"Many, many people came to the Pathfinder stand because they wanted answers to their questions about these events," he remarked.
Rego, an English student at the Enrique José Varona Teaching Institute of Havana University, had good reason to make this assessment. He had spent three consecutive days helping staff the Pathfinder booth during the Ninth Havana International Book Fair, which drew throngs of workers, students, soldiers, professionals, and many others throughout the week of February 9-15.
One of the books Rego purchased for himself was El desorden mundial del capitalismo, the newly published translation of Capitalism's World Disorder by Jack Barnes. Dozens of other fairgoers did likewise. It was the most popular new title at the Pathfinder booth.
This year's Havana International Book Fair was the largest ever. A record 200,000 people flocked to this cultural event, held at the historic San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress. A festival atmosphere prevailed, as thousands of families and people of all ages crowded around bookstalls and food stands, lined up to purchase books, or strolled through the grassy outdoor areas and 18th century cobblestone paths.
Shuttle buses, running frequently, brought tens of thousands to the fair from numerous points around Havana, easing transportation problems for working people.
A total of 15,000 titles from 600 publishing institutions were exhibited. Of the 31 countries represented, publishers from Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, and Italy had the largest presence. There were also exhibitors from Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Japan, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. Publishing houses from several English-speaking Caribbean nations shared a booth, as did those from 11 African countries. Unlike previous years, no Russian publishers participated.
The book fair registered the visible expansion in book publishing in Cuba the last two years--part of the continuing recovery from the economic crisis, compounded by the U.S. trade embargo, that was brought on by the collapse of favorable trade relations and aid from the former Soviet bloc at the beginning of the 1990s.
Some 300 new Cuban titles were on display, both books and a number of new magazines. Ediciones Unión, the publishing house of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), alone published 60 new titles in 1999. Last year the number of books printed in Cuba was triple the number published in 1993, at the low point of the economic crisis.
Almost 1,000 titles were on sale in Cuban pesos. Sales in pesos, and a smaller amount of books sold in dollars, represented twice the amount sold at the previous fair in 1998. This is the result of the increasing number of Cubans, especially in the capital, who have access to dollars, through either remittances from relatives abroad or through jobs where they receive part of their salaries, bonuses, or tips in dollars. This is especially true in tourist-related employment.
Thousands lined up every day at the areas that sold books in pesos. Huge lines formed at the special pavilion for children's books, which are in high demand because of their scarcity at bookstores. Bestsellers included The Adventures of Pinocchio, beautifully illustrated by Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo, and Black Stories for Children of All Colors by Niurki Pérez.
A wide array of titles by Cuban publishers were on display, such as collections of poetry by Nicolás Guillén and short stories by José Soler Puig, both of Cuba. Political books published here included authors ranging from communist leader Ernesto Che Guevara to Antonio Gramsci, Noam Chomsky, and Cuban-American journalist Luis Ortega, an opponent of the U.S. embargo who does not support the revolution.
Among the most popular books were a new crop of firsthand accounts by Rebel Army combatants in the Cuban revolutionary war that brought down the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. These included Descamisado (Shirtless) by Gen. Enrique Acevedo; and Rebelde (Rebel) by Gen. Fernando Vecino Alegret, now minister of higher education.
Meetings to launch 300 new titles and reprints were a feature of each day of the book fair. One of the best-attended was for El segundo frente del Che en el Congo: historia del Batallón Patricio Lumumba (Che's second Congo front: history of the Patrice Lumumba Batallion) by Jorge Risquet, a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The book, published by Casa Editora Abril of the Union of Young Communists (UJC), tells the story of the 160 Cuban internationalist volunteer combatants, headed by Risquet, who were deployed in Congo-Brazzaville (now Republic of the Congo) in 1965 to back up the column of 120 Cuban combatants led by Che Guevara in neighboring Congo-Leopoldville (formerly Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Guevara's column fought alongside Congolese revolutionaries seeking to free their country from a pro-imperialist regime imposed after the 1961 U.S.-backed assassination of President Patrice Lumumba, who had led the country's successful independence struggle against Belgian colonial rule.
