"Payment for Services Rendered":

US-funded Dissent and the "Independent Libraries Project" in Cuba

(See new background links below)

Presentation to the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies Nov. 8-9, 2002; East Los Angeles College; Panel "Cuba Today." By Rhonda L. Neugebauer, Bibliographer, Latin American Studies University of California, Riverside


In addition to researching Cuban libraries and librarianship on my trips, Larry Oberg (University Librarian, Willamette University) and I were the first U.S. librarians to visit the so-called "independent libraries" in Cuba in 2000. By interviewing the owners of these "libraries," we discovered that these " libraries" were carefully chosen drop-off and contact points for personnel from the U.S. Interests Section and others, who visited them on a regular basis, to deliver materials and money. We also discovered that by accepting anti-government materials and by developing "libraries" with these materials, the "librarians" qualified to be paid a monthly stipend--"for services rendered," as one of them put it.

Our interviews with these "librarians" contradicted a good deal of the PR campaign that their U.S. financiers had undertaken, and established the fact that the communiques circulated in the U.S. about these "libraries" were intentionally misleading and politically motivated. Having first-hand testimony about their methods, activities and U.S. contacts, allowed Larry and me to interject new information about these "librarians" into the debate raging in library circles internationally and which, until our return, had been completely dominated by the public face of their U.S. handlers, a group called the "Friends of Cuban Libraries." Our research proved that what the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" campaign identified as a "force for intellectual freedom" was simply part and parcel of a U.S. foreign policy strategy that disingenuously advocated the "opening civil society" in Cuba through the funding of a variety of dissident groups. Over the last few years Washington has given millions of dollars to U.S. and Cuban groups to create a "civil society," that they hope leads to destabilization of the Cuban government and ultimately to a "regime change" in Havana.

Whereas I began my trips in order to study Cuban libraries, Larry and I were immediately pulled into the ideological and political contest to declare these " independent librarians" as the sole bastions of intellectual freedom on the island. Because of this, we began to study these "libraries" and their supporters. Today, I will very briefly describe Cuban libraries and librarianship first, in order to provide information on the library profession in Cuba, examine the issues they confront on a daily basis, and furnish some context and background for the criticisms of the profession that those outside of Cuba lodge against the "state-librarians," as they are called by their detractors. After that, I will talk about the issue of the "independent libraries." While the proponents of "independent libraries" cast Cuban librarians simply as agents in a government conspiracy to deny Cubans vital information and analysis about their their government, their society, and the world, there is another side to this story, the struggle of Cuban librarians --working under conditions of underdevelopment and destabilization -- to create substantive repositories and conduits of intellectual and cultural heritage reflecting all Cubans and to be used by all Cubans. That is where I will start today.

"Payment for Services Rendered": US-funded Dissent and the "Independent Libraries Project" in Cuba

Presentation to the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies Nov. 8-9, 2002; East Los Angeles College; Panel "Cuba Today." By Rhonda L. Neugebauer, Bibliographer, Latin American Studies University of California, Riverside

Cuban Libraries

The social and cultural priorities of the revolution in Cuba have influenced the development of the country since 1959, and have resulted in clear emphases on literacy, education, culture and the arts. These emphases have produced a society rich in educational, intellectual and cultural opportunities and a population that is literate, highly educated and well read. They have also produced libraries with dynamic educational programming and outreach to the public and a library profession with a commitment to continuous assessment of community needs based on active engagement with diverse user populations. Moreover, these emphases have ensured libraries a prominent role in the conservation of historical records, the promotion of reading and lifelong adult learning, and the preservation of cultural patrimony, making libraries respected and valued institutions in Cuba.

