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Cuba and the Myth of the 'Independent Libraries'

by Salim Lamrani

According to its strategy of destabilization of Cuban society, the United States, in addition to financing and directing "independent journalists" and "human rights members," has created "independent libraries"(1). The main role of those organizations consists of carrying out a job of disinformation in the heart of the country, and in creating favorable conditions for weakening the nation, which is already in an extremely hostile geopolitical context. Those different splinter groups are shown in the international press as the nucleus of the future "civil and democratic society." The information transnationals still do not deign to give attention to the facts, however easily accessible and verifiable, preferring to talk about internal dissidence.

Created in 1998 by Mr. Ramón Humberto Colás Castillo according to the leadership of the United States Interest Section (SINA) in Havana, it thought that the "independent libraries" would give the illusion of a growing opposition against the Cuban government. The birth of those entities fits directly in the political maneuvering of the United States which consists of manipulating the reality of the island. (2) Indeed, those libraries should officially allow Cubans to have access to real independent information, but in reality they were propaganda groups at Washington's service.

Among the works provided by the Interests Section to those "librarians," reports were found written by the United States Department of State that supported the matter of human rights violations in Cuba, President Bush's speeches, as well as writings dealing with the functioning of American society. The Miami Herald and The Nuevo Herald, newspapers considerably influenced by the extreme right Cuban exile community, also supplied the "librarians", as well as the literature produced by Florida's fascist constituents. They were in permanent contact with Mr. James Cason, head of the United States Interests Section in Cuba, and applied its guidelines in exchange for financial payment.(3) Mr. Cason arrived in Havana in September, 2002, was distinguished by his provocateur attitude, his interventionist statements and his public meetings with the "Cuban dissidence." (4)

The odd result was that none of the international press had raised logical questions. Independent libraries in Cuba? Perhaps Cubans do not have access to books? Let's leave ideological prejudices behind and use numbers.

In Cuba, close to 400 public libraries, not including those found in almost every school and university, offer completely free services. Before the Revolution, there were no more than thirty-two. (5) In 2003, more than 2,000 titles, for a print run of 30 million copies, were published. Every year, the most important cultural event in the Latin American hemisphere is the Cuban International Book Fair, which brings together the most famous writers of the world. In 2004, the Fair reached more than 34 cities, presented more than 1000 titles and sold more than 5 million works at prices incomparably lower than those of any other country in the world. Additionally, not one country of the Third World has created as many public libraries as Cuba. (6)

Illiteracy in Latin America is 11.7 % and for Cuba it is .2%.(7) The International Bureau of Education of UNESCO observed that Cuba has the lowest rate of illiteracy and the highest rate of education in Latin America. According to the same organization, a Cuban student has two times more knowledge than a Latin American child. It added that "Although Cuba is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has the best results in what it refers to as basic education." Juan Cassassus of the Latin American Laboratory for Evaluation and Quality of Education of UNESCO noted that "education has been a high standing priority in Cuba for the past 40 years. It is a true education society."(8) Does Cuba really need "independent libraries", or are they blowing smoke which is hiding darker intentions?

Mr. Nelson Valdés, professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico, also questioned the validity of those associations. "Why so much interest in defending the right to read of 11 million people who are almost 100% literate, while the number of people who are illiterate in the United States is 3 times higher than the number of Cubans who live on the island?" Indeed, more than 30 million Americans don't know how to read or write. "After all, illiteracy is the most important expression of censorship" observed the professor. (9)

Diverse professional American organizations carried out research with respect to the "independent librarians", and they answer that those structures were only fronts controlled by the United States.

The General Assembly of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), held in Boston August 24, 2001, urged the "US Government to share information materials widely in Cuba, especially with Cuba's libraries, and not just with "individuals and independent non-governmental organizations" that represent US political interests." (10) Indeed, the American authorities, besides financing those libraries, block access for Cubans to numerous magazines and publications, notably scientific and university. For example, in a field as vital as medicine, around 50% of the publications are American, but Cuban professionals do not have access to them.

A study titled "Payment for Services Rendered: U.S.-Funded Dissent and the Independent Libraries Project" was completely silenced. It was presented during the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies, November 8-9, 2002 at East Los Angeles College by Mrs. Rhonda Neugebauer, bibliographer from the University of California, Riverside. She reported of the visit she had made in 2000 to Cuba in the company of Mr. Larry Oberg, librarian from Willamette University, to more than a dozen "independent libraries." She presented the following conclusions:

By interviewing the owners of these "libraries," we discovered that these "libraries" were carefully chosen drop-off and contact points for personnel from the U.S. Interests Section and others, who visited them on a regular basis, to deliver materials and money. We also discovered that by accepting anti-government materials and by developing "libraries" with these materials, the "librarians" qualified to be paid a monthly stipend--"for services rendered," as one of them put it.

