Speaker talks about life in Cuba without books
By Matt Ollwerther
Marshfield News-Herald March 22, 2006
When Ramón Colás began distributing books under Cuba's totalitarian
leadership in 1998, he viewed it as a service to the nation. The
government saw it in a different light and persecuted him for it.
Colás is co-founders of the Independent Libraries of Cuba, a civil
society initiative that reflects the desire of Cubans to study in
neutral spaces free of ideology. Independent librarians lend their homes
to provide the service.
Ironically, the organization began with the words of Fidel Castro.
"No, there are no books that are prohibited. We just don't have the
money to buy them," Colás said Castro told foreign media.
"When Castro said that, I found a great fissure," Colás said.
In effect, he began to use Castro's words against him, distributing
literature to homes in his area. Colás' library included several authors
with political leanings.
The regime's reaction forced him to pretend to be divorced from his wife
for six months, his home to be searched and got him thrown into prison
"The people there are trapped in a culture of fear and desperation,"
Colás gave a 30-minute presentation in Spanish, then answered questions
for nearly 90 minutes from an audience of about 75 on Tuesday night at
the Marshfield Public Library. Leslie Riegel, a teacher at Marshfield
High School, translated Colás' words.
Colás encouraged anyone traveling to Cuba to bring books -- foreigners'
incoming luggage is never monitored, he said -- and leave books at
hotels or with taxi drivers.
"When you're packing your bags, don't forget to take some books," he said.
While reading dangerous literature in Cuba, he would place a Communist
newspaper behind to avoid attention, Colás said.
"We all have a dream," he said. "We all want to be free."
Castro runs a totalitarian regime and has declared himself the head of
government and chiefs of state and the military.
Kelsey Vidaillet, a 22-year-old senior at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison who hosted the event, also shared an experience from
her December trip to Cuba.
Doing research in a Cuban library, she soon noticed several men she
called spies were watching her family. "I certainly didn't feel safe
there," she said.
She decided against visiting a second library to ensure her family there
would remain safe and she could leave Cuba.
Once Castro dies, Colás hopes to return to his homeland.
"The day that Castro's not there, I'm going back," he said.
The leader's death will be the "first step to the solution of our great
tragedy. ... The dictatorship dies with the dictator."
Colás came to the United States four years ago and now lives in Jackson,
Miss., with his family.
Matt Ollwerther can be reached at 384-3131, at 800-967-2087, ext. 358,
or at email@example.com.