"This book could only come out now that Che's Congo diary has been published, " said Risquet in his talk. Guevara's book was published for the first time in 1999 under the title Pasajes de la guerra revolucionaria: Congo (Episodes of the Congo revolutionary war).
"Che's column in the Congo was the beginning of a larger undertaking" to link up with fighters against colonial and imperialist rule in sub-Saharan Africa, Risquet stated. While the Cuban contingent did not achieve its immediate military objective, he added, it was vindicated by the victories of the liberation struggle over the following decades--the defeat of Portuguese colonial rule in Angola and Mozambique, the independence of Namibia, and the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Also speaking at the event was Víctor Dreke, second-in-command in Guevara's Congo column. Several other participants in that combat mission were present, along with many other members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) of Cuba.
Other political books launched at special meetings that week included Barbarroja (Redbeard) by Manuel Piñeiro; Gobierno revolucionario cubano: génesis y primeros pasos (The Cuban Revolutionary Government: Origins and First Steps) by Luis Buch, who served as secretary of the Council of Ministers from January 1959 to March 1962; and Otra vez (Once again), a previously unpublished diary by Che Guevara of his second trip through Latin America as a radicalizing youth in the mid-1950s. Meetings were held to launch two Pathfinder titles: Che Guevara Talks to Young People (see last week's issue) and Making History: Interviews with Four Generals of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.
One indicator of the ferment of political discussion and hunger for books in Cuba was the enthusiastic response to the Pathfinder booth, which was jammed with visitors every day. The international team of volunteers who staffed the booth--from Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom--was engaged virtually nonstop in political discussions. A number of people were already partisans of Pathfinder from previous book fairs or other political events.
"It was like nothing else I've experienced," remarked Samantha Kern, who was part of the Militant reporting team at the Havana book fair. Kern, a member of the National Executive Committee of the Young Socialists in the United States, said she was struck by the level of political consciousness of many working people and youth she spoke with. "Everyone had ideas and wanted to discuss politics--especially world and U.S. politics."
Many came over to ask what communists in the United States and other imperialist countries thought of the events surrounding the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle last December. The pictures they had seen of Seattle cops attacking demonstrators with clubs and tear gas stunned many.
They were equally interested to learn how communist workers and Young Socialists in the United States had gone to the protests, armed with Capitalism's World Disorder and other political weapons, to seek out those interested in a revolutionary working-class perspective, in contrast with the protectionist, pro-capitalist solutions offered by union officials and organizers of the anti-WTO demonstrations.
One youth, Leonid Leyva, bought a copy of the Spanish-language edition of The Changing Face of U.S. Politics by Jack Barnes. When he returned the next day he was about 100 pages into the book, which presents the political views of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party from the perspective of building communist parties of workers in the United States and other imperialist countries. "This Jack Barnes is clear in explaining what's in the interests of the working class on every question," he commented.
That week a group of six farmers from Georgia, Florida, and New Jersey arrived for a fact-finding trip of Cuba, and many here saw the prominent coverage of their press conference. Few had been aware of the ongoing struggle for land in the United States led by farmers who are Black, and this drew them toward Pathfinder books such as Capitalism's World Disorder that explain how working people in city and countryside who are in the vanguard of various struggles are beginning to link up with each other throughout the country.
Likewise, they were impressed by a dramatic front-page picture in the Militant of the battle that erupted January 20 on the docks of Charleston, South Carolina, when hundreds of dockworkers marched to the waterfront to defend their union and stood up to an assault by riot police.
By far the most asked-for book at the Pathfinder stall was Habla Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks). Many had read an out-of-print Cuban edition of The Autobiography of Malcolm X or had seen the Spike Lee film, and were hungry to read the actual words of the U.S.-born revolutionary leader.
