Yesterday I went to the International Book Fair in the Cabaña Fort, east of Havana. Thanks to a reader of this Blog, who gave me some titles from her small Spanish publisher, I left with something in my hands. The prices in convertible pesos persuaded me not to buy anything, although I believe I recognized – among the offerings in Cuban pesos – sixth or seventh reissues of Alexander Dumas and Emilio Salgari.
Some pavilions were full of people, while others, especially those from publishers with political or social themes, were essentially empty. The principal attraction was the little coloring books or books for children with the major Disney characters. The stands least visited were those relating to the speeches, slogans and utopias with which we are already inundated on a daily basis.
However, it was not books that provided me with the most intense experience of the day, but rather the elusive internet, or “virtual raft” as some call it. The state-owned telephone company (ESTECA), had placed a Telepoint station very near the entrance where they sold cards to make phone calls or to access the web. Last year, when I tried to sit in front of the one of the keyboards, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was only for foreigners. But with the illusion that, this time, the apartheid is a thing of the past, I tried again. An elegant saleswoman, who looked as if she would posses various postgraduate degrees in marketing and sales, brought me down from my cloud by asking for my passport or tourist card.
I cannot understand that in a place for reading and knowledge – as a book fair is meant to be – a zone exists that is forbidden to those of a certain “national origin.” If above that “restricted area” is the gateway to a vast library, archive, and encyclopedia that is the internet, then everything becomes more absurd to me. How can they, in the same place, encourage reading and prevent access to information; sell books and censor web pages; promote words and not allow us to chat; sell dictionaries and not allow us to consult Wikipedia.
The incident recalled to me the enormous volumes – on the highest shelves at the bookstore – that my father forbade me to browse when I was a child. Like one of those books, inaccessible and consequently “irresistible,” so the internet appears to me and to we Cubans who, like perennial infants, cannot be allowed to read its pages.