The Militant (logo) 
   Vol.65/No.9            March 5, 2001 
200,000 attend Havana book fair
(front page)
HAVANA--"I need these books to learn about the world and about its history," said Manuel Antonio Ramírez, 20, an art student at the Academy of San Alejandro who was browsing through the Pathfinder booth at the Havana International Book Fair, held here February 2–10. "If you don't know what's happening in the world, you can't work to change it."

The student purchased a copy of the Spanish-language edition of The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning and Capitalism's World Disorder, both by Jack Barnes.

Ramírez's hunger for books and interest in working-class politics was common among many of the thousands of people who visited the Pathfinder booth during the nine-day book fair.

A record 200,000 people attended the 10th Havana International Book Fair, reported Jorge Luna, general director of the fair, at the closing ceremony. In response to the high demand for books, the fair, which was previously held every two years, was made an annual event as of this year. People poured into the fairgrounds by the tens of thousands on weekends especially, as well as after work. To ease travel to the event, city authorities set up a special shuttle bus service from different points in the city as well as increased ferry service across the Havana Bay to San Carlos de la Cabaña, the old colonial fortress where the literary festival was held.

More than 110 publishers were represented at the Havana book fair, almost half of which were from 25 other countries, especially from Spain, the guest of honor this year.

Many fair goers expressed satisfaction that, compared to previous years, a noticeably larger number of books were available in Cuban pesos as opposed to dollars. This year some 1,400 titles by Cuban publishers on a wide range of topics were on display. In 1994, during the depth of the economic crisis that marked the 1990s in Cuba, only 588 such titles were available, Luna reported.

One major literary publishing house, Ediciones Letras Cubanas, presented 48 new titles at the fair this year, registering significant expansion over the past few years.

Titles on sale at the book fair covered a wide cultural and political spectrum. They included classics such as a special edition of Don Quixote, new editions of writings by Cuban poet José Martí, and works by Mark Twain. More contemporary titles ranged from essays by Cuban writer Roberto Fernández Retamar, who was the honored guest this year, to suspense novels by Dick Francis and other U.S. authors.

Books on a variety of social questions were also featured, from several titles on religious questions, to a new book by Cuban publisher Nuevo Milenio on Blacks in Cuba today and confronting the legacy of racial discrimination, to a Mexican book on lesbians and the fight for gay rights. A substantial number of titles by new Cuban authors were available.

Among the dozens of books presented at special events throughout the fair, several covered aspects of Cuban history, including a campaign diary of Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo; a testimony about the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner near Barbados by U.S.-backed counterrevolutionary terrorists; a book about the 1980 wave of emigration to the United States through the Cuban port of Mariel; and an account of Operation Peter Pan, a campaign led by the Catholic church hierarchy following the victory of the Cuban revolution to whip up anticommunist hysteria and convince parents to send their children to the United States.

A number of literary awards were announced during the book fair. A well-attended meeting was held to honor prominent Cuban essayist and poet Antón Arrufat, who was given the prestigious National Literary Award. Many in the audience considered the tribute to Arrufat particularly significant and welcome because his works had remained unpublished throughout the 1970s and early 1980s--a period, often referred to in Cuba as the Gray Years, when the weight of Soviet bureaucratic policies on art and other questions were especially influential in Cuba. Several guests at the ceremony honoring Arrufat commented that the award was an expression of the fact that the Cuban revolution was stronger today in confronting imperialism, not weakened by the decline of such influences.

In the midst of this literary ferment and celebration, the Pathfinder booth was a scene of constant political discussion from the opening to the end of the fair. Almost 400 Pathfinder books and pamphlets were sold.

All titles by Malcolm X sold out. Other titles in demand were books on the fight for women's liberation, Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed, and titles by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, on working-class politics and building a revolutionary workers party in the United States today.

José Cancio, an electrician from Havana, was a return visitor from last year's book fair. This year he bought a copy of Nueva Internacional no. 5 featuring the article "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War," Pombo: A Man of Che's Guerrilla, Making History, and Che Guevara Talks to Young People in Spanish. Last year he had bought Guevara's Bolivian Diary.

Cancio said his son, a garment worker in Miami, buys Pathfinder books there. Each of them reads the books they obtain, and when they visit each other they trade books.

Idelfonso Montalvo, an engineer who repairs ship engines, said he had already read Capitalism's World Disorder and Habla Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks) from a previous fair. "I didn't know about working-class struggles in the Unites States before reading these books. It was good to know that it's not true everyone lives well there," he said, pointing to working people in the United States as potential allies of the Cuban people. Returning for some more, he purchased the Spanish-language Nueva Internacional issue titled "The Opening Guns of World War III."

Marcos Orozco said he was just starting to realize that many in Cuba were as interested in reading Trotsky as he is. "He is the second most important leader of the Russian Revolution after Lenin. For that alone he should be read," he remarked.

Ricardo Castillo, a 32-year-old hotel bartender, commented on conditions in Cuba today. "Tourism has had positive and negative effects," he said. As a source of much-needed hard currency, "It has allowed us to maintain our high levels of services for health care and education, but it has also introduced differences between those who have access to dollars and those who don't. Socialism is based on man," he added, indicating that the social differentiation had to be combated. He returned to the booth to buy Nueva Internacional no. 5 and Making History in Spanish.

Sergilis Josten was one of a group of Haitian students who came to the stand and bought all the French-language titles on display, including Nouvelle Internationale magazine, Capitalism's World Disorder, The Changing Face of U.S. Politics, and a collection of speeches by African communist leader Thomas Sankara. "I came to the Pathfinder stand because I'm looking for a Marxist explanation of the capitalist system today," Josten said.
Related articles:
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Washington turns over Cuban funds to families of rightists shot down in 1996
'Cuba has done much for the peoples of Africa'  
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