The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 16           April 25, 2005  
U.S.-backed 'independent library'
campaign in Cuba falls flat
HAVANA—“A Cuban revolution, in reading” declared the New York Times in a February 22 article by David Gonzalez. The article was not, however, about the just-concluded Havana International Book Fair, which drew 600,000 people in this city of 2 million—a substantially higher number than previous years. It wasn’t about the more than 1 million books people bought at the fair, or about the extension of the book fair to 34 other cities across the island.

Nor was the Times reporting on the more than 150 projects under way in Cuba to expand access to education and culture, from bringing electricity to the most isolated rural schools to establishing university-level schools in every Cuban municipality. On such matters the capitalist media internationally has been virtually silent.

The Times article was part of an attempt to breathe life into the flagging campaign in support of “independent libraries” in Cuba—an effort promoted and financed by the U.S. government.

“Independent librarians” is the self-styled title adopted by several dozen individuals in this country who carry out activity against the Cuban Revolution under the banner of defending intellectual freedom. They are neither librarians nor independent but part of small political groups that oppose the revolutionary government.

These outfits use provisions of “Track II” of the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act (also known as the Torricelli bill) to receive financial backing from Washington, often through the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development. In his March 3 testimony before a U.S. congressional panel reviewing the situation in Cuba, Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs, reported that Washington has to date provided $14.4 million to such groups and individuals.

“At the beginning of this year, members of the Cuban Cultural Center, an arts group that usually sponsors exhibitions and concerts, adopted an independent library in Cuba,” Gonzalez wrote in the New York Times. “The library itself, like some 100 others that have been founded since 1998, offers Cubans an alternative to the official media or state-run libraries. They carry newspapers and magazines from around the world or books considered taboo by the regime.” The Cuban Cultural Center is a New York-based group of Cuban-American opponents of the revolution that includes liberal and right-wing figures.

“This ‘independent libraries’ campaign is not advancing,” Eliades Acosta, director of Cuba’s José Martí National Library, said in a February 16 interview in his office. “In fact, it has suffered a series of defeats. The effort will continue because it’s driven by powerful forces. But it has failed to convince a single librarian out of the thousands in Cuba. It’s failed to divide librarians in Cuba from their North American counterparts. And it hasn’t won international recognition.

“The main international library organizations have rejected this campaign. At the August 2004 congress of the International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA, held in Argentina, the largest-ever Cuban delegation was welcomed. We had 22 Cuban librarians there and, for the first time ever, a stand with Cuban books.”

IFLA has maintained its stance of refusing to support the “independent libraries” in Cuba. Describing them as “representatives in Cuba of the political interests of the U.S. government,” it has condemned the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba and called for strengthening the relationship with Cuba’s genuine libraries and librarians. A similar policy was adopted at a joint meeting in 2003 of the American Library Association and the Canadian Library Association.

The U.S. government launched the “independent libraries” campaign in 1999 with the establishment of an operation called the “Friends of Cuban Libraries.” This outfit describes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.” In fact, it has none of these attributes. The main individuals publicly associated with the operation are Jorge Sanguinetty, then a commentator on Radio Martí, Washington’s propaganda station against revolutionary Cuba; and Robert Kent, a librarian at the New York Public Library with a long history of activity against the Cuban Revolution. Kent has received financial backing from Freedom House, a U.S. government-funded organization.

A few months before the official launch of the Friends of Cuban Libraries, Kent was in Havana meeting with Aleida Godínez, who, he believed, was a Cuban dissident and “independent librarian.” In fact, Godínez was an agent of Cuban state security who had infiltrated the ranks of Cuban counterrevolutionaries. Testimony by Godínez about this episode is featured in the book The Dissidents, by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Báez, published by Editora Política.

“Kent introduced himself to me as having been sent by Frank Calzón, well-known to us as a former CIA agent…and leader of the Center for a Free Cuba,” Godínez said in an interview with Eliades Acosta posted on the web site of the José Martí National Library. What Frank Calzón needed had nothing to do with “independent libraries,” she explained.

“This Robert Kent asked me for information about Servimed [an organization that promotes health tourism in Cuba] and he also asked me for a drawing of the house of Carlos Lage Dávila, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, and if I’d watch over the guard change at Lage’s house. What possible interest could a ‘friend of the independent libraries’ have in knowing about movements at the residence of Carlos Lage?” Godínez asked.

Kent introduced himself as Robert Emmet. He traveled on a fake passport. In the course of his dealings with Godínez, he handed over some $500 and technical equipment for the spying work he asked her to undertake.  
Book ban charge flops
“The real campaign by the U.S. government is a campaign aimed at destabilizing Cuba,” Eliades Acosta told the Militant. “Its goal is a change of government in Cuba. It has different aspects: economic, political, military. This is the ‘libraries wing’ of that effort.” They hope, Acosta explained, that by focusing their propaganda on “intellectual freedom” they can draw away some people who would be inclined to sympathize with the Cuban Revolution.

“I received a letter from an Argentine, a Mr. Rubí, saying that he was a friend of Cuba but that he was concerned that Mark Twain is banned here,” Acosta said. “Rubí had heard this as a result of wild assertions that have been circulated on the web suggesting that books by Mark Twain had been seized by the Cuban authorities and burnt. I can understand such concern. I personally would be outraged if there were a country in the 21st century that banned Mark Twain.”

Liberal columnist Nat Hentoff of the New York Village Voice recently wrote several articles applauding a book donation by the public library in Vermillion, South Dakota, to an “independent library” in Havana that included titles by Mark Twain. Hentoff declared that Mark Twain would make “Fidel Castro quake in his combat boots.”

The charge, however, “just happens not to be true,” Acosta said. Not only is Mark Twain not banned in Cuba, his works are very popular here. They are studied in Cuban schools. Films based on his works are considered classics here. A new edition of Tom Sawyer was presented at the Havana International Book Fair this year.

“In fact, if there is a country where Mark Twain doesn’t fit into current governmental politics, it’s the United States. Mark Twain was the vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League. He spoke out against the U.S. occupation of Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico at the end of the 19th century. The American Library Association published a list of the most challenged books in the United States—titles that are the subject of formal written complaints, filed with a library or school requesting they be removed. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the fifth-most challenged book during the years 1990-2000.

“This is an example of how shabby this campaign has been, why it’s not making any ground,” Acosta said. “The most they’ve achieved is a protest by the mayor of Paris, former Czech president Vaclav Havel and some others in that country, the Polish library association, and the Liberal Party in Sweden. That’s about it. Each time they say something, they tell a bigger lie. It’s not effective. They know nothing about real life in Cuba.

“Allegations that may have served them well in their efforts in Czechoslovakia do not work in their campaign against Cuba. For example, in Czechoslovakia they did ban books, so a campaign against book banning had an impact. Here we don’t ban books, so the same allegation falls flat.”

In response to this propaganda, Acosta concluded, “The best answer is to get out the truth. The campaign of lies thrives on lack of information. So providing information on the real situation is decisive.

“Our instruments in this struggle are words, not the police.”  
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