I was recently talking with one of my heroes, Ray Bradbury, a persistent, lively defender of the essential individual rights of conscience, free speech and, most famously, in his novel "Fahrenheit 451" the right to read — especially in a country whose government burns dissenting books.
We were talking about Fidel Castro's recurring crackdowns on those remarkably courageous Cubans who keep working to bring democracy to that grim island where dissenters, including independent librarians, are locked in cages, often for 20 or more years. Bradbury knew about the crackdowns, but until I told him, was not aware of Castro's kangaroo courts (while sentencing the "subversives") often ordering the burning of the independent libraries they raid, just like in "451."
For example, on April 5, 2003, after Julio Antonio Valdes Guevara was sent away, the judge ruled: "As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack usefulness." Hearing about this, Bradbury authorized me to convey this message from him to Fidel Castro: "I stand against any library or any librarian anywhere in the world being imprisoned or punished in any way for the books they circulate.
"I plead with Castro and his government to immediately take their hands off the independent librarians and release all those librarians in prison, and to send them back into Cuban culture to inform the people."
Among the books destroyed through the years by Fidel's arsonists have been volumes on Martin Luther King Jr., the U.S. Constitution, and even a book by the late Jose Marti, who organized, and was killed in, the Cuban people's struggle for independence.
Whether or not the Cuban dictator ever heard of Bradbury's message to him, Castro is resolute in his repression of his people. As Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) reports: "In a renewed government crackdown on dissidents in Cuba, authorities arrested at least 57 peaceful democracy and human rights advocates," between July 13 and July 22. Three of those still imprisoned will be prosecuted under Castro's notorious Law 88, which mandates up to 20 years in prison and possible confiscation of property.
Meanwhile, Nebraska Gov. David Heineman conducted a trade mission to Havana in August that, as the Aug. 10 New York Sun reported, "is to negotiate the purchase of Nebraska-grown dry beans — one of the state's largest exports — by the Cuban government."
Republican members of Congress Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote Gov. Heineman, telling him his mission would be "sending the appalling signal that the cash of tyrants is more important than the lives of pro-democracy leaders." These members of Congress asked the governor to at least meet with leaders of the pro-democracy movement, as well as some of the political prisoners.
Heineman's spokesman Aaron Sanderford told Meghan Clyne of The New York Sun — one of the few American newspapers keeping tabs on the story of this heroic resistance to Castro — that the governor would not meet with any dissidents, and would "certainly not engage in the politics of the day."
Replied Lincoln Diaz-Balart: "It's like saying politics is not part of a trip to Hitler's Germany in the 1930s. It's not a question of politics — it's a question of elemental human decency."
Now that China has become a strong supporter of Robert Mugabe, the tyrant of Zimbabwe, and is bolstering the economy that Mugabe shattered, maybe Heineman can lead a trade mission to that brutalized nation, and sell more Nebraska-brown dry beans. How about a side trip to the Sudan government in Khartoum?
The list of books banned in Cuba is quite telling and include those by Vaclav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, Orwell, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn.
In 1998 Fidel Castro declared, "There are no banned books in Cuba, only those which we have no money to buy." His statement led to a new form of defiance in the socialist paradise:
So when Ramon Humberto Colas, a psychologist in Las Tunas, heard Castro's words, he and his wife Berta Mexidor decided to put them to the test. They designated the 800 or so books in their home as a library and invited friends and neighbors to borrow them for free. And so was born the first of Cuba's independent libraries -- independent of state control, of censorship, and of any ideology save the conviction that it is no crime to read a book.
The men and women who run these humble libraries risk government retaliation; several have been threatened, interrogated, raided by the police -- or worse. Colas and Mexidor were evicted from their home, denounced in the (state-owned) press, and repeatedly arrested. Their books were confiscated. They were fired from their jobs. Their daughter was expelled from school. Government persecution eventually drove them from Cuba, but the seed they planted bore fruit. Today there are more than 100 independent libraries in homes across the country, each one a little island of intellectual freedom.
As of the end of 2004, there were 10 librarians sitting in Castro's prison for lending out books of which Castro disapproves ( 1984 was one of them).
As I searched around the internet for more information on this story, I found that Nat Hentoff has been writing columns on it for several years, trying to call attention to the problem, and to spotlight yet another serious bit of oppression by the Castro regime.
As of today, the American Library Association (ALA) has refused to condemn Castro for his actions in jailing librarians and banning/burning books, although such an action is within their charter.
For every one totalitarian dictator, there are thousands of appeasers, apologists, and enablers who make that dictator's life so much easier and more pleasant.
File this in the "Evil and its Enablers" Folder.