Jewish World Review Jan 27.2005/ 17 Shevat, 5765
An American public library versus Castro
On Nov. 18, the Vermillion Public Library Board of Trustees voted to
sponsor the Dulce Maria Loynaz Library in Havana, Cuba, which, like
other imperiled independent libraries in that country, offers public
access to books not obtainable in Cuba's censored "public" library system.
As a sponsor, the South Dakota library will be sending books to its
sister library in Cuba, paid solely by private contributions. The first
two in Spanish-language editions, sent to library director Gisela
Delgado, are the first two volumes in the "Harry Potter" series, as well
as a collection of works by that powerful paladin of free thought, Mark
Twain (who would have made Fidel Castro shake in his combat boots).
The Dulce Maria Loynaz Library was among those raided by Castro's
enforcers, who confiscated "offending" books, burning many of them. But
Gisela Delgado was not imprisoned.
Mark Wetmore, Vermillion Public Library Board of Trustees vice
president, who was instrumental in forging the relationship between the
two libraries, says: "It diminishes all our libraries a little if we
know that there are people being persecuted for trying to operate free,
uncensored ones and we don't at least try to do something about it."
Vermillion Public Library Board President Jon Flanagin adds that, "We
felt a moral obligation to offer our support." And trustee member Jack
Powell noted, "Cuba is sensitive to what other countries say about them.
If other libraries would follow what's been done, it would make it more
likely that these people who have been imprisoned will be released."
What makes this moral stand of support by the Vermillion library
especially notable is that it is the only American public library to
show active fellowship for the independent librarians in Castro's gulag.
In January 2003, the governing council of the American Library
Association, the largest such organization in the world, expressed
rhetorical concern for the 75 imprisoned Cuban dissidents, but
shamefully rejected a motion calling for the immediate release of the
librarians who are among the 75, all of whom Amnesty International has
rightly called "prisoners of conscience."
This decision by the American Library Association's governing council to
not overly displease the Cuban dictator was due to Castro admirers on
the council who laud him, for instance, for providing health care for
his subjects, but who also ignore his contempt for Cubans who think for
And in Castro's prisons as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
representative Christine Chanet has reported at least 20 of the
prisoners of conscience have been suffering from hypertension, diabetes,
heart disease and other ailments with little or no medical attentions
(since 1989, Castro has barred the International Red Cross from his
I don't understand why not one other American library has joined
Vermillion in sponsoring a sister independent library in Cuba. This
country's librarians have been among the most publicized dissenters to
the Patriot Act provision that allows the FBI on the authorization of
the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, without probable
cause to find out which library patrons are reading which books.
Yet, librarians here will be in no danger of being imprisoned by showing
solidarity with beleaguered courageous Cuban librarians. And it's not as
if the Vermillion library's action is little-known. Steve Marquardt,
dean of libraries at South Dakota State University, has informed every
U.S. state library association newsletter about it.
In France, the cities of Paris and Strasbourg have reached out to the
independent libraries in Cuba, and this is what the Librarians
Association in Poland, finally freed from Communism, says: "The actions
of the Cuban authorities relate to the worst traditions of repressing
the freedom of thought, expression and information exchange, exercised
by all regimes throughout the history." (The library association in
Latvia heartily agrees.)
In moving the Vermillion Public Library board to bond with the Dulce
Maria Loynaz Library in Havana, Mark Wetmore, as trustee Jack Powell
told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, shows "the kind of influence one
person can have. He kept us on task during all our discussions, kept
coming back to the fact that the issue of freedom of access to
information was the core concern."
Is there no other Mark Wetmore in any other U.S. library? The
fainthearted governing Council of the American Library Association
should not be allowed to be the overwhelming voice of America's
librarians in refusing to call for the immediate release of their
brothers and sisters in Cuba. Let's hear from more independent American
librarians! They have nothing to fear but their consciences.
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