[Marxism] Some Notes on the 'Havana Book Fair 2004

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Feb 20 12:36:04 MST 2004

by Walter Lippmann, February 18, 2004

The Havana Book Fair closed Sunday after a ten day run here in
the Cuban capital. The fair was attended by 450,000 people reported
the festival's director, and a million books were sold, he said. 

I can fully believe this announcement and want to share with you a
few of the highlights as I observed them during four visits to the
festival during the ten days in which it was open to the public.
(It was open to just booksellers, staff and invited guests for the
first day.) The motto of these fairs is "Leer is crecer", which
means "To read is to grow" and you can see from this how much 
Cuba's government wants to encourage reading in the population.
Something was available to appeal to just about every kind of 
individual taste and interest for the public here.

The range of the Cuban Revolution's numerous accomplishments in the
fields of health, education, literature and so on were available to
be seen, and for the most part to be purchased, by the participants.
Challenges and unresolved issues in Cuban society were also subject
of many of the books available at this event. Cuba is a society in
which numerous social problems exist. For a blockaded society it's
all the more remarkable that some of the most mundane kinds of
problems, as well as among the most complex and daunting are taken
up in the island's literature. Even in an extensive report, it's 
only possible to sketch some highlights of what was available to
the interested visitor during those ten days.

The event was open all day and on into the early evening, and it
was also possible to purchase food and beverages, in both dollars 
and in Cuban national currency, so it was easy for Cubans to go to
this event, and many, many did. Admission was two Cuban pesos.

You can also get an idea of the breadth of activities from the 
festival's website, which includes separate pages for each of the 
days during which it was held. URL for the festival's home page:

Many books are published or announced at this fair for the first
time. Publishers often time their works releases so that they can
hold a public event to publicize these volumes to the world here.
I'll describe several of these which I attended. These are called
book launchings ("lanzamientos" in Spanish) and often draw very
big crowds, including authors, members of their families, friends
and associates all of whom were part of the books' histories. 

The festival is housed in the large fortress known as La Cabana on
the other side of the Havana harbor from most of the city. People
either drive or take a bus to get there. Publishers from all over
the island, and all over the world come to show their wares, each
with a booth, or upwards of an entire room to show their wares.

The largest single section of the fair housed the bulk of books
published by Cuban houses and available in national currency at
prices which made them affordable to the Cuban public, even to
those whose incomes are limited. In addition to the standards of
Cuban history and literature, you find a considerable selection of
literature from the United States as well. I saw editions of LIGHT
ON AUGUST by William Faulkner, Mark Twain, William Fennimore Cooper,
W.E.B. DuBois and many others. A new Spanish translation of William
Edgar Wideman's novel THE PHILADELPHIA FIRE was available in a new
Cuban Spanish translation.

Here in Cuba far, far more attention is paid to the political life
of the United States than the other way around. Among the books we
found launched at this fair, for example, was THE REPUBLIC OF MIAMI,
BY Jose Buajason Marrawi and Jose Luis Mendez Mendez. This is a book
of 350 pages closely studying the politics of Miami as it's evolved
under the influence of the wealth right-wing exiles who've controlled
that city ever since they left Cuba in the aftermath of the Revolution
in 1959. There are still a few people who think that the rightists in
Miami really don't have any independent influence, and that Washington
calls the shots on everything they do. While that may be true in an
ultimate analytical sense, there is no other community in the world
quite like Miami. Perhaps some day this book can be translated into
English. Another volume launched at this fair was a wide-ranging 
study of the domestic politics, including a detailed look at the
legislatures, the judiciary and the executive branch. It's written
by five Cuban scholars with extensive experience in the US and a
great deal of knowledge of US politic. It's called UNITED STATES:
Internal Dymamics and Foreign Policy by Soraya Castro and others.
These larger three hundred page volumes were expensive, at 25 pesos.

