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Response to Nat Hentoff
Nelson Valdes
December 2003
The following letter was written by Dr. Nelson Valdes, Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico. In 1986 Dr. Valdes established the Cuba-L listserver which distributes on a daily basis information on Cuba. At Duke University he directs the Fundación Amistad program of academic exchanges with Cuba. Views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views of IRTF, SRRT, or ALA.
When the campaign about "independent libraries" began, it was initiated by the Cuba Desk in the State Department. The head of the Cuba Desk, later on, began to work for the Cuban American National Foundation in Washington, DC. and took on the issue. At the time I wrote him and mentioned that in demanding that all types of books be available to people to read, there is a necessary precondition that needs to be met: people have to be literate. I then asked a simple question: what is the literacy rate in the United States? For example, in New Mexico, in the year 2000, the literacy levels 1 and 2 (functional illiteracy) was a grand total of 66% among people over the age of 18. In the state of North Carolina it was 50%.
I will suggest to those in the United States who are so concerned with "freedom to read" that they use their resources, energy and concern closer to home. After all, illiteracy is the most basic expression of censorship. And the US surpasses Cuba on THAT.
Why such a pronounced interest in defending the right to read of 11 million people who are already close to 100% literacy, when the number of people who are illiterate in the US is three times the number of Cubans in the island?
Thus, I will have to say to Nat Hentoff that he should start writing about the human right to be able to read and write in the United States. Is it that 11 million literate Cubans are more important than over 30 million functionally illiterate Americans?

Why the particular interest on Cuba, where little can be changed from afar, and yet no effort spent on the country where one could - perhaps - affect policy?
I will suggest that the Village Voice and those who proclaim the right of Cubans to read the Universal Declaration do the following: Let us coordinate a research project in the US and in Cuba. Let us pick the poorest neighborhoods in both countries. Then, let us go and ASK the population in both places to name all the human rights that they can. Let us see WHO is TRULY educated.
I will bet that the poor in rural Cuba will be better informed than the poor in Washington, DC. Moreover, I know that the general Cuban population - with a median education of a 9th grade - is acquainted with the three generations of rights that even people with university education in the US cannot name.
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