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Re: Sandy Berman's UNABASHED LIBRARIAN column on Cuba
Ann Sparanese
January 10, 2004
The following letter to the editor of Unabashed Librarian was written by Ann Sparanese, ALA Councilor-At-Large. This message was in response to a column by Sanford Berman, "Berman’s Bag: Cuba Libre!" Unabashed Librarian No. 128, December 2003, Page 8. Views expressed in this statement do not necessarily reflect the views of IRTF, SRRT, or ALA.
That’s a nice quote from the Cuban Constitution from Sandy, although it is cited improperly; it is actually Chapter VII, Article 62 of the revised Cuban Constitution of 1992. After listing a whole range of freedoms recognized by the Cuban society, this clause simply says that those freedoms do not extend to those citizens who intend to overthrow the Constitutional order. Considering that the United States fought a
civil war over just that issue, it is not an extraordinary clause, is it?
But more importantly, Sandy is entirely *incorrect* about *why* the people he champions are in prison and the full text of the Amnesty Report in question does not support his assertions. 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 starve the Cuban people into submission to U.S. will.
Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code criminalizes:
“He who in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban State…”
The Helms Burton – a huge piece of interventionist legislation -- mandates *funding* subversion in Cuba; it instructs the Cuban people about who may run in their elections; and it tightens trade restriction on other nations which have the temerity to trade with Cuba, among its many other provisions. And Cuba was not the only country to pass a law outlawing collaboration with Helms Burton – so did the Canadian government, which saw it as a threat to their right to establish their own trade relations. Amnesty International reports that Helms Burton “has been explicitly condemned by members of the international community but has not been repealed”. See for a summary of the international responses to Helms Burton)
Incidentally, there is currently a very interesting case being pursued by the US Government against a Canadian citizen in U.S. accused of trading with the enemy and being a national security threat to the US because he sold water treatment equipment to Cuba. See The accusations and denunciations leveled against this businessman by the U.S. attorney rival any of those attributed by Sandy to the Cuban government.
Law 88, often cited in the sentencing documents of the people in question, provides stiff prison terms for those guilty of supporting United States policy against Cuba through collaboration with the Helms Burton Act. It defines a number of activities – committed in conjunction with, or for the benefit of, US policy against Cuba – as criminal. Some of these might well raise a red flag for librarians, such as distribution or reproduction of subversive materials *from* the U.S. government that would facilitate U.S. economic aggression. But as American citizens (and sensible people) we need to acknowledge that if these laws were passed in *reaction* to U.S. policy – policy and laws conducted in our names – then our first responsibility is surely to address our own government’s complicity in what happened this spring in Cuba. Amnesty International devotes quite a bit of ink to explaining the relationship of these Cuban laws to US policy. ( Amnesty has declined to take up the cause of condemning Cuban in the United Nations for its “human rights record” because it sees it as a politicized issue led by the United States (see their FAQ page on Cuba.)
The Helms-Burton law appropriates millions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money for the overthrow of the Cuban government. They call it “transition to democracy,” with the stated purpose of what we now euphemistically describe as “regime change.” The law and its implementation through USAID and others include the funding of dissident groups in Cuba – although the right-wing Cuban organizations in South Florida take home the lion’s share first. The Helms Burton Law is a multi-million dollar industry in South Florida-- read the USAID report. ( It is also is the trough which feeds a U.S. funded and organized dissident movement in Cuba, some of whom are now in prison. These funds are increasing every year.
Recently a U.S. tour group visited Cuban on a “people-to-people” license (travel now outlawed by the Bush administration, by the way) and they asked a member of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the arrests of the dissidents. She put it in a nutshell when she answered: ”’[The 75 people] got money from a foreign government – yours — to overthrow our system. Your government wouldn’t tolerate such a thing’ Neither would hers.” (
And it’s true, the U.S. wouldn’t and it doesn’t. There are several US statutes which criminalize the injection of foreign intervention and foreign funding into our political process. Do you believe that foreign governments can freely pour money into our political parties, or that organizations here can receive money from enemy nations for the purpose of “regime change” here in the States? They can’t. Have you ever heard of the “Trading with the Enemy” Statute of the United States? Why can’t you see that Cuba has the same rights as a sovereign nation and that *their* enemy is the U.S? In the same article cited above, a Cuban “man on the street” had this response when asked his view about the human rights violations against the dissidents: “We’ll be glad to talk to people from your country about our human rights record once you [in the United States] get your foot off our necks.”
Sandy, it is not enough to say that the Helms Burton law (or the embargo imposed against Cuba for more than 40 years) is “stupid.” I’m disappointed at your weak choice of words, which demonstrates your profound misunderstanding of the US aggression toward Cuba. There is forty years of well-documented attempts at the violent overthrow of the Cuban political and economic system, and this not ancient history. Even as recently as 1997, a series of bombings in Cuban hotels were carried out by minions of those who now talk about peaceful “transition.” This might not occupy much space in *our* national memory, but it certainly does in that of the Cuban people. Does it really surprise you that the Cubans might find Bush’s National Security Strategy threatening, and the attempt to “buy” Cuban citizens for its purposes unacceptable? U.S. policy towards Cuba is not "stupid,” Sandy -- it is immoral, criminal, condemned internationally -- and it is the reason the 75 dissidents are in prison.
It’s not about books; it’s not about libraries; it’s not about censorship – U.S. librarians of good repute, and an ALA delegation, who have actually *been* to Cuba have examined the collections of Cuban libraries. And it’s certainly not about *librarians.* Even the Amnesty report declines to call these people “librarians”; a few are described incidentally as “owners” of private libraries. IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY, Sandy. It’s about the determination – and the right -- of the Cuban government to prevent the influx of US dollars to corrupt their own political processes and create U.S. controlled “political movements”.
Did these people get *really* long sentences for their crimes? Yes. But I have another idea about how you can fight for their freedom, Sandy. Rather than dashing off self-important letters to President Castro, try lobbying your own President and Congress for the repeal of the Helms Burton and Torricelli laws and the end of 40 odd years of aggression and subversive activities carried out against Cuba? Or have you given up on petitioning your own government for redress? If you really cared about the 75 dissidents (and not just those *calling* them librarians), that is exactly what you would do. Without the Helms Burton, these people would *not* be in jail, plain and simple. With the end of U.S. hostilities towards Cuba, I think that these people would be out on the street the next day.
Rather than get on the bandwagon of condemning a small country aggressed against by *your own country*, Sandy, you should address the policies of the U.S. government that put them there. Unless, that is, you really believe that the Cuban people have an obligation to commit suicide for *your* principles.
I don’t know what ALA Council will eventually decide to do about this situation. I trust in my fellow councilors to think deeply on the issues and not simply succumb to specious arguments about intellectual freedom and accept chauvinistic premises. But personally, as a librarian and a thinking person, I do *not* agree to have my professional and personal values enlisted in the service of a clearly unjust U.S. foreign policy. And I’m sincerely surprised that you do.
Ann Sparanese
ALA Councilor-At-Large
P.S. Don't be surprised to find parts of this letter to the editor of Unabashed Librarian, in the next column written by the creative Nat Hentoff -- who now seems to be raiding library listserves for his material! I think I will start copywriting my letters so that he will have to pay me royalties.
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