Visually and politically, one of the best books I found and bought
was CUBA, THE UNTOLD STORY. Printed on heavy and slick paper gave
photographic evidence of US terrorist attacks on Cuba going back 
to the earliest years of the Revolution. These attacks originated
in the United States and were carried out with the organization 
of (such as the Bay of Pigs invasion) or the acquiescence of the
US government. This history helps explain why the Cuban government
sent a group of men to monitor the activities of the groups and
individuals carrying out such attacks. I'll have to write up a
separate review of this valuable book which is available in both
Spanish and English.

For a foreigner such as myself, who has dollars and can afford them,
these books are breathtakingly inexpensive. Printed with attractive
covers, but often on very inexpensive paper, the cover prices of 
these books hardly covers the cost of printing the COVERS of the
books. For Cubans who live only or mostly on Cuban pesos, perhaps
with the occasional source of additional funds, these books are by
no means cheap. Friends here tell me that back during the days of
Cuba's alliance with the Soviet Union, books cost literally pennies.

Alice Walker came to Cuba to help launch the Cuban edition of her
novel MERIDIAN. Walker has been a supporter of the Cuban Revolution
for many years, and she continued her support on this visit. I was
unable to get into her book launching as it was so extremely well-
attended, though I saw her smiling face from the far back of the
room! Walker doesn't speak Spanish, so everything was translated
for her, but she seemed to be having a great time here. Stories
on Walker appeared in the Cuban press and on television as well.

Sociological studies of the island itself were extensive, though
not all were available there for sale. I found a demographic study,
THE CUBAN FAMILY In The Second Half of the Twentieth Century by
Maria E. Benitez. A much tougher read will be Susana Montero's
comparison with the national identities of Mexico and Cuba from
a gender-based perspective. So it looks like there are heavily-
academic studies here which would find and audience in women's
Studies departments in the US.

If anyone has any doubt about the island's leadership's attitudes 
towards homosexuality, they should now be completely changed as
a raft of scientific and sexological literature, both for parents,
professionals and for the individual are being published here and
they all take the approach that homosexuality is a phenomenon which
occurs normally throughout human history, and no discrimination 
should occur against individuals whose sexuality is other than the
(otherwise presumed) norm of heterosexuality. Some examples:

THE CHILDREN TEACH by Elsa Gutierrez Baro, a 127 page paperback
with things which parents can learn from their children and
adolescents. Chapters include ones on parental abandonment,
anorexia, a girl who doesn't like her boyfriend's kisses, kids
who contemplate suicide, others who hate their parents, as well
as "I'm homosexual, now what?" which describes a parent-child
conflict and points ways towards its resolution. I'm going to get
this translated and will share it with readers. Eight pesos.

MESSAGES TO THE PARENTS BY Elsa Gutierrez Baro, answers all sorts
of questions such as whether or not homosexuality is normal, if 
it's contagious, and so on. Homosexuality is but one of twenty
chapters in this book. Very relaxed and accepting attitude. This
author is a child psychiatrist at the University of Havana and
these books are small paperbacks available in a mass-market price
and format. Eight pesos.

SEXUALITYIN THE SUNSET OF LIFE by Regino Rodriguez Boti, a review
of a range of sexual challenges for such people. This book defines
the sunset of life as after age 50. (I'm sixty, by the way.) Here
an entire section is devoted to what Cubans have studied and learned 
through the years about this important social phenomenon. Much past
ignorance is admitted, but a thoroughly positive attitude toward 
this aspect of human life is projected. I'm also going to get this 
chapter translated to share with you. I'll be getting a translation 
of a key chapter of this volume. It was about ten or twelve pesos.

SEXUALITY AND GENDER BY Alicia Gonzalez and Beatriz Castellanos
"Alternatives for education in the face of the challenges of the
21st Century". 220 page academic treatment. 25 pesos. This is the
kind of book for which an academic audience in the English-speaking
world might well be found.

An extremely wide spectrum of Cuban life was brought forth in the
fair. Academic journals covering hundreds of topics were available
for the public to look at. Samples of local newspapers from all 
over the island, as well as both national and regional publishing
houses were also on display. Universities, libraries, cities all
have local publishing operations and they all seem to have some
journals in which their work is published, in addition to their
book publication work.

