Thursday, September 6, 2007

Get it at the library?

In the same Slate article (by Paul Berman) that I was reading earlier, there's a passage that talks about the 2004-era attempt to establish free libraries in Cuba:

In the last couple of years the dissident movement has sprung up in yet another form in Cuba, as a campaign to establish independent libraries, free of state control; and state repression has fallen on this campaign, too.

These Cuban events have attracted the attention of a number of intellectuals and liberals around the world. Václav Havel has organized a campaign of solidarity with the Cuban dissidents and, together with Elena Bonner and other heroic liberals from the old Soviet bloc, has rushed to support the Cuban librarians. A group of American librarians has extended its solidarity to its Cuban colleagues, but, in order to do so, the American librarians have had to put up a fight within their own librarians' organization, where the Castro dictatorship still has a number of sympathizers. And yet none of this has aroused much attention in the United States, apart from a newspaper column or two by Nat Hentoff and perhaps a few other journalists, and an occasional letter to the editor. The statements and manifestos that Havel has signed have been published in Le Monde in Paris, and in Letras Libres magazine in Mexico, but have remained practically invisible in the United States. The days when American intellectuals rallied in any significant way to the cause of liberal dissidents in other countries, the days when Havel's statements were regarded by Americans as important calls for intellectual responsibility—those days appear to be over.

Well, in 2007 one library recognized the cause - the Library of Congress.

In a talk at the Library on Feb. 20, Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, provided words of inspiration to dissidents worldwide who are seeking the right to live in freedom and with dignity.

In a discussion titled "Dissidents and Freedom," Havel discussed the role of a dissident and then shared the stage with eight courageous men and women who are fighting for human rights in their native countries of Russia, Burma, Cuba, Belarus, China, North Korea and Iran....

After Havel's brief lecture, the eight dissidents, some of whom have served prison terms in their native lands and are now living in exile in the United States, were introduced. Each spoke for about three minutes, recapping the situation in their respective countries....

Ramón Humberto Colás is the founder of the movement of independent libraries in Cuba. In 1998, after hearing Fidel Castro declare at the International Book Fair in Havana that "in Cuba there are no banned books, only lack of funds to purchase them," Ramón and his wife Berta Mexidor created an independent library in their house, featuring books and magazines that the Cuban government considered enemy propaganda and had banned. Within nine months of the project, there were 13 independent libraries in Cuba. Today, there are 135. The Cuban government has responded by sending Colás and his wife into exile, jailing 20 of the independent librarians in 2003, harassing others and denying many of the librarians paid employment. Nonetheless, more than 240,000 Cubans are regular patrons of the libraries, and Colás continues to support the movement in exile. He said, "Independent libraries are small centers where one can live in freedom."

More information on the libraries can be found here.

And, to be fair, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions passed a resolution in 2004, which reads in part:

Today, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and its Committee of Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (IFLA/FAIFE) expressed their deep concern about the continuing violations of the basic human right to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in Cuba....

With the new Internet bill (Resolution 180/2003) that came into effect on 10 January the Cuban government will gain further control over Internet use. Before the bill was passed the government already had taken measures to block various Internet sites and restrict general access to the Web. Despite these restrictions, many Cuban citizens have nevertheless been able to seek and exchange information via the Internet using borrowed or purchased equipment and accounts. For them access to the Internet will now be even more difficult and expensive. The new bill will especially affect those who without authorisation have accessed the Web from their homes The bill states that the Internet can be used only via telephone services charged in U.S. dollars, which few people can get hold of. Also Cubans who have an authorisation must now seek additional approval to use the regular phone lines. Misuse will be detected as the Cuban telephone company is now authorised to "detect and impede access to Internet navigation services".

But forget about the Internet for a moment. What about books? According to the Babalu Blog, Scott G. compiled a list of books that were (as of 2006) banned in Cuba. Here are some of them:

Amnesty International. Amnesty International Report, 1999.
Constitution of the United States of America.
Courtois, Stephane, et al. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression.
Diamond, Larry and Marc F. Plattner, eds. The Global Resurgence of Democracy.
Edwards, Jorge. Persona Non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution.
Furet, Francois. The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century.
Harrison, Lawrence E. Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind: The Latin American Case.
Havel, Vaclav. Living in Truth.
--. The Art of the Impossible.
--. Toward a Civil Society: Selected Speeches and Writings, 1990 ? 1994.
--. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe.
Human Rights Watch. Cuba's Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution.
King, Martin Luther Jr. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
Mesa-Lago; Carmelo, Alberto Arenas; and Malena Barro. Market, Socialist, and Mixed Economies : Comparative Policy and Performance--Chile, Cuba, and Costa Rica.
Orwell, George. 1984.
--. Animal Farm.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, et al. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sakharov, Andrei. Sakharov Speaks.
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Letters to the Soviet Leaders.
Walensa, Lech. A Way of Hope.

Of course, book-banning can go the other way, as I noted back in 2006:

"A children's school book titled Let's Go to Cuba depicts Castro's fiefdom as a combination Emerald City and Willi Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Some American parents of Cuban heritage noticed it and filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade school board, who voted to remove the book from the public school library. The ACLU claims to be scandalized and filed suit to retain the book...."

And here's some of the banned material:

People in Cuba eat, work and go to school like you do. Life in Cuba is also unique....

The capital of Cuba is Havana. The capitol building in Havana looks like the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC....

Most Cubans live in cities. The cities are crowded, so many people live in apartment buildings. There are some beautiful old buildings. There are new buildings too....

There are not many cars in Cuba. In the cities, some people drive old cars from the United States. Most Cubans travel by bus....

I noted at the time:

From the excerpts above, as well as the other translated material, the book doesn't appear to be a whitewash. I'll grant that the book doesn't delve into WHY there is a scarcity of cars, for example, but then again does the book on the United States explain why some things happen here?

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