There is a high demand for reading materials, because Cuba is a nation of readers. This is not surprising, in a country with a literacy rate of 97% (according to the UN Development Program and World Bank) and with free education through the doctoral level. Library users are accustomed to having a variety of reading materials available--from the Classics to contemporary literature, from Latin American fiction to current and historical works from around the world. Cubans invest a lot of time and energy in their education and view libraries as essential to their academic and personal success. They expect libraries to provide supplemental materials for degree programs, homework and school assignments, reference works, foreign language materials, as well as recreational works, music, special services (for the blind, especially, and for individuals with development disabilities), and, increasingly, for online services and access to the Internet. To meet these demands, Cuban librarians build collections in a variety of disciplines and genres, and they develop programming and outreach to share library resources with the public and within the network of school, public and university libraries that is run by the National Library. And, they are gradually building the infrastructure that will provide access to online and Internet resources.

Cuban librarianship

Cuban librarians carry out many of the same activities as do their North American counterparts. They strive to build broad and in-depth collections that reflect their cultural and national identity and provide information and reference services to researchers, professionals and the public. They organize and preserve materials in diverse formats, create tools that assist patrons in the use of their collections and increasingly employ new technologies to format and deliver resources.

However, there are striking differences between the U.S. library environment and the Cuban library environment. Cuba is a country "en via de desarrollo" (on the road to development). The impact of "underdevelopment" means that Cuban libraries face chronic shortages of basic resources, such as pens and paper; and in many cases, they have deteriorating facilities, inadequate telephone systems and domestic and international telecommunications networks, and inadequate funding for materials. And, as in most "underdeveloped countries," it is difficult and costly to add a telephone line to the library, to acquire computer equipment, to set up networks and hubs that allow access to the Internet, and to buy sufficient numbers of books and journals needed by users. Complicating the situation, during the "special period" in the early 1990s, the publishing industry was practically paralyzed due to a lack of paper in the country. The Cuban book industry has continued its reduced publishing output and limited print runs due to shortages of paper and supplies, although it has somewhat recovered.

In addition to the macroeconomic issues, another fundamental difference between U.S. and Cuban libraries is that Cuban libraries operate within the context of a punitive trade embargo imposed by a hostile foreign government, the United States. The embargo has profoundly affected the country and the consequences for libraries are notable and conspicuous. The embargo, in effect since 1962, limits the country's ability to acquire publishing and office supplies, paper, computers and technology, library equipment (such as photocopiers, toner, microfilm readers, the film itself) and literally all materials that must be purchased with foreign currency. Everyday library operations are effected by the higher costs associated with purchases --and even donations -- that must be made or transported through a third country. Sharing of professional knowledge and expertise within the international library community has been negatively effected by trade and travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government. For example, last year at the Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL) Conference, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), a bibliographic utility and cataloging service, was not allowed to set up a booth.1 Nor were U.S. publishers allowed to attend the Cuban annual book fair in February (and next year, when it expands to all 15 provinces, they will also be prohibited from attending). In addition to effecting vendor displays and marketing, the restrictions on travel by U.S. librarians to Cuba have inhibited contact between U.S. and Cuban librarians. For U.S. librarians, travel is only permitted after being granted a license from the Treasury Dept. The U.S. government has frequently withheld visas for Cuban librarians to travel to U.S. conferences and seminars and to conduct research. Simply put, the trade embargo and travel restrictions imposed on Cuba by the U.S are in conflict with the core values of librarianship--open inquiry, intellectual freedom and unfettered access to information from diverse perspectives, and it has affected library collections in the U.S. as well as in Cuba. With the embargo-imposed long-term, draconian restrictions and limitations, the mere act of building a collection on Cuba within a U.S. library--and including the work of Cuban scholars' (and the Cuban government, for that matter)--is difficult and laborious. And, for Cuban librarians, building collections with foreign publications and works by Cuban writers outside the country is nearly impossible.