The expansion of business enterprises on the island, including
joint ventures with foreign investors as well as the expanding
corporate sector in Cuba (state-owned) has evoked a literature
aimed at problem-solving in this area. One such 350 page paper
back book which came out here was THE DIRECTIVE AND CUBAN
IDEOLOGICAL ORGANZATION by Armando Perez Betancourt and Carlos
B. Dias Llorca. A small-pocket book for only 15 Cuban pesos.

CUBA AGAINST NARCO-TRAFFICKING, accounts by victims and guards
by Francisco Arias Fernandez. This book covers the entire 20th
century and on into the twenty-first.

THE CHALLENGE OF LONELINESS by Orlando Cardoso Villavecencio,
a memoir of ten years in capitivity by a Cuban soldier captured
in Somalia. There's one story in the book about how he kept
another inmate sane, just by communicating from one cell to
the next via the help of a friendly guard. Many years later
the other inmate got to meet the author in Cuba.

Gladys Hernandez. This is a study of the entire world oil
system. Tablada wrote a famous study of the economic thought
of Che.

THE CIA AND THE CULTURAL COLD WAR by Francis Stonor Saunders.
This is a history of how the Central Intelligence Agency gave
money to liberal and dissident groupings in the West during
the cold war to see to it they developed an anti-Communist
politics during the Cold War period. The author came to Cuba
last year to speak. This year the National Assembly President.
Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada and the Minister of Culture, Abel
Prieto, spoke at the launching of this book, which took place
actually a few weeks before the fair. It's beyond belief when
I tell you that this 638-page book is on sale for 20 Cuban

historical costume and period dramas. One which played here
for a long time was an Arts and Entertainment network series
on this famous love affair. It was presented here in English
with Spanish-subtitles. 

Books by well-known opposition intellectuals in the United
States, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn (his "People's
History of the United States was available, though not from
a Cuban publisher). Other writers such as Saramogo, Galeano
and others who had publicly criticized Cuba last year during
the difficult times of the dissident trials and the trials
and executions of the armed hijackers were represented by

Some people on the political left tried to read these people
out of the left or the solidarity world. I think the Cubans
have followed a very intelligent approach toward such people,
publishing their writings against the US war on Iraq, and by
inviting them to visit the island. Last November's visit by
Noam Chomsky very successful. Such people are very influential
in the United States as they have spoken out for decades against
US intervention around the world. 

I would hate for you to think that everything was on the dire
and serious side. These were books of interest to me. To help
encourage children to read there was an entire children's
pavilion, as well as small stands with books for kids every-
where. A section with dancing, singing and performances by
children also helped raw out children's interests. And also
children were taken to the fair by their teachers as class
outings. Lots of cartoon books, comic books, coloring books
and so on covering Cuban history and so on were there as well
for the children.

Each festival has some particular theme, and this year's theme 
was German culture. People from Germany have long played a role in
the island's life, especially in the earlier colonial periods. In
recent times, a very popular Cuban movie, ROBLE DE OLOR celebrated
the life of a German immigrant with a black Haitian woman. Books
on the history of Germans in Cuba were published in time for this
event. While the government of Germany was to have participated,
it bent to Washington's pressure and decided to withdraw. This 
may well have reduced the participation of dominant corporate
publishers from that country, but I saw one entire hall with 
German groups and publishing houses, at least two of which also
featured literature from Cuba solidarity campaigns in Germany.

One amusing sidelight was the presence of another leftist German
group, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany. This is a Maoist
party which had a full range of publications in German, English
and Spanish. The group doesn't think Cuba is a socialist country
and doesn't support the Cuban Revolution, but they were welcome
to participate. I picked up a copy of their Organizational

The largest international publishing house specializing in the
contemporary literature of the Cuban Revolution is Australia's
OCEAN PRESS. They've done more than any other international
house in recent years to publish the contemporary writings of
Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders. David Deutschmann, their
president, along with a number of their Cuban staff were present
at their table. Their books were on sale at half price on the 
last day and I was able to stock up on a series of books, new 
and old, which I need for reference here in Cuba, including 
Jane Franklin's "Cuba and the US: A Chronological History", 
Mario Mencia's "The Fertile Prison", "The Jose Marti Reader", 
as well as new books such as Fabian Escalante's latest,
"The Secret War", and a study on the life and work of Cuban
heroine Haydee Santamaria. Here's the Ocean Press website:

Ocean also maintains in international distribution network and is
the only foreign publisher as well to have offices and a nation-
wide distribution system here in Cuba. Ocean books are printed in
Australia and shipped to Cuba where they can be found at most of
the leading bookstores here as well as in hotels and other places
where small shops available with information on the island for
tourists and other visitors.

