The American Library Association and Cuba's Libraries: An Overview 2001 to 2004
For most of its one hundred twenty–seven year history, the American
Library Association has held intellectual freedom and the freedom to read
among its most constant and revered values. Not just for Americans, but for
On occasion, sometimes on its own initiative and sometimes by request, the
association, through its International Relations Committee (IRC) and Intellectual
Freedom Committee (IFC), considers freedom of access issues in a particular
nation or region of the world, usually working closely with the International
Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) or other non–governmental
In the past few years, few issues involving freedom of access and free expression
has garnered as much attention by the ALA outside U. S. borders than the situation
involving Cuba and its libraries.
In the spring of 2001, while serving as ALA's President–elect,
I led a small delegation of ALA members to Cuba. The idea for a visit grew
out of the midwinter meetings of the International Relations Committee earlier
that year, and the emerging action plan of the IRC, which includes ambitious
goals for forming partnerships, especially with neighboring professional associations
in the Americas. In addition, a discussion during that same midwinter meeting
of "independent libraries" in Cuba made Cuba a logical starting
point, since cooperation with the Cuban Library Association (ASCUBI) was mentioned
several times in those discussions as a goal the IRC should embrace.
The opportunity to visit Cuba and start negotiations with ASCUBI arose out
of an invitation for me to present a paper during the opening plenary session
of ACURIL XXXI (the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional
Libraries) held in Havana in May 2001. Aware of the IRC's interests,
I decided to invite a group of ALA colleagues to join me. In consultation
with the IRC chair, I invited two Spanish–speaking IRC colleagues, the
incoming IRC chair and the IRC's ALA Executive Board liaison, to join
me in an ad hoc ALA–IRC delegation to Cuba.
The purposes of the visit were:
- To attend annual conference of the Association of Caribbean University,
Research and Institutional Libraries
(ACURIL) held in Havana, in May 2001
- To establish a working relationship with ASCUBI, the Cuban counterpart
- To learn about libraries and librarianship in Cuba, including visits
to libraries and Bibliotecas independientes
- To improve our understanding of library selection policies regarding
the writings of Cuban exiles and
other writers said to be censored in Cuba
The report of this visit, called Report
of visit to ACURIL XXXI and its host country, Cuba,
May 23 – May 30, 2001, is divided into five sections
with recommendations to the IRC forming a sixth section. 
from the Delegation
The ALA visiting team developed the following recommendations for the ALA
International Relations Committee to consider:
- That the ALA International Relations Committee prepare a memorandum
of agreement for ALA and ASCUBI to cooperate,
in order to
- share professional publications and expertise;
- report information about the other's association;
- identify ways to share Cuban and U.S. publications to strengthen collections
in both countries.
- That the ALA encourages ASCUBI and offers assistance in preparing a
variety of professional policies that reflect the professional values
of the Cuban library community, e.g. a code of ethics, a reader's
rights statement, an open selection policy.
- That the ALA Library Information and Technology Association (LITA)
International Relations Committee prepares
a memorandum of agreement for LITA and
SOCICT to cooperate and to identify specific goals of cooperation.
- That ALA and ASCUBI jointly prepare a resolution for the IFLA 2001
Council meeting opposing all government
policies that restrict access to information, including the U.S. economic
embargo/blockade and laws in either country that contribute to censorship.
- That the ALA International Relations Office (IRO) provides information
for ALA members on legal ways to travel to
Cuba on ALA's Web site and
collect information about existing U.S.–Cuba information exchange activities.
- That ALA encourages its members to send books and journals to the
libraries of Cuba, especially those in
the Spanish language.
Report on May 2001 Visit to Cuba
In addition to the five member ALA delegation, the IFLA Secretary General,
Ross Shimmon and Susanne Seidelin, Director of IFLA's Office of Freedom
of Access to Information and Free Expression (FAIFE) accompanied the ALA delegation
in May 2001 on visits to both the official libraries and several independent
libraries. In June 2001, IFLA issued its own report on the Cuba visit. 
Council Resolution, June 2001
Immediately following the May 2001 visit to Cuba, ALA Council passed the
following resolution at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco.