In spite of the economic problems and trade restrictions, though, Cuba has heavily invested in libraries since 1959. There are now 400 public libraries and 6000 school libraries in Cuba. Before the revolution, there were 32 public libraries in the whole country and very few school libraries, especially in small towns and the countryside. Furthermore, there are legal supports to libraries as well. There is a flourishing Deposito Legal program in Cuba whereby publishers are required by law to give 15 copies of each book published in Cuba to the National Library, which then distributes them to each provincial library. However, that sum is small, considering that the needs are great. Stretching resources to build collections and offer services in all those libraries is an enormous and difficult undertaking.

Funding for most Cuban libraries is limited, with the National Library receiving funding of $ 200,000 pesos ($10,000) per year, and provincial libraries receiving as little as $50,000 pesos per year ($500) to spend on books.2 Such low funding virtually guarantees that a library cannot build broad or in-depth collections, even of Cuban publications. If it is difficult to acquire Cuban materials that sell for about 5 Cuban pesos (or $.25), foreign publications that can be purchased only with foreign exchange (dollars), are obviously out of the range of most Cuban libraries. Libraries also have great difficulties obtaining the dollars that would be needed to purchase foreign journal subscriptions, non-Cuban books, electronic products and technology. In response to these difficulties, Cuban librarians provide as many books as they can, establish and maintain active exchange programs where feasible, request donations from patrons and publishers, establish reading clubs with volunteer involvement, and initiate new services with frugality bolstered by undeniable enthusiasm and dedication.

Determined to confront this underfunding, Cuban librarians have been creative in their mission to provide reading material for a well-educated public that has an appreciation of the rich literary and intellectual history of the country and of the world. One innovative program has been the establishment of subscriber groups wherein patrons contribute books or pay a small sum (10 pesos per year) to borrow new books. These groups, called Minerva Clubs and already operating in 26 libraries, solicit patron support and donations to public library popular fiction collections. The Minerva Clubs, started with donations of materials from Spain, serve large numbers of people and help libraries buy multiple copies of high demand titles. There are plans to expand these very successful clubs to other libraries when resources allow. Cuban librarians are very proud of their library services for the blind, which are available in several large and some small libraries. They have received donations of Braille materials from abroad and have employed blind librarians to administer some of the collections and services. Moreover, as part of their mission to bring books to the historically neglected countryside, a library has been established in every school, and rotating book collections for distant rural libraries are delivered periodically by traveling librarians on day-long excursions by bus, foot and horseback from provincial or public libraries.

This mission to establish library services throughout the country and to make sure reading materials are available equitably to everyone is testimony to the commitment and dedication of Cuban librarians. They are genuinely service oriented, reflective, and critically aware of the needs of their professionals and their users, as well as their institutional needs and shortcomings. They are full of ideas and plans for how they would like to improve services, increase public outreach, and promote lifelong learning and literacy more broadly among their users.

Equally important, they are prepared to turn their ideas into action. Library personnel, typically, are well trained in the theory, values and practices of contemporary librarianship and most library staff have completed specialized training programs or programs of study in library science. To be a library technician in Cuba, one must complete a post-high school technical degree; to be a librarian, one must possess a university level degree in communications and/or library and information science from the University of Havana at the B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. level. By all accounts, they put their training to good use in solving the myriad of problems and in overcoming the limitations that they encounter on their jobs.

Intellectual Freedom and Access to Information

Building collections of varying perspectives and viewpoints is a venerated value of librarianship based on respect for intellectual freedom. Naturally, we were curious to know if Cuban library professionals shared this value. Whenever the issue was raised, it became a focal point of our visits and the discussions were exciting and passionate. One of the best sessions was with librarians at the Jose Marti National Library with the Library department heads, the administration and the Director. The National Librarian of Cuba is Dr. Eliades Acosta Matos, an historian. When we asked about the inclusion of varying perspectives in Cuban library collections, he talked at length to explain the library's commitment to intellectual freedom. He noted that "the materials we have in our libraries offer a variety of perspectives on the revolution. In our collections we want diversity. We want to collect materials of all types and perspectives. We have books by U.S. authors and Cuban authors who live abroad. We want more, but we just don't have the money to buy them. That is why exchange programs with libraries around the world are so important to us. Through exchange, we add materials that we could not possibly purchase abroad because of the cost. We are attempting to preserve the national heritage, and our collection development policies reflect the needs and the desires of our people to be exposed to all kinds of ideas and perspectives."3