One US publisher has come regularly: Pathfinder Press out of New
York City, which has a long history of publishing materials about
the Cuban Revolution. One of Pathfinder's special contributions 
has been the publication of books dealing with the earlier years 
of the Revolution, particularly before the triumph. This year, for
example, they introduced a beautiful new edition of ALDABONAZO, a
book by one of the Revolution's historic leaders, Armando Hart.

This book was quite expensive for the Cuban reader, at a cover
price of $25.00. However, on the last day of the fair, Pathfinder
made all its remaining stock available to Cubans at peso prices,
and they did a brisk business. Further, a book launch was held
for the new title ALDABONAZO. Several speakers participated in
the event, including Pathinder's President, Mary-Alice Waters.

Armando Hart spoke as well, for a longer period, as did some
of the other participants in the publication project, which is
an extremely beautiful and thoroughly professional job. I've 
begun to glance through the book and can't wait to have time to
get all the way through it. 

The book features many photographs of participants in the 
struggle, a copiously-annotated glossary of names, places
people and organizations. Terrific! Pathfinder's website:

The President of the University of Havana spoke as well and we
also saw the participation of others who had been active here
during the urban underground period, such as Enrique Oltusky,
whose book VIDA CLANDESTINA was published in English in the
United States last year. A second volume of his memoirs was
released at this event.

(By the way, another of Pathfinder's authors, Jon Hillson, 
who died suddenly of a heart attack few weeks ago, has been
the subject of at least three articles in the Cuban media
since his death, two of which came out during the fair. 
His 1975 book THE BATTLE OF BOSTON, covering the famous
school desegregation struggle in that city, was published
by Pathfinder.) 

Several Militant staffers were present for the fair as well,
among them Roger Calero, the Nicaraguan-born reporter whose
successful struggle against deportation provided a model of
how an effective effort can beat back a governmental attack.
Calero had been interviewed by reporters from the newspaper
JUVENTUD REBELDE who published a full-page feature on his
struggle in its largest weekly edition on Sunday the 15th:

THE MILITANT's coverage of Calero's visit to Cuba is here:

In addition, I would urge the reader, especially the Spanish-
speaking reader, to take a look at the context in which this
interview with Calero was published. Here's the front page 

Cuban publishing houses have brought out a massive treasure trove
of literature on virtually every aspect of the island's life and
history, as well as a broad selection of world literature. And it
is done in such a way that these works are affordable to Cubans 
at even very low levels of income. While as a foreigner who does
have dollars, any book was available to me, I found books at this
fair ranging in price from as low as a single Cuban peso to as 
high as thirty-five Cuban pesos. For one peso you can purchase a
small pamphlet-sized edition of one fairy tale for a child, such
as Grimm's The Golden Bird, O. Henry's The Last Page, and so on.
These are vest-pocket sized editions as large 24 and 38 pages
each, just enough to read one story to a child.

For 35 Cuban pesos one could purchase an encyclopedic, large-
format, history of the indigenous peoples of Latin America.

Between these extremes in price were materials aimed at these
stimulation of every different kind of interest and taste so
anyone with the slightest curiosity could find things to appeal
to their interest. 

Fidel Castro didn't attend this year's event as he has in the
past, but it's remarkable to note that so many of the island's
top  leaders, such as National Assembly President Ricardo 
Alarcon, Culture minister Abel Prieto, and others came out for
these events. They just walk around like ordinary people with
no security apparatus. Fidel is always heavily guarded, but 
the rest participate just like everyone else. Amazing.

