April 3, 2000

Proyecto de Bibliotecas Independientes en Cuba

New Report By Amnesty: "Stop Harassing Librarians"

Friends of Cuban Libraries News Bulletin March 30, 2000

Amnesty International released a report today entitled "Cuba: Short Term Detention and Harassment of Dissidents." The 24-page report notes that "freedom of expression, association and assembly are severely limited in law and in practice" for Cuban citizens. "Those who attempt to express views, organize meetings or form organizations that conflict with government policy are frequently subjected to punitive measures." Independent librarians are listed among the groups of Cuban citizens whom Amnesty says have been subject to intensified repression in recent months. Focusing on 13 methods of intimidation, the world-renowned human rights organization expressed concern because "certain punitive measures used by the Cuban Government to stifle dissent are becoming more frequent, including short term detentions, interrogations, summonses, official warnings, threats, intimidation,

eviction, loss of employment, restrictions on travel, house searches, house arrests, telephone buggings and physical and verbal acts of aggression...."

Some of the physical attacks, according to Amnesty, are carried out by paramilitary groups known as "Rapid Response Brigades," organized by the government in 1991 with the avowed goal of "confronting and liquidating any sign of counter-revolution or crime...."

Amnesty International cites particular incidents to illustrate each of the 13 categories of repression outlined in the new report. Under "mass detentions," for example, the report describes the case of an activist for the blind, Ms. Milagros Cruz Cano, who was among a group of people attacked and arrested on November 27, 1999, while demonstrating outside a courtroom where an independent journalist was being tried. This nonviolent protest was disrupted when "Rapid Response Brigades, State Security agents and police came to the scene and began to beat the demonstators with clubs.... [On December 4] Milagros Cruz Cano, who is blind, was re-detained by State Security officials.... She was initially held at the Maria Luisa police station in Havana where she was reportedly beaten by police officers which resulted in a swollen cheek and a bruise and a scab below her eye. She was then transferred to Mazorra psychiatric hospital in Havana where she was held in an isolated cell...." After being subjected to further mistreatment, Ms. Cruz Canos was released without charge on December 14.

Incidents involving Cuba's independent librarians are included in the Amnesty report to illustrate two of the 13 categories of heightened repression being used by the security forces. Under the category of "house searches," the report notes that "Independent libraries in Cuba have also been subjected to searches and the confiscation of books. The first independent library in Cuba, the 'Biblioteca Felix Varela,' was established in April 1998 by Berta Mexidor Vazquez and her husband, Ramon Humberto Colas Castillo. Since then several other independent libraries have emerged. However, most have reportedly been subjected to searches and the confiscation of books and magazines." Under the category of "evictions," the report describes the forced expulsion of Ramon Colas, Berta Mexidor and their two children from their home in the town of Las Tunas, which also served as the site of the Felix Varela Library. Amnesty describes how the family "had lived in their home for 13 years before being told they were illegal occupants. According to Berta Mexidor, the authorities removed all their belongings into lorries in spite of their protests and told them they were being moved to another area, some 60 kilometers from their home. They were taken to a military camp where some 300 other people were reportedly housed." In an earlier report issued in November, 1999, Amnesty had named Ramon Colas as a Prisoner of Conscience following his arrest during the incident described above.

Comments on the repression of the independent librarians and other members of Cuba's emerging civil society, as outlined in Amnesty's report, may be sent to: President Fidel Castro, Consejos de Ministros y del Estado, Havana, Cuba. E-mail may be sent to Cuba's official librarians' association, known as ASCUBI, at: (

BACKGROUND: More than 33 independent libraries now exist in Cuba with the goal of offering uncensored reading materials to the Cuban people. These popular institutions have been welcomed in a nation where strict censorship has prevailed for many years. Because of their efforts to promote intellectual freedom, the independent librarians are being subjected to a campaign of persecution. The full text of a report on this subject by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) is on the Internet (, in the "news and events" section). In news too late to be included in Amnesty's report, the Felix Varela Library continued to operate in Las Tunas until February, 2000, when the entire collection of over 1,000 volumes was stolen, allegedly by burglars. For details on this incident, please refer to the Friends of Cuban Libraries news bulletin dated March 9, 2000.

The Friends of Cuban Libraries, founded in June, 1999, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit support group for Cuba's independent librarians. We oppose censorship and all other violations of intellectual freedom, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regardless of whatever administration may be in office in Cuba. We are funded entirely by our members and do not seek or accept contributions from other sources.

For further information about the Friends, send e-mail to: or telephone (U.S.) 718-340-8494.

Mailing address: Robert Kent, 474 48th Ave., #3-C, Long Island City, NY 11109 USA.



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