This diversity and inclusion is easily verifiable--by looking in the library catalogs and perusing the shelves, which we did in all the libraries we visited. We located books on human rights (including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), intellectual freedom, democracy and capitalism. And, some librarians were shown circulation records for books written by dissenters, defectors, and Miami-"exiles", including Reinaldo Arenas and Cabrera Infante, although some volumes are not allowed to circulate outside the library due to fear of being stolen or damaged. In a later interview with a U.S. newspaper reporter, Acosta reiterated the main problems for libraries in Cuba; "There are no banned books, only those we don't have the money to buy. ...The biggest problem we have is lack of resources. With such scarcity, hard choices have to be made as to which books to buy. Similar choices are made in every country. We don't buy racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic literature although important books such as Hitler's Mein Kampf are held in the national library." 4

Exchange programs (or canje) are ways Cubans librarians can circumvent the embargo and add diverse opinion to their collections. Active exchange programs between Cuban and U.S. libraries have existed for over 40 years. Hence, there are countless U.S. librarians that have contributed to diverse Cuban library collections, and they can confirm that Cuban libraries seek partners from around the world and regularly request works written by Cubans or about Cuba--regardless of their political persuasion. This is a fact, recorded in the business conducted between U.S. and Cuban library institutions for decades--with reciprocal benefits. Many U.S. collections on Cuba are enriched by exchanges, and the Cuban institutions rely heavily on this method of building their own collections. In fact, the Jose Marti National Library routinely asks its partners from around the world to help them identify and collect Cuban literature (items written by or about Cubans) to place in their libraries, and even individual visiting scholars and librarians are often asked to help in this endeavor. The most recent example of this constant endeavor is when Dr. Acosta attended the 2002 SALALM meeting of the "Subcommittee on Cuba Bibliography." They agreed to begin work on a database of Cuban authors, with Cuban librarians contributing records for authors published within Cuba and several Cuban American librarians contributing records for authors outside of Cuba.

The "Independent Libraries Project"

After having provided some background on library services in Cuba, now I will turn to the issue of the "independent libraries," their operations within Cuba, and the support and PR machine outside of Cuba that has created and sustained them. To conclude, I will comment on the very public and legislatively mandated support that the U.S. government gives these co-called "dissidents."

The information Larry Oberg and I collected about the "independent libraries" was gathered by visiting over a dozen "independent libraries" in several cities, including Havana and Santiago, and by studying the directories, news and archives of the Cubanet.org website, the virtual sponsor of what is called the " Independent Library Project."5 In most cases, the "librarians" invited us into their homes and showed us their bookshelves. In some cases, the " libraries" had ceased to exist because the "librarian" had moved to the U.S., or had given away the "library," anticipating a departure to the U.S. In one case, we confirmed that a "librarian" listed on the "Independent Library Project" webpage, had moved to the U.S. six years earlier, although his name still appeared as a director of a library in Santiago, Cuba, and he is cited as having been "repressed" and "intimidated" in Cuba for his library work.

We found that most of the "libraries" consisted of a few shelves of books in private residences and that their titles were typical of what is owned by many Cubans and by Cuban libraries. In fact, the majority of their books were published in Cuba, by the Cuban government. However, these "libraries" also had a substantial number and apparently growing collection of materials from the U.S., including publications from Cubanet, the Cuban American National Foundation, the Center for a Free Cuba, Ediciones Universal, Cartas de Cuba, a book by Vaclav Havel, and numerous website print-offs from anti-Castro groups. The most widely held materials were Cubanet publications. Those publications were crisp and clean, printed on heavy, glossy paper with multi-color graphics. They looked very out of place alongside the tattered and well-used, brittle and yellowed Cuban books.

