This Cuban library lends DVDs about state torture

A government critic's collection includes Bibles, books by Cuban defectors, and positive biographies about Fidel Castro.

Alfredo Sosa
THE ERNEST HEMINGWAY LIBRARY: That’s what Carlos Serpa, a government critic, calls his home library in Isla de la Juventud, Cuba. His collection includes Bibles, books by Cuban defectors, and positive biographies about Fidel Castro and “Che” Guevara.

Carlos Serpa Maceira's ramshackle home on the outskirts of a rural town on an island that once served as a prison for Fidel Castro is not easy to find. And that's how he likes it.

The tireless sprite of a man is always on the move, finding creative ways to shuttle banned books and DVDs from Havana to the tiny independent library he runs out of his home.

"My library is called the Ernest Hemingway Library," he says puffing out his chest. "My criteria is not to have any censorship. I have Bibles, US State Department literature, books written by high-level Cuban defectors, fiction – and positive books about [Ernesto] Che [Guevara] and Fidel [Castro]."

But the library he started in 2003 isn't what it used to be.

In 2005, he says, police came and took all the books and warned him he would soon go to jail. Last year, the government took away his collection of movies, mostly documentaries about Cuban human rights violations or nonviolent reformers such as Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.

"It's a process of awakening," says Mr. Maceira. "Fidel always said that people don't get tortured in Cuba, but when former [Cuban] prisoners talk about how they were tortured and people see that in the films, they start questioning whether anything the government tells them is true. One guy who milks cows saw the torture film and his face changed when he saw what people have to put up with. He was touched."

Maceira was raised in a revolutionary household and was spoon-fed pro-Castro ideology, he says. In the late 1980s and early 90s he was a reporter for state radio, but was increasingly censored for writing about everyday problems that affect Cubans, such as lack of clean drinking water or electricity shortages. At one point, the state's journalist union told him to quit. He wouldn't, so they fired him. He's been blacklisted and prevented from getting a job since.

Now, in addition to running the library, he works as a freelance journalist and his work appears on Miscelaneas de Cuba, a website run by anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Sweden. The Cuban government and pro-Castro critics abroad often claim that dissidents like Maceira are merely US pawns, paid by the American government to foment dissent. Maceira does receive books, DVDs, and small radios from the US Interests Section in Havana, but he denies receiving any money from the US.

"José Martí is the president of my library," he says proudly, gesturing at the miniature bust of Cuba's 19th-century independence hero that sits on his bookshelf. "The name Martí is badly used by the government," scoffing at the fact that Martí is held up by Fidel and Raúl Castro as a model for their revolution. "Martí fought against repression. If he were around today, he'd be fighting the political repression of the Castros."

"Now that Fidel is not running things, it's easier to get people to open up to me as an independent journalist," he says. "I think political dissent is gathering steam, because the government is attacking us more now.

"I have lots of faith [that things will change] because I know that I'm on the right side and I'll succeed," he says backing up that assertion by paraphrasing a famous line from Martí: "A just principle from the deepest part of a cave can beat a whole army."

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