The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 48           December 12, 2005  
Book fair helps extend literacy in Venezuela
Event is part of government efforts to make books accessible to all
(feature article)
CARACAS, Venezuela—More than 600,000 people visited the Venezuela International Book Fair here November 11-20. After being held in Caracas only for the past 11 years, the fair is now hitting the road in nine states across the country between November 22 and December 11.

The National Book Center, the Ministry of Culture, and the Venezuelan government organized the fair, which was part of extending the accomplishments of recent literacy campaigns (see article below) by making a wide range of books accessible to millions.

Fair organizer Ramón Medero said some 130,000 titles were exhibited, and 650,000 books were sold during the 10-day event in Caracas.

Exhibitors included 30 from other countries, compared to 11 last year, and more than 100 from Venezuela.

Numerous fair participants wore the red T-shirts sported by volunteers in social programs known as “missions,” initiated by the government. These include the literacy campaigns and the Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighborhood) program that has brought volunteer doctors from Cuba operating neighborhood clinics free of charge. Present throughout the fair were dozens of members of Mission Culture, launched recently to promote literature and art in working-class neighborhoods.

On November 19, the last Saturday of the fair, a large march in defense of Venezuela’s sovereignty took place in Caracas. The marchers assembled outside Eastern Park, where the fair was held. Some demonstrators browsed through book exhibits before the march took off (see article in last week’s issue).

The fair included forums, talks by authors, book signings, poetry readings, puppet shows, and other events, most of which took place in tents and at the park amphitheater. The fair’s theme, “The Caribbean: a bridge of books, a sea of humanity,” was reflected in the many writers and other literary figures from the Caribbean who took part.  
1 million copies of ‘Don Quixote’
A highlight of the fair was the distribution, free of charge, of 1 million copies of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, a classic in Spanish-language literature. People waited in line every day to get their copy.

A panel on “Socialism in the 21st Century” featured Cuban writers Armando Hart and Eliades Acosta, Venezuelan journalist Luis Britto, and Róger Calero, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Workers Party in the 2004 U.S. elections. Calero was part of a team that staffed the Pathfinder Press booth at the fair. Other panels included “The social commitment of the writer” and “The book as an instrument of social integration.”

Those featured in poetry readings included Norberto Codina, editor of La Gaceta de Cuba, a literary magazine published in Havana; well-known Cuban writer Nancy Morejón; William Ospina from Colombia; and Roldán Mármol of the Dominican Republic.

Film showings, and musical and other cultural events were included.

The National Book Center repeated the book voucher program that was initiated last year, which the center describes as “an instrument to promote greater access to books and book reading by the general population.” Through this government-funded program, workers in various government institutions were issued one or more vouchers worth $5 each for use at the fair. Vouchers were also raffled at workshops during the fair organized by the School of Reading.  
Brisk sales at Pathfinder booth
Pathfinder Press had a stand for the second year in a row. By the end, volunteers at the booth had sold nearly 800 books. These included 32 purchased by the National Library and 162 bought by Kwai Mare, the government’s book distributor. Kwai Mare has 35 outlets throughout the country, and plans to expand the number to 200 by 2007.

Pathfinder’s best seller was issue 6 of Nueva Internacional, the Spanish-language edition of the Marxist magazine New International, featuring the article “Capitalism’s Long Hot Winter Has Begun.” Other top sellers included Nueva Internacional no. 7, and the Spanish-language editions of The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning, The Communist Manifesto, Che Guevara Talks to Young People, Malcolm X Talks to Young People, Cuba and the Coming American Revolution, and Abortion Is a Woman’s Right.

Not all participants had a positive reaction to the Pathfinder stand, reflecting the class polarization in Venezuela. When a middle-aged woman, for example, figured out that these books were about working-class politics and critical of U.S. imperialism, she made a vulgar hand gesture and walked away.

Books on the fight for women’s equality and Black freedom drew much attention. Many young women leafed through the pamphlet Abortion Is a Woman’s Right, which sold 21 copies.

Some people came to the fair from other Venezuelan states or from other countries in the region. Alexis Carabalí Angola, a professor of anthropology from Cauca, Colombia, drove 12 hours by car to visit the fair. He said many workers, teachers, and trade unionists in Colombia support the Venezuelan government and oppose Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s policy of backing Washington’s confrontationist course toward Caracas. “Latin America has always had dreams that have been pushed down by the local elite and the U.S. government,” he said.

Several youth stopped by to purchase books for their study group. After six months in Cuba studying social work, these young Venezuelans have joined the Francisco de Miranda Front, a study and action group that favors a socialist future for Venezuela. Isis Ochoa, who belongs to the Front, bought several copies of the Communist Manifesto and The Structure and Organizational Principles of the Socialist Workers Party, as well as a copy of Lenin’s Final Fight for her group’s use.

Pathfinder booth volunteers also sold 24 subscriptions to the Militant. Some people had seen the socialist newsweekly and Pathfinder books at the World Festival of Youth and Students held here in August. José Aponte, who had attended the youth festival, bought six titles at the Pathfinder stand. These books are important because Venezuela needs socialism, Aponte said.
Related articles:
Venezuela: ‘Territory free of illiteracy’
New Zealand: Thousands at indigenous peoples’ conference, including Cuban literacy teachers  
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