Our interviews with these "librarians" contradicted a good deal of the PR campaign that their U.S. financiers had undertaken, and established the fact that the communiques circulated in the U.S. about these "libraries" were intentionally misleading and politically motivated. (…)

Our research proved that what the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" campaign identified as a "force for intellectual freedom" was simply part and parcel of a U.S. foreign policy strategy that disingenuously advocated the "opening civil society" in Cuba through the funding of a variety of dissident groups. Over the last few years Washington has given millions of dollars to U.S. and Cuban groups to create a "civil society," that they hope leads to destabilization of the Cuban government and ultimately to a "regime change" in Havana. (…)

In some cases, the "libraries" had ceased to exist because the "librarian" had moved to the U.S., or had given away the "library," anticipating a departure to the U.S. In one case, we confirmed that a "librarian" listed on the "Independent Library Project" webpage, had moved to the U.S. six years earlier, although his name still appeared as a director of a library in Santiago, Cuba, and he is cited as having been "repressed" and "intimidated" in Cuba for his library work.

We found that most of the "libraries" consisted of a few shelves of books in private residences and that their titles were typical of what is owned by many Cubans and by Cuban libraries. In fact, the majority of their books were published in Cuba, by the Cuban government.

We were told that personnel from the U.S. Interests Section delivered many of the items that were not published in Cuba, and that they received regular visits from U.S. Interests Section personnel who dropped off packages on a monthly basis along with money.

Since it was the first time any mention of money had been made in reference to their work, I asked, "What is the money for?" "For services rendered," the "librarian" responded. "These libraries help the opposition in Cuba and our leadership in Miami. They tell us what to do. They receive our reports and news. They give us money so we can do what we do here, be dissidents and build opposition to the Cuban government." (…)

During our visits with the "librarians," we asked about the supposed repression, intimidation and confiscation of the materials, accounts of which had been mentioned frequently and disseminated widely in the U.S. on library listservers by a group called the "Friends of Cuban Libraries" Their press releases recounted horrendous stories where the "librarians" had been repressed, their book collections had been confiscated and the "librarians" had been routinely intimidated and harassed by Cuban security forces, if not jailed. We found no such evidence and no librarian corroborated these charges from the Friends of Cuban Libraries' press releases. Several "librarians" told us they had been arrested or jailed briefly, but immediately clarified that that was because of "opposition" activities or for breaking the law, mostly by attempting to leave the country without an exit visa. (…)

They have connections to political groups outside the country, primarily to anti-Castro groups and individuals, most of which now receiving funding through various U.S.-based organizations dedicated to changing the Cuban government. (…)

They have served no jail time for library activities; rather any jail time has resulted from illegal activities and for their work to organize political operations directed from abroad (which is illegal in Cuba).

When we asked the "librarians" if they circulated books to their neighbors, they told us that they circulate books to many people who want to read about new ideas, ideas that support capitalism and liberty. However, when we asked their neighbors if they knew about the libraries, they said no. (…)

The existence of the "independent libraries," their holdings of radical rightwing anti-Castro material, their association with operatives from the U.S. Interests Section and the Miami community who are intent on overthrowing the Cuban government disproves their main argument (…) --that of censorship and severe restrictions on intellectual freedom. (…)

They do continue to operate; they continue to contribute reports to Radio Marti, Cubanet and other media; they continue to speak to foreign press and to foreign visiting librarians and diplomats. Hence, they continue to be well paid for services rendered. (11)

The American Library Association (ALA) also denounced the "independent library fraud. Mrs. Ann Sparanese, librarian at the Englewood Public Library and ALA member made the following statement, "They aren't librarians at all. They are paid by the United States government (…) who tries to buy dissidents in Cuba."(12)

With regards to the Canadian Library Association (CLA), it voted for a resolution in June 2003, during a conference in Toronto, stipulating that " CLA opposes any foreign government attempts to undermine Cuba's government through economic blockades, subversion, military adventures, assassination attempts, and outside funding of political opposition through 'civil society' organizations." By the "'civil society' organizations CLA referred to the human rights members," "independent journalists" and, of course "independent librarians."(13)

Mr. Ramón Humberto Colás Castillo left Cuba for the United States in December 2001. Currently he is a member of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), a fascist organization composed of extremist Cubans, which in addition to their lobbying work among U.S. Congressional members, is a specialist in international terrorism. Recently, one of his associates, Mr. Luis Posado Carriles, considered an old patron "of the Latin American terrorist network,"(14) former agent of the CIA, and author of close to one hundred assassinations, was condemned to eight years in prison in Panama, for terrorist activities. (15) [Posada Carriles was subsequently welcomed into the United States, whose government rejected Venezuela's extradition request for his bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner at the cost of 72 lives. –editor]

Currently Mr. Colás Castillo spends his time between the United States and Europe where he tries to affiliate different institutions and governments around his project, which is in reality the intellectual creation of the United States government. In July 2003, he was even received by the highest French authority in the Quai d'Orsay in Paris. The French diplomacy, joined itself to Washington's aggressive policy against Cuba, in addition to stopping in part its cooperation with Cuban in different areas. Now it receives members of a terrorist organization with great pomp. (16)

