ALA rejects U.S.-backed libraries in Cuba

Among the 75 dissidents recently convicted on subversion charges in Cuba are so-called “independent librarians.” Their arrest drew howls of protest from the Bush administration and Cuban emigres in Miami. But Ann Sparanese, a librarian at the Englewood, N.J. public library who is active in the American Library Association (ALA), is one of several alert ALA members who dug into the background of these “independent” librarians.

“They are not librarians at all,” she told the World in a telephone interview. “They are on the payroll of the U.S. government, the biggest, most powerful and richest country in the world that is trying to buy dissidents in Cuba.”

Sparanese wrote a report on the so-called “independent librarians” as well as on an outfit in the U.S. called “Friends of Cuban Libraries” (FOCL) headed by Cuban émigré Robert Kent, an employee of the New York City Library. Kent brags that he set up the network of “libraries,” and visited Cuba many times delivering cash and anti-government literature until he was deported in 1999. As early as July 2000, Kent approached the ALA demanding they denounce Cuban “repression” and also provide financial and political support for his network of “libraries” in Cuba.

Thanks to the efforts of Sparanese and others, ALA convened a hearing on Kent’s demands Jan. 13, 2001. After hearing her testimony and that of a University of California (UC) librarian, Rhonda L. Neugebauer, the ALA rejected his appeals.

Sparanese’s report points out that Cubanet, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Agency for International Development and “anonymous” donors, openly brags of its “independent libraries project” in Cuba headed by leaders and officers of dissident political parties whose declared aim is to overthrow the Cuban government. She concludes her report, “If the ALA takes any action at all on Cuba, it should be to call for an end to the embargo and the hostile U.S. policy toward Cuba which harms the democratic rights, including freedom of expression, of both the Cuban and U.S. people.”

She said ALA is so determined to improve relations with the bonafide librarians of Cuba that a delegation from the ALA’s sister Cuban library association has been invited to attend the ALA’s annual convention in Toronto in June. “We will have a panel discussion and all kinds of welcoming activities,” she said.

Neugebauer, a bibliographer in Latin American Studies at UC-Riverside, and Larry Oberg, a librarian at Oregon’s Willamette University, went to Cuba in July 2000 to study the island’s system of 400 public libraries and 6,000 school libraries. Today, 97 percent of Cubans are literate, the highest rate in the western hemisphere. Before the 1959 socialist revolution, they point out, a majority of Cubans were illiterate and there were 32 libraries in the whole country.

Neugebauer and Oberg visited over a dozen “independent” libraries in several cities including Havana and Santiago. On their return, they issued a 21-page report titled, “Payment for Services Rendered: U.S.-Funded Dissent and the Independent Libraries Project.”

By interviewing the owners of these “libraries” they discovered that they “were carefully chosen drop-off and contact points for personnel from the U.S. Interests Section … the ‘independent librarians’ … told (us) that … they received regular visits from U.S. Interests Section personnel who dropped off packages on a monthly basis along with money.”

The report continues, “Since it was the first time any mention of money had been made in reference to their work, I asked, ‘What is the money for?” “For services rendered,” the “librarian” responded. “These libraries help the opposition in Cuba and our leadership in Miami. They tell us what to do. They receive our reports and news. They give us money so we can do what we do here, be dissidents and build opposition to the Cuban government.”

By coincidence, the report continues, “We arrived at one ‘library’ when a meeting was being held of ‘independent librarians,’ ‘independent teachers,’ independent trade unionists’ and some type of ‘independent religious’ organization.” The 10 dissidents “described to us the interconnected nature of their work against the Cuban government using a variety of front groups they called ‘independent.’ However, most of their meetings did not appear to be about library service or collections.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com