The American Library Association urge the U.S. government to share information
materials widely in Cuba, especially
with Cuba's libraries, and not
just with individuals and independent
nongovernmental organizations; and be it further resolved that
The American Library Association urge the U.S. government to put policies
in place, including more equitable
postal fees for service to Cuba, that will make sending books and other materials
on all subjects to Cuba's libraries
easier for U.S. libraries and citizens
who wish to improve access to information in Cuba through strengthening library
collections; and be it further resolved that
The American Library Association oppose all efforts, including those of
the U.S. government, to limit access
to informational materials by Cuba's
libraries and Cuba's library users; and be it further resolved that
The American Library Association urge the International Federation of Library
Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
to take action to improve the Cuban people's
access to books and other information materials on all topics through Cuba's
Sponsored by: International Relations Committee
Passed by ALA Council June 20, 2001
Resolution, August 2001
Two months later, in August 2001, the United States hosted the IFLA General
Conference and Council Meeting in Boston. A separate IFLA resolution on Cuba
submitted by the Committee on Freedom of Access and Free Expression (FAIFE)
was presented to IFLA Council along with ALA's June 20th resolution.
After IFLA Council debate, the two resolutions were merged into a single
resolution which was passed overwhelmingly by the full IFLA Council.
The IFLA resolution read:
Be it resolved that IFLA:
- State its strongly felt concerns about the effects of the US embargo
that include obstacles to the export of information materials to Cuba despite
their formal exclusion
from the embargo; A severe reduction in the capacity of Cuban libraries
and citizens to purchase information materials and related technologies
due to the economic effects of the embargo; Indirect disruption of access
to information by Cubans and Cuban libraries caused by the effects on power
supply, telecommunications and other aspects of life in Cuba; Inhibitions
to professional interaction
and exchange caused by the restrictions on travel to the US by Cuban nationals
and to Cuba by US nationals.
- Urge the US Government to eliminate obstacles to access to information
and professional interaction
imposed by its embargo and any other US Government policies.
- Urge the Cuban Government to eliminate obstacles to access to information
imposed by its policies.
- Support and continue to monitor initiatives by the Cuban library community
to safeguard free access
to print and electronic information, including via the Internet, and in
- Support and assist the ASCUBI [Associación Cubana de Bibliotecarios]
initiative to develop a code
of ethics for the standards and principles of library services in Cuba.
- Urge the Cuban library community to adopt fully the IFLA
Public Library Guidelines 
- Encourage IFLA colleagues to attend the international conference on information
in Havana 22–26 April 2002 hosted by IDICT [Instituto
Cientifica y Tecnológica] to help further professional relations
- Urge the US Government to put policies in place to make sharing of books
and other materials on all
subjects as well as information technology with Cuba's libraries easier
for all who wish to improve access to information in Cuba through strengthening
- Urge 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.
September 11, 2001
Three weeks after the record–setting IFLA Annual Conference, the United
States experienced the attacks of September 11th, and much of the attention
of the library and world community quickly shifted to Afghanistan and later
to Iraq in the aftermath of the attacks.
In addition, the rapid passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001 focused
considerable attention on privacy and civil liberties issues in the United
States and elsewhere around the world, issues which are still very much in
Issues surrounding intellectual freedom in Cuba diminished until March 2003,
when the Cuban government arrested, tried and sentenced over seventy–five
individuals described as dissidents to long prison sentences, including some
persons with ties to the "independent libraries" movement.
In consultation with several national associations around the world, IFLA
issued a press release in May 2003.
Press Release, May 8, 2003: Intellectual Freedom in Cuba
"Once again, IFLA urges the Cuban government to eliminate obstacles
to access to information imposed by its policies", says the Chair of
the IFLA/FAIFE Committee Mr. Alex Byrne.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
and its Committee of Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression
(IFLA/FAIFE) expressed their deepest concerns today about the arrest, trial
and long prison sentences given to Cuban political dissidents in recent weeks.
According to Human Rights Watch reports, approximately 80 people have been
arrested and detained "including prominent dissidents, human rights activists,
independent journalists, independent unionists and directors of independent
libraries." In a press release issued on 14 April, Amnesty International
Cuba has reversed significant human rights progress
made over a period of years."
Supporting the recent resolution of the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights, calling for an investigative visit to Cuba by a special rapporteur
to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, IFLA and its worldwide membership
urge the Cuban Government to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights
defined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. To this end IFLA urges the Cuban government to eliminate obstacles
to access to information imposed by its policies.
