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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 10. "Friends" versus supporters of Cuban libraries

by John Pateman

On 15 June 1999 an organisation calling itself the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" issued a press release on the Internet alleging that "independent librarians" were being arrested in Cuba and their "libraries" were being confiscated. The "Friends" claim to be an "independent, nonpartisan, non-profit organisation which supports intellectual freedom and Cuba's independent library movement". The founders of the organisation are Jorge Sanguinetty and Robert Kent.

Jorge Sanguinetty resides in Miami. He was head of Cuba's Department of National Investment Planning before he left the country in 1967. He is also a newspaper columnist and a commentator on Radio Marti, a US government funded radio station which broadcasts anti-Cuban programmes. This station illegally invades Cuban air space and adds insult to injury by using the name of the Cuban national hero.

Robert Kent is a librarian who lives in New York City. On four occasions he has taken books and pamphlets to Cuba for Freedom House and the Centre for a Free Cuba, both of which are funded by the US Agency for International Development. On three occasions his travel expenses were paid by Freedom House or the Centre for a Free Cuba.

Freedom House is an anti-Castro organisation which has received $500,000 (from USAID and the US Information Agency) in US government funding. The Centre for a Free Cuba has received $400,000. These grants form part of the $3.1m in payment to organisations that are committed to the overthrow of the Cuban government. The funding springs from Track 2 of the Torricelli Act. Track 1 is dedicated to tightening the illegal 40 year US blockade of Cuba ; Track 2 provides for US government support to non-governmental organisations in Cuba, including "dissidents" and "independent librarians". But, as Ann Sparanese, a New Jersey public librarian, points out :

"Not one of these so-called libraries is a library, and not one of the allegedly repressed librarians is, or ever was, a professional librarian. They are professional dissidents. There are many US visitors to Cuba who travel there mainly for the purposes of searching for "dissidents" and Mr Kent, who describes himself as "no friend" of the Cuban government is among these."

In his determination to champion the political freedoms of "dissidents" in Cuba, Mr Kent does not concern himself with the fact that other US citizens, unless they receive a "licence" from the US government are prohibited from travelling and spending money in Cuba at risk of jail or fines. For every "independent librarian" who has been harassed and arrested in Cuba, hundreds of US citizens (on trips NOT approved by the US government as was Mr Kent's) returning from Cuba have been harassed at customs ; had their belongings, Cuban materials and passports confiscated ; have been threatened with fines and jail terms ; have had the FBI hound them at home and work. They have also been the subjects of Senate hearings and had their names and addresses published in the hearing reports.

These violations of the rights of US citizens do not concern Mr Kent who could travel to Cuba without such threats over his head. Clearly he was doing the work of the US government in Cuba and financed by them. His freedom of travel and expression are guaranteed even promoted. What books did he take into Cuba and which "dissident" groups did he help to fund ? If a foreigner or foreign government did that in the US, this would be illegal. Imagine if the activities of the Cuba Solidarity movement in the US were bankrolled by the Cuban government. It would not only be scandalous, but unless those people had declared themselves to be the "agents of a foreign power" they would go to jail. But the US Interests Section in Havana regularly funnels money to "dissident" groups in Cuba. The kind of thing that used to be done covertly by the CIA is now being done openly by the type of groups that Mr Kent represents.

Mr Kent is also silent on the countless attempts by his government to overthrow the Castro regime. These include assassination attempts on Cuban leaders, invasions, the introduction of biological warfare, the destruction of factories, the financing of terrorism and the use of the Guantanamo base to initiate provocations. This state sponsored terror has gone on for over 40 years and has led to the death and injury of over 5500 Cuban civilians.


The "Friends" get most of their information from Cubanet, the main promoter of the "Independent Libraries Project in Cuba". Cubanet is based in Coral Gables, Florida, and financed by the following : National Endowment for Democracy, which supports a number of anti-Cuban government enterprises emanating from such places as the National Republican Institute, Ronald Reagan's creation ; the Open Society, funded by George Soros ; USAID, dedicated to advancing the "political and economic interests of the United States" ; private donors, including members of the Cuban American National Foundation, a violently anti Castro organisation.

