The Book Fair You Don’t See

Behind the shelves there is another International Book Fair. One barely perceived among the partitions and walls of the exhibition areas. The national newspapers will never report on it, but these parallel and hidden events sustain the other one. A network of hardship, endless workdays and poverty-level wages, support the main publishing showcase on the island. For each page printed, there is a long list of irregularities, improvisations and exploitations.

The Cuban Book Institute (ICL) is the principal organizer of this celebration of reading that is held every February. However, the state entity that controls literary production is overwhelmed by the lack of resources and corruption scandals. Its director, Zuleica Romay, asked to step down weeks before the start of the book fair. However, it’s still unknown if she will be granted “liberation” from her responsibilities, or will “follow her duty” to maintain her position.

Many of the people who worked on this twenty-third edition of the Fair played the role of the ants who prevent the collapse of the anthill. The “credits” chalked on the Cuban government’s account are the fruit of personal sacrifices and violations that no union would demand: lunches delayed or missed completely, editorial decisions that can’t be taken because first “you have to consult the comrade from State Security,” workers who bring resources from their own homes to decorate the place, books that travel in the trunk of a private car — or in the basket of a bike — a lack of institutional gasoline and water supply that never makes it to the mouths of the thirsty employees…

14 thoughts on “The Book Fair You Don’t See

  1. Yoani,

    there is a way around expensive books and copyrights. It is the electronic book. In the United States there are large book distributors that you can access through the internet and read your entire book in you cell phone, tablet, computer, Kindle. You can buy the book for a fraction of the cost. Cuba knows that it needs to catch up with the rest of the World…hopefully in a couple of years, instead of traveling to the book fair you can seat in front of your computer and access and browse through the thousands of copies of books from around the World so you can find the topic, title and author you like. I am a knowledge worker and therefore sensitive to the travesty that it is to deny people that crave knowledge the information they seek . A good story, novel or poetry book has the power to nourish your soul just like food nourish your body. Franklin D. Roosevelt mentioned in his State of the Union in 1941 that there are (4) Freedoms that no one in the World ought to be without:
    1. Freedom of speech
    2. Freedom from want.
    3. Freedom to worship
    4. Freedom from Fear

    The Church in Cuba today is allowed to run schools and publish magazines. This was unthinkable a few decades ago…it is an important step, because spirituality also nourishes the soul of those people that believe and in a country where scarcity of Freedom is so acute, it is an important start. Later in 2014, internet access for households may be in the horizon, according to press releases and this will facilitate communications. The only Risk is that the cable connection to Cuba is coming from Venezuela and Venezuela is in political turmoil. However, I think that Maduro’s government will survive this attempt by Lopez, a Right Wing ” wanna” be dictator, who does not command the support of the majority of the electorate. Maduro’s Political Party has 7 Million supporters and the opposition is more of a movement then it is a political party.
    The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Article 19 goes on to say that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”. Cuba’s government paranoia due to the foreign policy of the United States of regime change suffocates the spirit of the People. This is why the Cuban People has to use greater intelligence than simply ‘push back” with traditional activism. The People need to make the reforms initiated to roll back the oppression work and show the way to more Freedoms without feeding the paranoia of the authorities. It is my understanding that in future book fairs, a famous Cuban author, who’s work were outlawed in the 70’s may be allowed to be sold again. This is only a small ray of light, but, just like after an eclipse of the Sun by the moon, once the Sun rays start reaching the surface of the Earth on the other side of the moon, no one can hide the Sun rays from reaching the Earth until the next alignment…history has a way of repeating itself…. :)

  2. This is the murderous regime to whom the equally culpable castro brothers ship arms with impunity. We cannot say we didn’t know because we do know.

    ‘Abundant evidence’ of crimes against humanity in North Korea, panel says

    By Michael Pearson and Jason Hanna, CNN
    updated 10:28 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014

    (CNN) — A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state “that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” a United Nations panel reported Monday.

