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Letter to The Village Voice in Response to Nat Hentoff
Ann Sparanese
12/21/03
 
The following letter was written by Ann Sparanese, a member of ALA’s Council, which consists of over 150 elected delegates. As of 1/7/04 only extensive excerpts from a shortened version of this letter had been published in a column by Nat Hentoff in the Village Voice. Views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views of IRTF, SRRT, or ALA.
 
To the Editor, Village Voice:
 
Mr. Hentoff’s articles on the “independent librarians” of Cuba and the American Library Association (ALA) has errors of fact and of concept.
 
The case of Victor Arroyo illustrates one point. While Mr. Hentoff claims he is an “independent librarian”, the Amnesty International report he refers to does not even mention the word “libraries” or “librarian” or even “books” in its description of Mr. Arroyo’s activities.
 
But more importantly, Mr. Hentoff is incorrect about why Mr. Arroyo and others are in prison. The two laws under which the dissidents were convicted, including those calling themselves “independent librarians,” are Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code and Law # 88, The Law of Protection of the Independence of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba.
 
Both of these statutes, as well as Law 80, The Reaffirmation of Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty Act, criminalize collaboration with, or aid to, a foreign power seeking to overthrow the Cuban government. Both Law 80 (1996) and Law 88 (1999) were passed in direct response to the passage of the Helms-Burton Law by the United States Congress in 1996, which itself built upon the Torricelli Law (1992) to tighten the embargo against Cuba and, in the words of its eponymous author, to “wreak havoc on that island.”
 
The Helms-Burton Law (1996) appropriates millions of US taxpayers’ dollars for the overthrow of the Cuban government. It’s called “transition to democracy,” with the stated purpose of what is now euphemistically described as “regime change.” These funds are increasing every year.
 
Those arrested were convicted of receiving money and/or supplies from the U.S. or its agents for the purposes of regime change, not for distributing copies of “1984.”
 
Mr. Hentoff demonizes Cuba, but declines to mention the role of the United States in fomenting the crisis. But even the Amnesty report devotes quite a bit of ink to the role of US policy towards Cuba, specifically the Helms Burton law, in creating the conditions for the “crackdown.” Cuba is not the only country to have laws against the influx of foreign money and material support to subvert its political process; the United States has several such laws. And Cuba is not the only country to have laws against collaboration with Helms-Burton; Canada has one, too.
 
The USA PATRIOT Act and the Helms-Burton Law actually have something in common. They are both overreaching U.S. laws which provide for abuses against civil liberties and political freedoms both here and abroad, and both should be repealed. Absent the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Acts, Cuban Laws 80 and 88 would lose their foundations and those arrested would not be in prison.
 
As far as I know, nobody from the ALA has ever called Mr. Arroyo a “lackey.” But many of us refuse to have our cherished professional values enlisted in the service of the wrong-headed policy of our own government which has created the problem.
 
Ann Sparanese, MLS
Englewood, New Jersey
 
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Page last modified January 9, 2004