The "Friends of Cuban Libraries" do not appear to have many supporters. Ralph Papakhian, a music librarian at Indiana University, commented, "Unfortunately for Kent, the USAID and the CIA have already established well known terrorist track records as regards their activities in Cuba". Joe Grant, another US librarian, makes a similar point : "If they are getting money from the US Agency for International Development, I question their objectivity and their ability to state that they are independent and non partisan".

Mark Rosenzweig, editor of the "Progressive Librarian", was even more explicit : "Mr Kent and his colleagues have shown no interest in working to lift the blockade which has crippled the material basis for cultural development in Cuba, effecting its libraries as well as many other more fundamental sectors of Cuban society. He has never contacted the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association about our efforts to help lift the blockade, nor has he been interested in our programming which has involved Cuban librarians".

Mr Kent says that his organisation takes no position on the US blockade against Cuba. This is surprising given that the "Friends" are supposed to support human rights and the UN has defined the provision of information as a human right. The blockade also applies to food and medicine, another violation of human rights which Kent ignores. The "Friends" claim to be neutral on the blockade yet Jorge Sanguinetty is a very prominent spokesman in favour of the blockade, as any search of the WWW with his name will show. A recent speech of his at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies was avidly against the lifting of the blockade.

Ann Sparanese sees the "Friends" group as an opportunity rather than a threat : "Perhaps we should thank the so-called "Friends of Cuban Libraries" for reminding us to strengthen our opposition to the blockade and to do more to assist the Cuban people to get rid of it, once and for all".

Cuban Libraries Support Group

On 1 July 1999 the Cuban Libraries Support Group (CLSG) was established. The objectives of the CLSG are to support : Cuban libraries, librarians, library and information workers and the Cuban Library Association (ASCUBI) ; Cuba's free and comprehensive education system and high literacy levels ; and the Cuban people's right to self determination and to chose the social, political and economic systems which support their library service.

The CLSG will work in partnership with four organisations : Information for Social Change, a progressive librarian's network ; the Library Association, which passed a motion in favour of Cuban libraries at its AGM ; Book Aid International, which sends books to Cuban libraries ; and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

Joe Grant welcomed the CLSG : "Cuba's libraries and librarians are dear to members of this family and we try to provide support in a number of ways. We really want more information". Mark Rosenzweig also offered his support : "I have no problem with the outline and goals of the Cuban Library Support Group and will be glad to promote it among the Progressive Librarians Guild. I will publish the statement in the next possible issue of Progressive Librarian".

Mark went on to make another very important point : "You must remember, that we in the US bear a special responsibility for the situation of the Cuban people, that we are the "Great Power" in the hemisphere, that our country is consciously trying to strangle Cuba economically, and that it is incumbent upon our activists here, therefore, to be especially concerned". Mark is proposing to members of the Progressive Librarians Guild that PLG becomes an official endorser of the CSLG. He is presently polling "the interested members and the response is very positive". Also, at the next American Library Association (ALA) conference a resolution on the CSLG will be put before the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) asking them to formally endorse it. A resolution on Cuba, including support for CSLG, will also be taken to the ALA Council.

Ann Sparanese agrees "that SRRT should take an official position on this and support and participate in the program outlined by the Cuban Libraries Support Group".

The debate between the "Friends" and supporters of Cuban libraries continues on the Internet. The balance of contributions are overwhelmingly in favour of the CLSG. Here is a flavour of what people are saying. Elaine Harger thinks that "Robert Kent's group bears all the hallmarks of being one cog in the US machine of US "public diplomacy" that works quite successfully to undermine attempts of people to establish within their own countries alternatives to the inequalities and injustices on which capitalism depends and thrives".

"Keep in mind that the maintenance of those inequalities and injustices requires its own brand of censorship, and the US has a rich history of imprisoning, deporting, blacklisting and killing the advocates of civil rights, labour rights and human rights. The Robert Kents of the US do not necessarily have a commitment to freedom, equality and peace. Many Robert Kents come from a tradition of bashing skulls of striking workers, stealing land from native inhabitants, exploiting the natural resources of foreign countries, and smashing the presses of abolitionists,anarchists and other opponents of unjust status quos".

For more information about the Cuban Libraries Support Group contact john.patemanat


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