December 22, 2000
The Friends of Cuban Libraries. December 21, 2000
An organization representing Cuba's independent librarians outside the island, the Directorio Revolucionario Democratico Cubano, issued an appeal today for worldwide protests against what it terms a new crackdown on the independent librarians. According to an appeal issued by the Directorio, the co-founders of the independent library movement, Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor, were arrested early today at the train station in the eastern city of Santiago along with another librarian, Reynaldo Jimenez Yance; in 1999, after an earlier arrest, Ramon Colas had been designated as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. The present location of the three detainees is unknown. The Directorio believes today's arrests were intended to disrupt a provincial meeting of independent librarians scheduled in Santiago. Despite the arrests, however, the meeting continued without further interference.
Since 1998, more than 60 independent libraries have been established in Cuba with the goal of offering public access to uncensored books. According to a 1999 report issued by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), the Cuban government has tried to suppress the independent librarians through a "campaign of threats, intimidation, harassment, eviction, short-term arrests, and the confiscation of incoming book donations or book collections." In its landmark report, IFLA called on the Cuban government to halt the persecution and also appealed to other organizations around the world to condemn the repression of the independent librarians.
Today's arrests in Santiago are the most recent in a series of detentions, interrogations, beatings and other acts of intimidation directed against independent librarians, dissidents and other representatives of Cuba's emerging civil society in recent weeks. On December 14 Amnesty International issued a report entitled "Cuba Marks Human Rights Day with Mass Detentions and Sentences for Dissidents." According to Amnesty, more than 200 Cuban citizens were arrested shortly before International Human Rights Day, December 10, in an effort to prevent organized protests. All but a few of the detainees arrested in early December have been released, but two of the persons remaining in prison in Havana are independent librarians. On December 12 Julia Cecilia Delgado, the director of the Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda Library, was sentenced to a one-year prison term for "disrespect."
She is now serving her sentence in Manto Negro prison, and the Directorio reports she has begun a hunger strike to protest the conditions under which she is being held. In its December 14 report, Amnesty International stated it believes Julia Cecilia Delgado may be a prisoner of conscience. The other independent librarian still under detention in Havana, Leonardo Miguel Bruzon Avila, is the director of the "24th of February" Library. The Directorio reports he is awaiting trial while being held on unknown charges at the headquarters of a security agency, the Department of Technical Investigations.
According to the Directorio, the arrests of Ramon Colas, Berta Mexidor, Reynaldo Jimenez Yance, Julia Cecilia Delgado and Leonardo Miguel Bruzon Avila are "only the most recent examples of harassment to which representatives of the independent libraries are continuously subjected for the simple act of offering uncensored books to the people of the island."
The Directorio has issued an appeal for international protests against what it terms "a clear violation... of the rights and liberties of Cuban citizens."
SUGGESTED ACTION: The Friends of Cuban Libraries are alarmed by this news, and we recommend the sending of courteous protest messages to President Fidel Castro c/o the following e-mail address: (email@example.com), with copies to directors of Cuba's official library union: Mr. Eliades Acosta (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ms. Marta Terry (email@example.com).
Please send any replies from Cuba to the Friends of Cuban Libraries.
BACKGROUND: The Friends of Cuban Libraries, founded in June, 1999, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit support group for the independent librarians. We are concerned exclusively with intellectual freedom issues, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regardless of whatever government may be in office in Cuba. We are funded entirely by our members and we do not seek or accept funds from other sources. For more information, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (USA) 718-340-8494. Mailing address: Robert Kent, 4-74 48th Avenue, #3-C, Long Island City, NY 11109 USA.
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