Most Cuban bookstores don't have scanners for the prices that
are indicated on the barcodes, so prices are normally marked
in each book by hand. That obviously wasn't possible here so
I can't always know how much each of the books were. They did
have bar-codes which were used as shoppers check out at the
end of the large area where the Cuban books in pesos were
being sold.

One of the many campaigns to vilify Cuba is that of the so-
called "independent librarians" who are supposedly organized
to make books available to the Cuban people which they and
their backers in Washington claim are being hidden from the
Cuban people. These so-called "librarians", whose only task
in life seems to be complaining about the official libraries
and about the Cuban government, have been the feature of a 
raft of favorable publicity from the US journalists who are
working here on the island. We've not heard a single peep
out of these "librarians" as to whether or not they either
went to the fair to get books to lend, encouraged others to
go to the fair to get books to read, or in any way related 
to this massive nation-wide event. Not a single word said.

Over the ten days of the book fair, the US journalists here
have waxed ecstatic over the one carload of people who had
turned an old car into an unsafe boat, and who then took 
their small children out on the ocean with them in a SECOND
effort to gain admission to the US. 

These people had, in fact, done a stunt like this months 
before, and after being returned to Cuba by the US authorities, 
However, they decided not to accept the procedures which the 
US authorities have set up for those who would like to leave 
the country. They pulled the very same public relations-oriented, 
and extremely dangerous stunt a second time, putting their 
children at risk of their lives again. THAT was what the 
journalists writing for the dominant corporate media were 
interested. The hundreds of thousands who attended the book 
fair apparently didn't exist for these, uh, "journalists"...

(The article below is from the website of Granma International, 
which provides English translations of articles from the daily
edition of the paper, published six days a week.)

Havana. February, 16 2004

A celebration of culture and freedom

• From now until March 7, the 13th International Book Fair
is moving to 10 other cities • Preliminary figures show
450,000-plus visitors and one million books sold during the
Havana part of the fair


—Granma daily staff writer—

The extension of the 13th International Book Fair from
Havana to 33 other Cuban cities through March 7 will also
be "an expression of our people’s culture, celebrations of
spirit and freedom all over the country," declared Ricardo
Alarcón at the closing ceremony of the Havana edition
yesterday. The fair was visited by more than 450,000
people, who bought one million books.

During his speech, the president of the Cuban parliament
affirmed that this event "is not just a huge party
celebrating culture and spirit; it has also become a very
special and important social phenomenon." The closing
ceremony also officially inaugurated the local book fairs
from today until March 7 locations in the provinces of
Pinar del Rio, Habana, Matanzas and the special
municipality of the Isle of Youth.

Alluding to a recent article by Heinz Dieterich on the
event, Alarcón recalled that the walls of La Cabaña, the
fair’s main site, previously the symbols of oppression,
slavery and colonialism, have "now become symbols of
freedom and culture, a place where a cultured people, truly
civilized, comes to spend hours to salute a poet, listen to
a philosopher or attend a discussion."

He noted the success achieved by the fair’s organizers and
guests from other countries, and gave a special greeting to
guest Alice Walker, the U.S. writer and Pulitzer Prize
winner, who "represents the best, the most outstanding of a
sister people."

Reinhard Thiele, head of the German organization Cuba Sí,
one of the members of that country’s coordinating committee
that fought so hard to challenge the government’s boycott
of the fair, said that Germany had never been so well
represented at similar events. He expressed gratitude for
the welcome given to his delegation, composed of 80

At the closing ceremony, it was announced that the 14th
International Book Fair in Havana will be dedicated to
writers Jesús Orta Ruiz, known as "El Indio Naborí," and
Abelardo Estorino, and Brazil as the guest country. This
year’s fair included 542 Cuban and foreign book titles, 243
book launchings and numerous gatherings to discuss theories
and exchange ideas.

The best foreign stands were the German one, the Smallest
Books in the World and Grijalbo-Mondadori, and the Cuban
ones Abdala Productions, the Hermanos Saíz Association and
the Historian’s office. The most original stands were those
of literary periodical La Jiribilla, and publishers Vigía
and Gente Nueva, and the Children’s Pavilion also won an

In time I hope to get this material and some photographs
up on a webpage.



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