When asked about their international connections and funding, the "independent librarians" showed us packing materials from the Swedish Embassy and some postmarks from Miami and Mexico. We also were shown website "news" print offs from Cubanet.org and other anti-Castro websites with computer-generated labels addressed to the individual "library" and signed "From the U.S. Interests Section." We were told that personnel from the U.S. Interests Section delivered many of the items that were not published in Cuba, and that they received regular visits from U.S. Interests Section personnel who dropped off packages on a monthly basis along with money.

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."6 One librarian mentioned that Vicki Huddleston, who was until recently the Chief Officer of the U.S. Interests Section (the highest level of U.S. diplomatic representation) in Cuba, had visited his "library" and donated about 20 titles. Intrigued by this support at the highest levels, I studied the U.S. Interests Section website and found a paragraph acknowledging a "Book Program" page, describing their plan to donate materials to a "wide range of Cuban institutions, contacts and people of influence, throughout Havana and other provinces according to individual interests."7 Apparently, this "Book Program," organized by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Interests Section, distributes books and periodicals on topics such as journalism, political science, American literature, and English language teaching materials."8 Curiously, no materials fitting this description were found in the "independent libraries" nor were nonpartisan, scholarly, or teaching materials shown to us at any of the "independent libraries."

During our visits with the "librarians," we asked about the supposed repression, intimidation and confiscation of the materials, accounts of which had been mentioned frequently and disseminated widely in the U.S. on library listservs by a group called the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" (more on this group later). Their press releases recounted horrendous stories where the "librarians" had been repressed, their book collections had been confiscated and the "librarians" had been routinely intimidated and harassed by Cuban security forces, if not jailed. We found no such evidence and no librarian corroborated these charges from the Friends of Cuban Libraries' press releases. Several "librarians" told us they had been arrested or jailed briefly, but immediately clarified that that was because of "opposition" activities or for breaking the law, mostly by attempting to leave the country without an exit visa.9 Although one "librarian" told us she had been visited by the Cuban security forces, during their visit she had asked them to wait in the living room (in full view of the book shelves), which they did.

For the sake of brevity, I will describe what we found that the "librarians" have in common:

1. They self-identify as dissidents with a history of opposition to the government. 2. Many of the "librarians'" names are listed in Miami-based websites, including Cubanet, as leaders and/or affiliates of opposition parties, principally the Partido Solidaridad Democratico or the Partido Cubano de Renovacion Ortodoxo. In fact, 13 of the 18 "librarians" listed in the participants list are affiliated with these two parties and their "Representatives in the Exterior" are listed as the Directorio Revolucionario Democratico Cubano in Hialeah, Florida. 3. They have connections to political groups outside the country, primarily to anti-Castro groups and individuals, most of which now receiving funding through various U.S.-based organizations dedicated to changing the Cuban government. 4. They claim that they use the collections to foster dissent among the Cuban population--as they have been asked to do. In early press releases, it was reported that the "librarians" were also involved in cultural improvement, promotion of reading, and teaching the "new generation" about older Cuban authors and scientific research. 5. They have served no jail time for library activities; rather any jail time has resulted from illegal activities and for their work to organize political operations directed from abroad (which is illegal in Cuba). 6. They are aware of the U.S. government's political, financial and diplomatic connection to their work and asked us to tell people about them when we returned to the U.S. Several "librarians" asked us to give them money, telephone, faxes, copy machines. 7. When we asked the "librarians" if they circulated books to their neighbors, they told us that they circulate books to many people who want to read about new ideas, ideas that support capitalism and liberty. However, when we asked their neighbors if they knew about the libraries, they said no. The neighbors we talked to did not know about or use the libraries. Since most of these libraries do not keep circulation records, there was little proof of any borrowing activity. 8. Most of the "independent librarians" told us they were also "independent journalists." As such, most of the "librarians" and "journalists" had more telecommunications and electronic equipment than the average Cuban home, for example more than one telephone, fax machines, electronic typewriters and abundant supplies to carry out their work. And, they expected cameras, videos and VCRs to be supplied soon. "Who gave you these devices?" we asked. " Anonymous friends," they said, had dropped them off.

