George Orwell, 1984 and Cuba Today

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Thu Jul 3 14:05:31 MDT 2003

From: "Walter Lippmann" <walterlx at>
To: <letters at>
Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2003 12:58 PM
Subject: George Orwell, 1984 and Cuba Today


Charlotte Allen's "It's Always 1984 in Cuba"
confuses George Orwell's novel and today's
Cuban reality in surprising ways rooted in
lack of knowledge of life on the island.

Back when I was a kid in the 1950s we were
assigned 1984 as a novel to teach us to be
against Communism, but Orwell's novel is
surprisingly praised in Cuba these days.

Rolando Betancourt, an art critic for Granma,
the Communist Party paper, wrote a long and
very laudatory article about Orwell for this
year's centennial. A few excerpts from his
May 28th Granma essay, "Orwell's Predictions":

"1984 is not an anticommunist novel, but rather
a work aimed against totalitarianism of whatever
stripe.  The work describes a gloomy and
oppressive future dominated by thought police.
"More than 50 years have passed since Orwell
wrote this cautionary book and after the febrile
anticommunist exaltation, it is scarcely mentioned
in recent times by those who glorified it.
One has to be suspicious.

"Today, a neoliberal totalitarianism with a leader
from the North seeks to dominate the world and
in it, the three previously mentioned slogans fit
like a ring on a finger. Big Brother lies like the
witch in Snow White and then transmits on his
screens whatever suits him.  He creates super
ministries of espionage, searches libraries to see
what citizens are reading, controls telephones
and other means of communication, and accuses
those who do not support militaristic adventures
of being unpatriotic.
"Orwell called his novel 1984, and there are
plenty of indications to suggest that he was
only off by 20 years."

Orwell's relevance is more striking than ever
with the various recent legislation passed or
proposed to give the government access to our
credit records, library borrowings, and web

Sincerly yours,

Walter Lippmann
3339 Descanso Drive
Los Angeles, CA  90026-6219

June 29, 2003 Sunday Home Edition

It's Always 1984 in Cuba
Charlotte Allen,
Charlotte Allen is the author of "The Human Christ: The
Search, for the Historical Jesus."

WASHINGTON When the Supreme Court last week upheld a
federal law that requires public libraries receiving federal
aid for Internet technology to install pornography-filtering
software on their computers, the American Library Assn.
protested vociferously. The 64,000-member ALA, the leading
professional organization for the nation's public, college
and other librarians, had opposed the Children's Internet
Protection Act since its passage in 1998, arguing that the
filtering software for children might interfere with the 1st
Amendment rights of adult patrons of libraries to view works
of art and legitimate health information on the web.

"It's a fundamentally flawed and terrible decision," said
the ALA's outgoing president, Maurice J. Freedman, who
believes that the federal law unduly burdens librarians by
forcing them to monitor the filters if they want to keep
their taxpayer-funded Internet subsidies.

The "right to read" is dear to the heart of the ALA, which
has a history of hyperalertness to the smallest hints of
censorship at U.S. libraries, even the largely hypothetical
censorship at issue in the filtering case. (Adult patrons
can request to have the filters turned off under the Supreme
Court's ruling, and one study cited by the government shows
that even when they are turned on, they incorrectly block
only 1.4% of Web sites containing legitimate medical data
when set at their least restrictive level.) It is thus
ironic -- although perhaps telling -- that the very same
ALA, meeting in Toronto for its annual convention the very
week the Supreme Court handed down its decision, refused to
issue even the mildest condemnation of Cuba's harsh
treatment of some of its own librarians who were targets of
Fidel Castro's sweeping crackdown on dozens of dissidents in

Seventy-five economists, poets and democracy advocates are
serving sentences of up to 26 years apiece after hasty
trials for violating Cuba's harsh and vaguely worded
national security laws. Among those being held are
10 directors of independent, nongovernment-affiliated
lending libraries specializing in books that were either
hard to find in Cuba or offensive to the Castro regime.
The independent librarians, whose tiny libraries typically
consisted of a single room in their homes, were trying to do
exactly what the ALA librarians said they were trying to do
in the Internet-filtering case: make material available to
the public free of government censorship and control. Their
crimes consisted of disliking Castro and lending out books
such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and tracts on
free-market economics. The prosecutions were the culmination
of a long period of Cuban government harassment of the
5-year-old independent library movement, which encompasses
about 200 libraries around the island.

