March 10, 2000

Bibliotecas Independientes Proyecto de Bibliotecas Independientes

"Library books burned, buried, dumped": Mystery solved?

Friends of Cuban Libraries News Bulletin. March 9, 2000

On December 10, 1999, the Friends of Cuban Libraries issued a press release, entitled "Library Books Burned, Buried, Dumped," regarding the destruction of "hundreds and hundreds" of books donated to Cuba by the government of Spain. Based on a report by Maria Elena Rodriguez of the independent Cuba Verdad Press Agency, who interviewed eyewitnesses, the press release described how the donated books, sent to Cuba as part of a cultural assistance program, had been taken to a warehouse in the Havana municipality of Cerro. Under the direction of the Cerro municipal government, known as Poder Popular ("People's Power"), city workers carried out orders to burn some of the library books, while others were buried under the agency's parking lot with the aid of a bulldozer; the remaining books were loaded on trucks and hauled away to trash dumps on the outskirts of Havana.

Although this incident marked the first documented destruction of officially-donated library books in Cuba, the news was not a surprise given the fact that many of the books sent to Cuba by well-intentioned foreign donors never reach the shelves of government-funded libraries. Foreign donors are often unaware of the harsh censorship imposed on all reading materials made available to the Cuban public. Any book not written from the narrow ideological perspective approved by the Cuban government is viewed by the authorities as a source of contamination and is dealt with accordingly.

What was puzzling, however, was the destruction of every book in the Spanish-donated shipment, even those on seemingly non-controversial topics such as children's literature and medical textbooks.

The mystery may have been solved, however, as a result of an article appearing in the Jan. 21, 2000, issue of "Siglo XXI," the journal of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights. The article is based on an interview with Jose Luis Mesa, a former employee of the Cerro municipality who carried out the order to destroy the donated library books. According to Mr. Mesa, who defected in Canada after receiving permission to travel abroad, the incoming shipment of Spanish books was confiscated at the port of Havana while being inspected by the Ministry of the Interior. Two State Security officers in civilian clothes, commanded by a Major Sanchez, hauled the books to the municipal warehouse in Cerro, where they were soon destroyed.

The apparent answer to the central mystery of this affair, the destruction of every book in the shipment, even those on such non-controversial topics as children's literature, was also revealed by Mr. Mesa: during the inspection of the incoming books at the Havana docks, the State Security police were alarmed to discover 8,000 pamphlets containing the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration, passed by the United Nations in 1948, sets human rights standards which all nations are obliged to respect. Article 19 of the Declaration declares: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any means regardless of frontiers." Rather than overlook any pamphlets that may have been inserted inside the pages of even the "safe" books in the shipment, the Cuban authorities apparently thought the wisest course was to destroy every one of the books sent from Spain.

The article in "Siglo XXI" ends with the remark: "This new chapter in Fidel Castro's war against the free flow of ideas speaks for itself."


Despite an accelerated campaign of repression directed against Cuba's independent librarians in recent months, which has escalated from threats to at least one act of violence, more than 31 of the new libraries have now opened their doors to a public eager to read uncensored information. When a collection is confiscated, Cubans continue to contribute their cherished privately-owned books in order to keep the libraries in operation. As a reflection of growing worldwide awareness and support, many books for the independent libraries are now being delivered from abroad via tourists, visiting delegations, and international package delivery companies. For the full text of IFLA's report documenting the repression of the independent librarians, refer to (, in the "news and events" section). For the full text of Amnesty International's report declaring Ramon Colas, the co-founder of the movement, as a Prisoner of Conscience after his most recent arrest, refer to (

Appearing below is a brief summary of events since December relating to the independent libraries:

December 24, 1999: Rolando Bestart, the director of the Pedro Luis Boitel Library, removed from Christmas Eve mass in Santiago Cathedral and beaten by the State Security police (CubaNet, 12-28-99).

January 20, 2000: Jorge Santacana, the director of the Union Lucista Library, detained for several hours in Havana. Two State Security agents tell him to stop "associating with counterrevolutionaries and a library of the same type." They warn him that if he does not cease his acitivities he will have the same kind of "accident" as Mery Miranda, an independent journalist who was hospitalized after being beaten unconscious by unidentified assailants (CubaNet, 1-24-00).

February 3, 2000: State Security police seize the book collection of the Jose Maceo Grajales Library in Santiago (CubaNet, 2-4-00).

February 9, 2000: Berta Mexidor and Ramon Colas, the co-founders of the independent library movment, issue a declaration calling for international support for the libraries during the Havana International Book Fair. Defying their sentence of internal exile, Berta and Ramon travel to Havana and meet with a number of foreign publishers who promise to support the movement.

Friends of Cuban Libraries issue protest letter entitled "Book Fair or Carnival of Persecution?", signed by many prominent authors, denouncing oppression of librarians and urging public and private acts of protest by attendees at the Book Fair (Nuevo Herald, 2-14-00).

February 13, 2000: Gustavo Garcia, a leader of the independent farmer's movement, detained along with two other persons in the town of Artemisa. Police confiscate their papers relating to the establishment of farmers' cooperatives and an independent library (CubaNet, 2-14-00).

February 22, 2000: Rolando Bestart gives interview outlining his arrest for allegedly "selling illegal drugs." (CubaNet, 2-22-00).

February 24, 2000: The entire book collection of the Felix Varela Library, the first independent library established in Cuba, stolen by "burglars" in the town of Las Tunas. Berta Mexidor comments: "If the books were really taken by common criminals, I would be happy if they read the books before selling them. If they sell them, then the people who buy the books wil read them. If they were taken by the inquisitors with the intention of burning them, they will be burning the works of Jose Marti, Felix Varela [two of Cuba's foremost intellectuals], Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, and even books by Fidel Castro and the complete works of Che Guevara, to mention just a few." (CubaNet, 3-1-00).

BACKGROUND: The Friends of Cuban Libraries, founded in June, 1999, is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit support group for the independent library movement in Cuba. 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.

Noticias relacionadas

Castro fears the modest Cuban independent libraries / Frank Calzon

¿Quiénes son los destructores de los libros donados por España? / Cuba Press

Quemados cientos de libros donados por España / ABC

Destruye el Poder Popular donativo de libros / Cuba-Verdad



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