By coincidence, 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. There were about 8-10 people in the room. Most of them were members of more than one of these organizations, and they described to us the inter-connected nature of their work against the Cuban government, using a variety of front groups they call " independent." However, most of their meetings did not appear to be about library services or collections. The American Library Association delegation confirmed these findings in 2001 as written in their report, "when asked if they meet with other "independientes" to discuss the collections, most said that they meet with other dissidents to discuss political activities primarily and only occasionally do they discuss the collections or how to manage them."10

Who are the Proponents of the "Independent Libraries Project" and how do they deliver their support?

In addition to Cubanet.org, the most visible proponent and the most active public relations contact of the "Independent Libraries Project" is a group called the "Friends of Cuban Libraries." The primary activity of the Friends of Cuban Libraries has been to write "news alerts," announcements and e-mails to dozens of listservs asking individuals and organizations to publicly condemn the Cuban government for their supposed suppression of the intellectual freedom of the "independent librarians." As mentioned earlier, Cubanet and related press outlets and websites, then, disseminate the "news" about the "librarians'" alleged struggle against censorship and repression on their website and in their publications. By issuing frequent "alarmist" news releases and letters to innumerable listservs, press outlets and human rights organizations, the Friends of Cuban Libraries has persuaded several organizations to condemn the Cuban government's supposed repression of these "librarians" and to issue "findings" or "reports" based entirely on the statements, information and press releases provided by the Friends of Cuban Libraries or the contacts listed on Cubanet.org. After issuing a fault-finding and accusatory letter or report, the Friends group subsequently claims these organizations and individuals as their members/supporters, widely distributes their "corroborating" reports, and writes even more press releases with "news" of the new members, who are anointed as true defenders of intellectual freedom and "independent libraries" in Cuba. These methods of misinformation have prompted some fairly successful PR, if not biased and inaccurate reporting and misguided condemnations. The BBC, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions's Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE), the Canadian Library Association, ABC News, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post, and Reporters Without Borders--all have covered or denounced some aspect of the "repression" of these "librarians"--based on " evidence" provided in a simple press release distributed by the Friends of Cuban Libraries, and possibly an interview or visit with an "independent librarian" highly recommended by the group.

Who are the Friends of Cuba's "Independent Libraries?"

The Friends of Cuban Libraries was founded in June 1999 by Robert Kent, librarian at New York Public Library, and Jorge Sanguinetty, an economist, a former Cuban government official, a contributor to Radio Marti, and a Miami businessman who does lucrative consulting work for the U.S. government. In the new group's first press release published in American Libraries in June 1999, they declared that a brave, pioneering movement of "independent librarians" in Cuba had been set up in the "homes of individuals involved in human rights activities." They reported that the "librarians" had been systematically threatened and "subjected to harassment, threats and short-term arrests" by the Cuban authorities because of their library work. They also stated that the " library's" collections were donated by Cubans, that the libraries were set up in opposition to 'official censorship' of the government-funded libraries, and that "official" library professionals were often sympathetic to developing a civil society in Cuba, but that they were fearful and therefore didn't openly support this movement.11 They asked U.S. librarians to support the "independent library project" and signed their communiques with a "background" statement professing their "independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit support" for the " independent librarians" claiming to be "funded entirely by ... members" without seeking or accepting "funds from other sources."12