Another fact is also worrisome. The mayor of the city of Paris, Mr. Bertrand Delanoë, openly supported the project of the "independent libraries" also created by Mr. Colás Castillo. Indeed, in a letter dated March 9, 2004, Mr. Delanoë stated to the Free Cuba Solidarity Collective that it would be able to count on his support. Thus, one of the most important political personalities of the French left offered his support to a group, of which for at least one member belongs to an extremist entity, seriously implicated in international terrorism. Does the mayor of the French capital perhaps know with whom he mixes? (17)


1) See Salim Lamrani, " Commission des droits de l'homme de Genève: Cuba, le Honduras et l'histoire d'un terroriste notoire devenu diplomate étasunien ", RISAL, April 29, 2004. (website consulted on April 29, 2004).

2) Rosa Miriam Elizalde & Luis Baez, "Los Disidentes" (La Habana : Editora Política, 2003), p. 56.

3) Ibid., pp. 47-66

4) Felipe Pérez Roque, Nous ne comptons pas renoncer à notre souveraineté, Conférence de presse offerte par le ministre des relations extérieures de la République de Cuba le 9 avril 2003. (Havana : Editora Política, 2003) pp. 16-18. Granma, "Le terrorisme et la société civile comme instruments de la politique des USA envers Cuba (IV). En suivant l'argent ", July 30, 2003. (website consulted on April 30, 2004).

5) Rhonda L. Neugebauer, " Payment For Services Rendered: U.S.-Funded Dissent and the Independent Libraries Project ", University of California Riverside, November 8-9, 2002. (website consulted on April 30, 2004).

6) Ministère des Relations extérieures de la République de Cuba, Cuba et sa défense de la totalité des droits de l'homme pour tous, (Havana: Editora Política, March 2004), p. 48. (website consulted on April 29, 2004).

7) United Nations Development Program, " Human Development Indicators 2003: Cuba ", 2003. (website consulted on April 22, 2004); Comisión Económica Para América Latina (CEPAL), Indicadores del desarrollo socioeconómico de América Latina. (United Nations, 2002), pp. 12, 13, 39, 41, 43-47, 49-56, 66-67, 716-733.

8) United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), op. cit., pp. 190-95 ; Latin American Laboratory for Evaluation and Quality of Education, " Learning in Latin American ", UNESCO, September 3, 1999. (website consulted on March 10, 2003).

9) Nelson Valdes, " Response to Nat Hentoff ", International Responsabilities Task Force of the American Library Association's Social Responsibilities Round, December 2003. (website consulted on April 30, 2004).

10) International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), " Resolution Adopted at IFLA Council II Held at Boston on Friday 24th August 2001 ", August 24, 2001. (website consulted on April 30, 2004).

11) Rhonda L. Neugebauer, op. cit.

12) Tim Wheeler, " ALA Rejects U.S.-Backed Libraries in Cuba ", People's Weekly World, May 24, 2003. (website consulted on April 30, 2004).

13) Canadian Library Association, " CLA's Resolution ", American Library Association, June 2003. (website consulted on April 30, 2004).

14) Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman, Economie politique des droits de l'homme. La " Washington Connection " et le Fascisme dans le Tiers Monde (París : J.E. Hallier & Albin Michel, 1981), p. 50.

15) Ann Louise Bardach & Larry Rohter, " Key Cuba Foe Claims Exiles' Backing ", New York Times, July 12, 1998, 1, 3, 4, 5. (website consulted on February 3, 2004) ; El Nuevo Herald, " Condenan en Panamá a Luis Posada Carriles ", April 21, 2004: 23A ; El Nuevo Herald, " Piden Pena máxima contra anticastristas ", March 18, 2004: 17A; El Nuevo Herald, " Recaudan fondos para exiliados presos en Panamá ", April 23, 2004: 17A. See Glenn Garvin, " Panama : Exile Says Aim Was Castro Hit ", The Miami Herald, January 13, 2001 ; Glenn Garvin & Frances Robles, " Panama Suspect Has Ties to Dade ", The Miami Herald, November 21, 2001 ; John Rice, " Panama : Fidel Steals Show With Death Plot ", The Associated Press, November 18, 2000 ; Fernando Martínez & David Aponte, "Anticastristas llegaron a Panamá para asesinarlo, denuncia Castro ", La Jornada, November 18, 2000.

16) Paulo A. Paranagua, " 'Si tu vas à Cuba, emporte un livre', demandent les opposants ", Le Monde, July 25, 2003.

17) Bertrand Delanoë, " Alcalde de París confirma apadrinamiento de bibliotecas independientes en Cuba ", La Nueva Cuba, March 26, 2004. (website consulted on March 31, 2004).  

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