive, with each side questioning both the accuracy and the intention of the other. While the civil oppression of individuals associated with these collections appears to be documented by Amnesty International and other observers, it is not conclusive whether these conditions result from the denial of intellectual freedom or from anti-government activities by the persons involved. The "independent" nature of the various collections of books and other documents, as well as the political agenda of those individuals responsible for them, are questionable, but seem to represent the political orientation of special interests positioned in opposition to the Cuban government.

The Subcommittee deplores any restrictions by the government of Cuba or the government of the United States of America that inhibit the free flow of information among librarians of Cuba and of the United States, and strongly endorses the policy objective of the American Library Association "to promote and support human rights and intellectual freedom worldwide." (ALA Handbook of Organization, ALA Policy Manual 58.1 Policy objectives, 2)

Based on its extensive review, the Subcommittee recommends that the International Relations Committee of the American Library Association take no further action with respect to the current question of the "independent" collections of books and other printed materials in Cuba.

Sources consulted

1. Amnesty International Annual Report 2000 on Cuba.12/20/2000

2. Byrne, Alex. Memo to Michael Dowling, RE: ALA and Independent Libraries in Cuba. 12/21/00 in response to Michael Dowling's inquiry about the FAIFE Report.

3. CUBANET Report of detained individuals. Urgent Appeal. 11/12/2000

4. DeYoung, Karen. "Independent Libraries Mix Politics, Culture in Cuba," The Washington Post, Aug. 3, 2000; A26.

5. Dowling, Michael. Memo to the Latin American and the Caribbean Subcommittee on "Meeting Information and draft agenda."

6. Friends of Cuban Libraries. News Bulletin: New Crackdown on Libraries Reported, 12/21/2000.

7. Friends of Cuban Libraries, IFLA Journal, v.26, 2000, no.1.

8. Gordon, William. Memo to ALA Council List, RE: "Postings Regarding Cuba," 12/18/2000

9. Graham, Peter. Message to ACRLEADS in response to R. Kent's messages.

10. IFFLA/FAIFE Report on Independent Libraries in Cuba, September 1999.

11. IFLA Conference, Havana, Cuba, August 1994. Statement of Librarians from the United States and Puerto Rico on U.S.-Cuba Relations.

12. International Responsibilities Task Force of the American Library Association, Social Responsibilities Round table. Resolution on Cuban Libraries, Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter, no. 134, June 2000, pp.4-5.

13. Kagan, Al. Memo to ALACOUN. January 2000 resolution of the Social Responsibilities Round Table. 12/21/2000

14. Kagan, Al. Message to ALA Council List Re: Intellectual Freedom and Cuba's Libraries. Forward to ACRLEADS by Helen Spalding. 12/21/2000 "January 2000 resolution of the Social Responsibilities Round Table in response to Mr. Kent's disinformation campaign."

15. Kent, Robert. E-mail messages in support of independent libraries in Cuba: · 11/23/99 Press Release: Amnesty International requests "urgent action" for arrested librarian. · 12/20/00 memo to Members of the ALA council - Bibliography: Independent Libraries in Cuba · 3/17/00 letter to James B. Casey, ALA Council member · 6/1/00 News Bulletin from Friends of Cuban Libraries, June 11, 2000: More arrests fail to stop library expansion. 10/17/00 email from Rory Litwin, Webmaster about new URL for Cuban Libraries Support Group:

16. Kent, Robert. Letter to Patricia Wand, Chair, Latin America and the Caribbean Subcommittee, 11/12/2001

17. Kent, Robert. Memo to Mr. Charles Hammon, Chair, ALA Committee on Professional Ethics, March 15, 2000.

18. Kent, Robert. Message forwarded to LALA-L (SALALM listserve) from R. The Friends of Cuban Libraries, News Bulletin: New Crackdown on Librarians Reported. 12/21/2000