Midalys Jiménez, an English student, was interested in Pathfinder's titles on the fight against women's oppression, such as Woman's Evolution and Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women. "I want to learn more about how women are fighting for equality in other countries," she said.
Claudio Burgos, a Young Socialist in Stockholm and one of the Pathfinder volunteers, reported that many expressed keen interest when he explained that Sweden, far from "socialist," is an imperialist power, and when they learned about working-class resistance there to growing attacks on their social rights.
Others came looking for books explaining the rise of incipient fascist currents in many imperialist countries, from Patrick Buchanan in the United States to Jörg Haider in Austria. When Manuel Barcia, who works for the city of Havana, saw Leon Trotsky's The Struggle against Fascism in Germany, he declared, "That book is extremely relevant right now."
A common question was whether communists in the United States face government repression. Pathfinder volunteers answered this question with the aid of an attractive display of color photos titled "Pathfinder around the world" showing communist workers and Young Socialists selling revolutionary literature at plant gates and mine portals, picket lines, and political demonstrations in the United States and other countries.
A tobacco worker, curious about the communist movement in the United States, was particularly interested in books on display by Farrell Dobbs, a longtime leader of the Socialist Workers Party and central leader of the Teamsters union battles of the 1930s.
Discussions about the case of Elián González, on which sentiment here is unanimously one of outrage over Washington's refusal to return the Cuban child, usually led to questions about U.S. politics. The explanation offered by the communist workers at the Pathfinder booth--that U.S. foreign policy against Cuba comes not from the influence of a handful of reactionary Cuban-American businessmen but from class hostility to the Cuban socialist revolution by the U.S. billionaire families represented by Washington--made a lot of sense to many. So did the description of how the U.S. government is using this case to try to polish the image of the hated immigration police while establishing precedents that will be used to deny rights to working people caught in the net of migra cops.
A construction worker who is a member of the Blas Roca voluntary work contingent was drawn to the latest issue of the Marxist magazine Nueva Internacional, "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War." To many like him, the title rang true. A not infrequent comment was: "Yes, it's true, a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it's more obvious that the imperialists didn't win. And here in Cuba, our revolution has survived."
Scores of people who came up to the Pathfinder booth, seeking an explanation for the collapse of the regimes and parties in Russia and Eastern Europe, asked for The Revolution Betrayed or In Defense of Marxism by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. Some had already read books by Trotsky, obtaining them either from one of the several area libraries that have received donations of Pathfinder titles, or from friends or co-workers who have circulated them hand-to-hand. Another popular title was Lenin's Final Fight, which documents the Bolshevik leader's last political struggle to maintain the course of the October 1917 revolution.
Not all who visited the Pathfinder booth were committed supporters of the Cuban revolution. Some expressed skepticism about socialism as a way forward.
Heidi, a University of Havana student, said she wondered whether the economic and social problems Cuba is facing today are inherent in socialism or not. She pointed to the social differentiation on the island accelerated by the influence of the capitalist market. Irelia Batista said, "My parents are revolutionaries and they took part in the revolution. But I can't just automatically accept what they say. I have to be convinced. Is the Cuban press exaggerating when it describes social problems in the United States?"
They both came to the Pathfinder stall looking for answers, and appreciated books that helped them view the Cuban revolution in the context of today's world.
Moussa, one of almost 30 youths from Burkina Faso going to college in Cuba, went for a French-language edition of speeches by Thomas Sankara, leader of the 1983-87 revolution in that West African country. "Sankara was the best leader out of Africa in recent times," he said.
At the conclusion of the Havana Book Fair, Ögmundur Jónsson, a YS member in Reykjavik, Iceland, who was part of the Pathfinder team, commented, "I can see better both the importance of Pathfinder books in the world and of the Young Socialists. It's harder to appreciate this in Iceland itself. We met so many people in Cuba who said they need Pathfinder books."
YS member Claudio Burgos of Stockholm added, "Yes, I learned a lot too. After all the political discussions of the last week, I realize I have to read and study more, so I can give clear communist explanation to these questions."
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