- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Back to top
and suggestions regarding this web page
- Page last modified December 22, 2004