Proclaiming the fundamental right of all human beings to access information
without restriction, IFLA urges the Cuban library community to monitor violations
of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression and to take
a leading role in actively promoting these basic rights for all the peoples
As a commitment to intellectual freedom is a core value of the library and
information profession worldwide, IFLA supports and assists the Cuban library
community in safeguarding free access to print and electronic information,
including the Internet, by implementing a code of ethics for the library profession
developed earlier this year by the ASCUBI (Asociación Cubana de
To overcome the effects of the US blockade on the free flow of information
in Cuba, IFLA urges the government of the United States to share information
materials widely in Cuba, especially with Cuba's libraries, and not 'just
with individuals and non–governmental organizations that represent US
IFLA and its worldwide membership support, defend and promote intellectual
freedom as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. This intellectual freedom encompasses the wealth of human knowledge,
opinion, creative thought and intellectual activity.
Joint Conference in Toronto, Canada, June 2003
At the summer 2003 joint conference with the Canadian Library Association
in Toronto, the American Library Association's International Relations
Committee secured funding from the Social Science Research Council to fund
travel and expenses for a delegation of Cubans to come to the Toronto conference
and present a status report on Cuba's libraries as part of the ongoing
program of exchanges between the two associations.
Several members of the press attended the public presentation and the IRC
spent several hours drafting a resolution on Cuba's libraries for presentation
to the ALA Council near the end of the conference.
On June 25, 2003 at ALA's third Council meeting, the body discussed
a new resolution sponsored by the International Relations Committee with input
from the Intellectual Freedom Committee and other ALA bodies. After a 30–minute
informal discussion, the entire matter was referred back to the IRC and the
IFC for further consideration in the coming months. Among the complexities
here is the issue of whether the "independent librarians," some
of whom were indeed tried, convicted and jailed in March 2003, are "prisoners
of conscience," as some would have it, or paid political activists seeking
to "destabilize" the Cuban government, as the Cuban government claims.
Council Document 18.5, June 2003
The resolved clauses of the ALA resolution read:
Resolved, that the American Library Association urge the Cuban government
to respect the rights of all individuals to freedom of expression and access
to information, and to eliminate any policies that infringe on those rights.
Second, that ALA also urge the US government to eliminate existing policies,
including the economic embargo, that limit the ability of the people of Cuba
to access information and that inhibit the continuation of professional exchanges
between the two countries, including Cuban librarians trying to obtain visas
to participate in conferences and exchanges in the US or US territories, and
Americans seeking to travel to Cuba for similar purposes.
Third, that the ALA reaffirm its relationship with the Cuban Library Association
in order to support the ongoing development
of Cuban libraries and librarians. That ALA call on the IFLA to convene an
international commission of eminent librarians to hold public hearings to
investigate further the role of "independent
libraries" in Cuba, and charges that they are funded through foreign
agencies whose political program is regime
change. And then, that ALA encourage such a commission to publish and disseminate
widely the results of its findings.
The resolution ALA Council referred back to the IRC and IFC adopted language
from a Canadian Library Association resolution passed on June 23, 2003, calling
on IFLA to "convene an International Commission of eminent librarians
to hold public hearings to investigate further the role of 'independent
libraries' in Cuba."
Conference in Berlin, 2003
The Canadian resolution was discussed by IFLA FAIFE and the IFLA Governing
Board at the World Library and Information Congress: 69th IFLA General Conference
the IFLA Annual Conference in Berlin August 1–9, 2003.
The IFLA Governing Board considered the resolution during its last meeting
in Berlin. The minutes read as follows:
M 03–93 Canadian Library Association resolution on Cuba
Alex Byrne, referring to document GB 03–154, said that a mission
of the kind envisaged in the CLA
resolution would cost of the order of EUR 15,000. After discussion it was
agreed that IFLA was not in a position to carry out the proposed investigation
without contributions from external funding agencies. It was agreed not to
pursue the issue at this stage and to respond to CLA accordingly.
Joint Task Force, Fall 2003
In October 2003, ALA's International Relations and Intellectual Freedom
Committees established a six–member joint task force to assess the present
situation regarding Cuba's libraries and the jailing of dissidents in
the spring of 2003, including reports by
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
In addition, The Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, an interdisciplinary,
non–partisan human rights center located at Florida State University
(FSU) has mounted a website that includes some translations of the official
transcripts from the March trials. The Center was established in 2000, the
Center has the mandate of (1) creating human rights courses throughout FSU's
many colleges and departments; (2) of sponsoring FSU students at home and
abroad for human rights internships; and (3) of supporting human rights advocates
and non–governmental organizations throughout the world. 