Most of these statements simply did not match reality. Moreover, the initial press release stands in stark contrast to subsequent press releases and to information we obtained by interviewing the "independent librarians" in Cuba. The Friends of Cuban Libraries' characterization of the "librarians" as human rights advocates is not accurate and has been dropped. Their previously stated reasons for opening the "libraries" have changed. The political affiliation of the "librarians" and their years of political opposition to the government, while found on Cubanet.org, is never mentioned by the Friends of Cuban Libraries. The dependence of the so-called "independent libraries" on leadership, publicity and money from abroad is denied--even when asked. And, their claim of nonpartisan and independent support of these "libraries" is false, since Robert Kent has admitted traveling to Cuba at least 9 times as a courier to these "libraries" with financing by Freedom House.13 Through our visits to these "libraries," we established the fact that their books are not donated by Cubans themselves, but by foreign governments, diplomats, anonymous supporters and partisan political operatives from Miami. And, the interviews with the "librarians," provided more proof of the "disconnect" between the public press releases issued in the U.S. and the actual "librarians" in Cuba. Whereas the Friends of Cuban Libraries characterized the "librarians" as human rights activists and defenders of intellectual freedom, the "librarians" in Cuba told us that they purposefully have aligned themselves with foreign operatives because they feel that intervention is a legitimate course of action to destabilize the country. They openly and confidently characterized their work as political opposition, reporting that many of them had been dissidents for years, and that their "independent library" and "independent press" work was intended to heighten their profile internationally and to provoke the Cuban government. Finally, they admitted to us that most of their books, aside from those donated by the U.S. and foreign couriers, were available in Cuban libraries, and that they had little or no contact with real Cuban librarians about their "library" work.

With Friends Like These

Documenting the story behind the headlines, brought to light an intriguing array of linkages between the U.S. government, U.S. AID, a host of U.S.-based and well-funded anti-Castro groups eager to assist in the transition to a new government, and a somewhat volatile but committed group of well-paid dissidents in Cuba anxious to serve in an ideological battle. Given that entanglement, a discussion of the "independent libraries" cannot be separated from the milieu in which they have been created and developed. That milieu includes the foreign policy strategy of the U.S. with its goal of "regime change" in Havana, the powerful voting and lobbying bloc of Miami based anti-Castro Cubans along with their dozens of well-connected political operatives and organizations and their control of U.S. foreign and domestic policy vis-à-vis Cuba, and the generous Congressionally-mandated supply line of cash, materiel, media outlets and couriers that stretches from the halls of Congress to the houses of Cuban dissidents.

Supplies, materials and cash for the "independent libraries" are delivered by " supplier organizations" like Freedom House, the Center for a Free Cuba, the Institute for Democracy in Cuba, and the Cuban Dissidence Task Group. These groups play the pointguard position in support of U.S. policy, channeling money and materiel, and serving as front groups for payments to opposition organizations and individuals inside Cuba. Not surprisingly, the funding for all of these destabilization efforts has been written into U.S. law. One example is the Cuba Democracy Act, also known as the Torricelli Bill, enacted by Congress in 1992, it provides financial and logical support and training to non-governmental organizations in Cuba, including to "dissidents," such as the " independent journalists" and "independent librarians."14 This Track II money also helps these organizations in several ways: by writing and distributing " news" about their newly-created "libraries," by developing and offering training programs to various dissidents groups; by testifying to Congress about the dissident movements, the problems they have in their work, and the environment for U.S.-inspired opposition to the government in Cuba; by providing an enormous volume of carefully crafted articles, "news alerts" and memos to reporters and press outlets; and lastly, by paying for assessments of the effectiveness of the "supplier organizations" and of U.S. AID money, by the most trustworthy of all auditing businesses, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Inc. -- so that their efforts and results can be examined and improved over time, and so that the money that is funneled to these groups can be used as effectively as possible.

Washington has made no secret of the support given to these groups and the financing of the various components of the "dissident movements" in Cuba, while using the creation of "civil society" as a rationale. In fact, the groups and their allotted financial supports are listed as a program called "Civil Society developed through Information Dissemination" on the Dept. of State website and number in the millions of dollars.15 The goals of the funding of their " brainchild" projects are listed along the amounts of their funding. This year's funding-that we know about--was almost $16 million; in previous years, 1996-2001, funding was at least $12 million.16 Other reports on the Dept. of State website, the U.S. AID website and the U.S. Interests Section website, intentionally and openly reveal the mechanisms and the designs that U.S. policymakers and their Miami-based allies have used to attack the Cuban revolution and government.

