Thu Jul 24, 4:00 AM
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."