- 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, "Bermans 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.
- Thats 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.
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 http://www.canadiannetworkoncuba.ca/Documents/Sabzali-Eckardt.shtml.
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 governments
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. (http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/ENGAMR250172003)
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 lions share first. The Helms Burton Law is a multi-million dollar
industry in South Florida-- read the USAID report. (http://www.USAID.gov/regions/lac/cu)
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
- 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 Cubas 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 wouldnt tolerate
such a thing Neither would hers. (http://www.alternet.org/story.html?storyID=17371)
- And its true, the U.S. wouldnt and it doesnt. 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 cant. Have you ever heard of
the Trading with the Enemy Statute of the United States? Why
cant 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: Well 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. Im
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 Bushs 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
- Its not about books; its not about libraries; its
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 its certainly not about *librarians.* Even
the Amnesty report declines to call these people librarians;
a few are described incidentally as owners of private libraries.
ITS ABOUT THE MONEY, Sandy. Its 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
- 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 dont 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 Im sincerely surprised that you do.
- Ann Sparanese
- 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
- Back to top
and suggestions regarding this web page
- Page last modified December 22, 2004