The task force also examined the transcripts and other materials as part
of its work and reported back to both standing committees ahead of the January
2004 ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego.
Midwinter Meeting in San Diego, January 2004
At the January 2004 Midwinter Meeting in San Diego, the IRC/IFC Task Force
discussed its review of ALA and IFLA documents and several reports by Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch on the matter of the arrest, trial, and
detention of the 75 Cubans in March and April 2003 with both full committees.
The task force reported that all information available indicated that none
of the prisoners were charged with violent actions; rather, they were accused
of collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine the state, and/or receiving
American government funds.
In a final report approved nearly unanimously by the ALA Council, several
conclusions were reached by the IFC and IRC. 
This political climate brought on primarily by U.S. Government and Cuban
Government legislation and policies in recent years should not be countered
by censorship and imprisonment.
Neither the Cuban government nor any other government has the right to stifle
or obstruct the free expression of opinions and ideas.
Since the commitment to intellectual freedom is a core value of the library
and information profession worldwide,
ALA joins IFLA in support and assistance to the Cuban library community in
safeguarding free access to print and electronic information, including the
Internet. IFLA has also called on Cuba's
librarians to implement a code of
ethics for its library profession developed by ASCUBI.
ALA supports IFLA in its call for the elimination of the U.S. embargo that
restricts access to information in
Cuba and for lifting travel restrictions that limit professional exchanges.
ALA also supports IFLA's call for
the U.S. government to share information
widely in Cuba.
ALA joins IFLA in its deep concern over the arrest and long prison terms
of political dissidents in Cuba in spring 2003 and urges the Cuban Government
to respect, defend and promote the basic human rights defined in Article 19
of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
ALA supports IFLA in urging the Cuban government to eliminate obstacles
to access to information imposed
by its policies, and IFLA's support
for an investigative visit by a special
rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with special
attention given to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression,
especially in the cases of those individuals recently imprisoned and that
the reasons for and conditions of their detention be fully investigated.
Proclaiming the fundamental right of all human beings to access information
without restriction, ALA joins with IFLA in urging the Cuban library community
to monitor violations of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression
and to take a leading role in actively promoting these basic rights for all
and Nat Hentoff
The ALA Report on Cuba generated a fair amount of press, most of it critical,
after its release on January 13, 2004.
Of particular note were the syndicated columns by journalist Nat Hentoff
who took ALA Council to task for rejecting a six–word amendment to the
Cuba Report calling for the "immediate release" of the political
dissidents. Mr. Hentoff published a series of opinion pieces through March
2004 and "debated" me, in my role IRC chair for the May 2004 issue
of American Libraries.
I expressed the opinion that, in my view, ALA had responded appropriately
to the Cuba situation and that it was unlikely that further ALA Council action
on this issue would be taken.
In May 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell who chaired the "Commission
for Assistance for a Free Cuba" presented its report to President George
W. Bush. Page 158 of the 458 page report mentions the USAID's efforts,
Help develop independent Cuban libraries and other non–governmental
organizations (NGO's) by providing them books, training materials, and
(non–financial) material assistance. 
The evolution of ALA's involvement with Cuba and its libraries reveals
a complexity framed by U.S. and Cuban politics at every turn.
In the end though, the American Library Association continues to work with
other associations and institutions through IFLA to develop positions and
programmatic plans of action in support of fundamental human rights and freedom
of expression. ALA adopted and fully supports Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Further, the ALA urges all governments to respect
the rights of all individuals to freedom of expression and access to information
and to eliminate any policies that infringe those rights.
 The document is available on the IRC section of the
ALA website at: http://www.ala.org/content/navigationmenu/our_association/
 See http://www.ifla.org/faife/faife/cubareport2001.htm.
 The Public Library Service: IFLA/UNESCO Guidelines for
Development. Munich: K.G. Saur: 2001.
 See http://www.ruleoflawandcuba.fsu.edu/index.cfm.
 See http://www.ala.org/ala/pr2004/prjan2004/alacounciladopts.htm.
 See http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rt/cuba/commission/2004/c12237.htm.
About the Author
John W. Berry is Executive Director of the Network of Illinois Learning Resources in Community Colleges.
Email: jberry [at] nilrc [dot] org
© 2005 John Berry
This work is licensed under a Creative
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