American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Cuban Librarians Jailed: American Library Association Shelves Their Case
Nat Hentoff, a biographer of 20th century peace icon A. J. Muste, and columnist for the Village Voice, is writing a series of columns on jailed librarians in Cuba. Excerpts from these columns have been combined, with his permission, below.
In Cuba, 51-year-old Victor Rolando Arroyo - who directed an independent, private library before being sentenced to 26 years in prison during Castro's crackdown on dissenters in the spring of 2003 - is now in solitary confinement after protesting the treatment of another prisoner.
Arroyo belongs to the Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers Union. At his trial for "undermining national independence and territorial integrity," Arroyo refused a government-appointed defense lawyer because, he said, the verdict had been decided in advance.
According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières), Arroyo "has high blood pressure, headaches, and diarrhea, and has lost between 15 and 20 kilograms since he was imprisoned." He is not receiving treatment. At his trial, closed to foreign journalists, the judge called Arroyo a "traitor to Cuba" and a "lackey of the US government."
Arroyo is one of 10 independent librarians among the 75 dissidents given draconian prison sentences last spring. Amnesty International reports they were accused of such "crimes" as publishing articles, talking with international human rights groups, organizing unions, distributing literature, and receiving material support for these activities from the US. Amnesty comments, "Despite the Cuban government's claims that such acts threatened national security and therefore warranted prosecution, the above activities constitute legitimate exercise of freedoms of expression, assembly, and association." Amnesty adopted the 75 dissidents as prisoners of conscience.
Before being put in Castro's gulag for 20 years, Raúl Rivero wrote in the Argentinean newspaper, La Nación, "No one can make me feel like a criminal, or an enemy agent, or someone who does not love his country.... I am only a man who writes. And writes in the country where he was born, and where his great-grandparents were born."
And where, at 57, Raúl Rivero is very likely to die in a prison cell in Castro's "republic." His wife, Blanca Reyes, adds: "What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade."
Because Cuba's independent librarians are targeted for persecution, and since the American Library Association has vigorously and publicly supported freedom of information by protesting the sections of John Ashcroft's Patriot Act that give the FBI the power to search library records, some American Library Association (ALA) members brought a resolution to the governing council of the ALA, asking it to, "call for the [Cuban] prisoners immediate release."
Karen Schneider, a member of the ALA governing council, proposed this amendment to strengthen a report on Cuba's libraries, which the governing council was considering at the ALA mid-winter meeting. Karen Schneider emphasized that demanding that Castro free these prisoners of conscience "is consistent with ALA policies, including ALA Policy 58.8, which affirms our support for Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression' ...and especially [ALA Policy] 58.1 (2) ... to 'support human rights and intellectual freedom worldwide.'"
Surprisingly, the 182-member ALA council overwhelmingly voted down Karen Schneider's amendment. Only about five hands were raised to support it. Instead, the ALA merely expressed their "deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms of political dissidents in Cuba."
The ALA said nothing about unlocking the cells. Maybe ALA president Carla Hayden and other members of the hierarchy will send the prisoners, including the 10 librarians, a quote from Fidel Castro when he was imprisoned by the dictatorship that preceded his. Wrote Castro: "In prison, there were no rifles for training, no stone fortresses from which to shoot. Behind those walls, our rifles were books. And through study, stone by stone we built our fortress, the only one that is invincible: the fortress of ideas." In their filthy cells, Castro's own prisoners might take some comfort clutching that quotation in the small hours of the night.
After sentencing the independent librarians, Castro's judges, in a number of cases, declared the confiscated library materials "lacking in usefulness" and ordered them burned. Will the American Library Association hold a memorial service?
To protest, contact the Cuban Interest Section, Embassy of Switzerland, 2360 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also add your name to the protest issued by many prominent progressives at http://home.igc.org/~jlandy/cpd/antiwar/cuba_stmt.html .
ALA Spokesperson Renounces Vote
Peacework contacted the ALA to hear their side of the story, and was referred to John Berry, current chair of the ALA's International Relations Committee and President of the ALA in 2001-2002.
John Berry explained that the vote was so lopsided against supporting the language calling for the Cuban librarians' release, because, "We have conservative members who oppose taking stands on trans-border issues at all. Others didn't want to be perceived as allying ourselves with the agenda of Cuban regime change enunciated by Secretary of State Powell and others."
"In the International Relations Committee, we're working with and pressuring the Cuban Library Association to take a stand for free expression, including free internet access, within their own country."
"When I was in Cuba, I visited the independent librarians, and they said they wanted to live in Cuba, a Cuba that was free. They had religious tracts, and copies of Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Some people try to discredit them by claiming they're not professional librarians, but that's not a distinction which I believe is important. I love these people. I wish Castro would let them go. I understand the argument the Cuban government is making, but I disagree, and I oppose it."
"I was surprised by the overwhelmingly negative vote. Actually, I would have supported the amendment myself."