So what are we to make of the "Independent Libraries Project in Cuba?

The so-called "independent libraries," with their leadership, support and publicity/promotional apparatus outside of Cuba, are acknowledged by their members, supporters and by the U.S. Dept. of State to be part and parcel of a strategy designed in Washington to open up "civil society" in Cuba (whether they want it or not). Yet, the proponents of "independent libraries" never mention the context of their work or the overtly hostile agenda of the supporters of " independent libraries" to the Cuban revolution. Rather, they have focused on framing and shaping a discussion of intellectual freedom in Cuba by criticizing the work of Cuban librarians, by claiming that Cuban libraries have failed to provide alternative, nongovernmental perspectives and analysis in their collections, and by labeling Cuban library professionals as dupes or agents of the Cuban state with no concern for the values of librarianship, unfettered access to information or balanced collections.

The existence of the "independent libraries," their holdings of radical rightwing anti-Castro material, their association with operatives from the U.S. Interests Section and the Miami community who are intent on overthrowing the Cuban government disproves their main argument and rallying cry --that of censorship and severe restrictions on intellectual freedom. With their fax machines, multiple telephones, constant communication with Miami organizations and media, their reporting on events that champion their own narrow experiences in Cuba and their status as "reporters," their work of issuing alarmist and false press releases and being interviewed by foreign library associations and foreign press continues. They have access to phone lines, sometimes multiple phone lines, whereas some of the public libraries in Cuba are still awaiting their phone lines so they can offer Internet access. They have access to foreign press and foreign diplomats, some of whom have worked in tandem with these "dissenters" to misinform U.S. policymakers, the news media and the public at large outside of Cuba.

The fact that these so-called "independent libraries" exist proves that there is some measure of intellectual freedom in Cuba. They apparently have the freedom to dissent, freedom to assemble, freedom to read, and the freedom to collect and distribute materials that criticize the government and that seek to overthrow the government. They are free to accept money from sources outside the country and free to tell their neighbors as well as foreign visitors and the foreign media about their collections, their services, their purpose, their desires to topple the Cuban government, and their connections to and payments by a hostile foreign government. Our visits to these libraries provide evidence to the contrary of what they claim in their communiques and statements to the press.

They do continue to operate; they continue to contribute reports to Radio Marti, Cubanet and other media; they continue to speak to foreign press and to foreign visiting librarians and diplomats. Hence, they continue to be well paid for services rendered.


Background Links:

ALA American Library Association - Conference Services - Washington D.C., from June 21-27, 2007
American Library Association, International Relations Committee, Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee
Report on Cuban issue January 15, 2001 [Early History]
ALA took a position calling for the US government to free up info to Cuba.
Do a Google search on the "American Library Association" and Cuba
A good article on the background of the right wing group "Friends of Cuban Libraries" on the Information for Social Change web site. (Not sure of the date, but the web page was modified recently.)
A good article on the effort to smear Cuba and manipulate the ALA appeared in the April 23rd, 2007 The Militant.
Here's the letter from Eliades Acosta denouncing Robert Kent, the organizer of the right-wing so called “independent libraries”.
Here is the web page of "The Friends of Cuban Libraries" This is the right wing, counter revolutionary group representing the "Independent Libraries."
http://www.friendsofcubanlibraries.org Note: Not sure this link will work. Was down recently.
Media Advisory on the No War on Cuba Informational Picket to oppose the Slander of Cuban Libraries and demonstration called by Friends of Cuban Libraries at the American Libary Association's Convention in Washington, DC, 6/23/07.
Informational Picket.

  Updated: 06/22/2007