Human Rights Watch has condemned as a travesty of justice
the proceedings against these nonviolent dissidents, whose
books, computers and papers were confiscated upon their
arrests. Amnesty International called the 75 "prisoners of
conscience." The International Federation of Library Assns.
and Institutions issued a statement May 8 expressing its
"deepest concerns" over the long sentences for dissidents
and extending support to "the Cuban library community in
safeguarding free access to print and electronic

The ALA, by contrast, did zilch on behalf of its members'
imprisoned Cuban colleagues. At the Toronto meeting last
week, the organization's 175-member governing council failed
to vote on a resolution similar in wording to that of the
international librarians' federation, instead opting to send
it back to committee for revision. The U.S. government's
Interests Section in Havana, which takes the place of an
embassy there, supplies many small Cuban libraries with
office materials and books -- biographies of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. and the like -- which apparently makes the
librarians paid U.S. agents in the eyes of many.

Adding insult to injury, the ALA held a panel discussion at
the convention on libraries in Cuba. All five Cuban
delegates to the panel were representatives of Cuba's
state-owned public library system, including Eliades Acosta
Matos, head of the Jose Marti National Library, a
government-controlled enterprise. Acosta Matos is on record
as calling the independents "traitors," "criminals" and
"mercenaries." A pro-independents activist, Robert Kent, a
librarian with the New York City Public Library, tried to
persuade the ALA to add to the panel Ramon Colas, a
co-founder of the Cuban independent library movement who
recently fled Cuba after repeated detentions and
confiscations of his books. The ALA turned down the request,
contending that because Colas lacked a degree in library
science, he was not a professional librarian. (On that
argument, neither is Acosta Matos, nor for that matter, is
James Billington, the librarian of Congress). Freedman
finally agreed to allow a separate debate on Cuban libraries
but changed his mind just before the convention. "We say
that's censorship," said Kent, co-founder of Friends of
Independent Libraries, a support group for the Cuban

What seems to be at issue in the ALA is politics. Mark
Rosenzweig, chief librarian of the Reference Center for
Marxist Studies (the repository of the archives of the
Communist Party USA), is a leading figure of the ALA's
Social Responsibility Round Table, viewed by many observers
as aggressively pro-Castro. Listening to Rosenzweig talk is
like listening to a reading from "Animal Farm" -- or maybe

"There was hardly even the pretense that these people were
librarians," Rosenzweig said in a telephone interview last
week. "I have got books in my apartment too but that doesn't
make me a librarian. These are people who have been
dissidents for many years. They're pro-U.S. They have
connections with the Miami dissident groups." Translation:
In Cuba, it's a crime to be a dissident, especially if you
have relatives in Florida.

Larry Oberg, university librarian at Willamette University,
participated in an ALA fact-finding trip to Cuba in 2001.
This is what he told me last week: "They're opening
libraries as a front." In an earlier e-mail, Oberg expressed
shock that the independent librarians lacked degrees in
library science and did not properly catalog their books.

That may be, but at around the same time that Oberg was in
Cuba making his observations, Marion Lloyd, reporting for
the Houston Chronicle, sent a Cuban friend to request two
books for her at a state library: Orwell's "1984" and exiled
Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante's novel "Three
Trapped Tigers." The librarian refused to provide the
student with Infante's novel, telling him that it was
"counterrevolutionary." "1984" was not even in the library's

"I'm genuinely committed to freedom of access to
information," said Freedman, who noted that he knew many ALA
members who wished that the organization had voted with
other worldwide organizations to condemn Castro's crackdown.
There is a final irony, too: While the ALA frets about
Americans' lack of access to some Web pages, 99% of Cuba's
11 million people lack any access to the Web -- by
deliberate design of the Castro regime.

"They're afraid of what would happen if they allowed
access," Oberg said. Now, doesn't that sound familiar?

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