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Nat Hentoff: Round Three on Cuba

In his January 5, 2004 column in the Village Voice, Nat Hentoff once again takes on the issue of ALA and Cuba, replying to a letter to the editor by librarian Ann Sparanese who among other comments insists that Victor Arroyo, the man jailed for maintaining a collection of over 6,000 books, is not a librarian and is an agent of the state.

In the couple of weeks since I first wrote about this issue, I have had a number of librarians try to “educate” me about Cuba-U.S. relations, librarianship, free speech, and the professional credentials of Victor Arroyo. The (somewhat arrogant) assumption is that anyone questioning Cuba’s actions, let alone suggesting human rights is a growing edge for Castro, is a dupe of the far right–even though the issues swirling around Cuba are those over which, as Nat Hentoff notes, the U.S. left appears to be divided; he observes, “there remains a division among the American left regarding Castro’s recent crackdown that needs answering.”

I have witnessed shameful, if unintentional, hypocrisy among my peers on the issue of Arroyo’s status as a librarian, an issue which has also served as a convenient red herring for librarians clearly suffering from cognitive dissonance on the issue of free speech, as they swing like a screen door in the wind between their righteously clarion calls for free speech and privacy rights in this country, and their silence and ennui, amounting to a collective shrug, if not a wink, when the issue is free speech and human rights in Cuba.

Cuban-U.S. relations are horrendously complicated, and no side of this issue is free of shadows or impurities. (I am writing a much longer piece about our complex dance on the Cuba issue, and that has somewhat inhibited my blog postings, since this would amount to pre-publishing, but close your eyes and think “folie a deux.”)

However, I am not without plenty of thoughts and conclusions, and, finally, a desire for action. I spent the last week, while on vacation, reading and thinking about Cuba and our library association, and I am ready to move into a second phase of activity. I will be bringing a resolution to ALA Council. I will be working on the wording of the resolution Tuesday, and it should be on the ALA calendar fairly early in the schedule, as so far there is only one other resolution on the docket.

I believe this resolution can at least survive a discussion on the floor of Council. And which side are you on? Do you realize how free you are to express your point of view?

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