19. Kent, Robert. Message to on "ALA Conference and the Cuban Isssue." 1/9/2001

20. Kent, Robert. Message to Jordan Scepanski RE: Cuban Libraries, 11/14/2000

21. Kent, Robert. Message to Members of the ALA Council. Re: Preparing for ALA Council's Historic Vote. 12/20/2000

22. Kent, Robert. Reply to Jordan Scepanski's "Comments on the Agenda of the ALA IRC, 7/6/2000.

23. Kent. Robert. Message to Members of the International Relations Committee - a Special Report by the Friends of Cuban Libraries: Cuban Libraries, Intellectual Freedom and the Oberg Report, Part I

24. Kent, Robert. Rough draft of Part II of the above.

25. Le Borgne, Louis, Bibliothèque Centrale, Université de Québec a Montréal forwarding Marion Lloyd's article on independent libraries (translated into French) to, 1/4/2001

26. Litwin, Rory. Memo to Nancy Kranich on Cuba. 12/14/2000

27. Lloyd, Marion. "Independent Libraries in Cuba Face Crackdown," in Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/2/ 2001

28. Marquardt, Steve. Memo to Members of the Latin American and the Caribbean Subcommittee on the Repression of Independent Libraries in Cuba. 1/3/2001

29. McQueen, Lorraine, President, Canadian Library Association. Letter to Fidel Castro about supporting intellectual freedom in Cuba. April 14, 2000.

30. Neugebauer, Rhonda. Message to LALA-L correcting URL for the Library Juice website: and commenting on Cuban libraries article and her trip to Cuba.

31. Neugebauer, Rhonda. Report to International Relations Committee/Latin America and the Caribbean Subcommittee on Cuban "Independent Libraries." 1/13/2001

32. Oberg, Larry R. Memo to Charles Hammon, Chair, ALA Committee on Professional Ethics. On-site report on independent Libraries in Cuba, April 11, 2000.

33. Pateman, John. Cuban Libraries Support Group, Libraries in Cuba: report of a visit to "independent" national and public libraries in Cuba, April 2000.

34. Progressive Librarians Around the World Network, Vienna, Austria. Resolution: Statement on Cuba from the Vienna Meeting. Message forwarded by Lennart Wettmark and Hervoor Svenomius.

35. Proyecto de Bibliotecas Independientes: una alternativa cultural para Cuba. (photos)

36. Resolution on Cuban libraries, approved by SRRT Action Council, Jan. 17, 2000. Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter, n.134, June 2000, pp.4-5.

37. Rosenzweig, Mark C. Memo to Mr. Charles Hammon, Chair, ALA Committee on Professional Ethics, Re: Robert Kent's "Code of Ethics Advisory" critical of Robert Kent's challenge to Ms Rhonda Neugebauer's trip to Cuba.

38. Scepanski, Jordan. Message to forwarded from ACRLEADS. RE: Communication from Robert Kent. 12/20/2000

39. Smith, Wayne, Former Head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, interview, in the Cuban Exile Movement, by Hernando Calvo and Kathlyn Declerq, Ocean Press, 2000, pp. 156-160.

40. Song Yongyi Released and Back in USA. IFLA Journal, v. 26, 2000, no.2.

41. Song, Yongyi. Memo to Ms. Nancy Kranich, President, American Library Association, on independent libraries in Cuba.

42. Sparanese, Ann C., SRRT Councillor. Hearing on Charges by Friends of Cuban libraries. Report given at IRC/Latin America and the Caribbean Subcommittee with addenda. 1/13/2001.

43. Stoss, Frederick W. Message to SRRT Action Council on what colleagues in British Columbia had to say about Robert Kent's campaign.

American Library Association, International Relations Committee
Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee
Members, 2000-2001

Patricia A. Wand, American University Library, Chair
Buenaventure (Ven) Basco, University of Central Florida Library
Douglas Ferrier, University of Texas - Brownsville, Library
Richard A. Murray, Vanderbilt University Library
Heleni Marques Pedersoli, University of Maryland Library
Doug Phelps, Battle Ground Academy Library, Franklin, Tennessee
Adriana Acauan Tandler, Queens Borough Public Library