    North Korean leaders employ murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence, mass starvation and other abuses as tools to prop up the state and terrorize “the population into submission,” the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea said in its report.

    The commission traced the abuses directly to the highest levels of the North Korean government while simultaneously blaming world leaders for sitting on their hands amid untold agony.

    “The suffering and tears of the people of North Korea demand action,” commission Chairman Michael Kirby told reporters.

    U.N. hears story of North Korean torture

    The group said it would refer its findings to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution. It also sent a letter warning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he could face prosecution for crimes against humanity.

    The government of North Korea — also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK — rejected the report as a ginned-up effort to undermine its government.

    “It is nothing more than an instrument of political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system by defaming the dignified images of the DPRK and creating an atmosphere of international pressure under the pretext of ‘human rights protection,'” the government said in a prepared statement.

    The U.N. panel released its 400-page report after hearing from more than 320 witnesses in public hearings and private interviews.

    North Korea did not respond to the commission’s request for access to the country and information about its human rights practices, according to the commission.

    One witness, a survivor of a North Korean prison camp, told the commission of seeing a guard beat a nearly starving woman who had recently given birth, then force the woman to drown her baby.

    Others told of being imprisoned for watching soap operas, trying to find food for their families, traveling without permission or having family members considered suspect by the government.

    “Because we saw so many people die, we became so used to it,” one prison camp survivor told the commission. “I’m sorry to say that we became so used to it that we didn’t feel anything.”

    Kirby that he hoped the report would galvanize the world to act.

    “We cannot say we didn’t know,” he said. “We now do know.”

    YOUTUBE: Militares contra los estudiantes 12F Barquisimeto 2/2 – Video 2/2 Aca pueden observar lo ocurrido en La Av. Venezuela con los Leones Diagonal al restaurante Rodeo Grill a horas de la tarde aproximadamente a las 5:30 pm – Militaries against students on Feb. 12 at restaurant Rodeo Grill in the hours of the afternoon, approximately 5:30pm

  4. Sue Brown, Try Enduring Cuba, by Zoe Bran, a Welsh woman who travelled for several months on the island. John Lee Anderson’s CHE is the best thing I have read on the revolution. Norberto Fuentes’ Autobiography of Fidel Castro is a strange and interesting book — he was close to the Castro’s, then fled the island after Ochoa, a general, was executed for alleged drug-dealing. Complicated stuff. It’s a complicated place, but the people are fascinating and, I find, kind of heroic.

  5. ***
    HI NEUTRAL OBSERVER–“Road” scholar seems like the Cuban Regime is stealing the “Rhodes” scholar name! And–how can a visitor escape the CDR spies?
    HOLA NEUTRAL OBSERVER–“Camino” escolar parece que el Regime Cubano es robando el nombre escolar “Rhodes”. Y–como puede un visitante escapar los espias del CDR?


    CNN:Venezuela orders three U.S. diplomatic officials out of the country – by Nelson Quiñones
    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday ordered three U.S. diplomatic officials expelled from the country, accusing them of conspiring against his government.

    The announcement comes after the U.S. State Department expressed concerns about the state of affairs in Venezuela.

    Three anti-government protesters died in clashes last week in Caracas, and authorities have issued an arrest warrant for an opposition leader on charges including conspiracy and murder in connection with the violence.

    “We are deeply concerned by rising tensions, by the violence surrounding this February 12 protest and by the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Saturday. “We join the secretary general of (the Organization of American States) in condemning the violence and calling on authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the death of peaceful protesters.”

    Lopez’s party, Popular Will, has accused the government of being responsible for violence during the protests.

    In a YouTube video posted from an undisclosed location over the weekend, Lopez called for new anti-government protests Tuesday and vowed to show his face in front of Venezuela’s Justice Ministry and hand over a list of demands from the Venezuelan people to government officials.

    “It has been said in recent days that they want to see me held prisoner. I will be there to show my face. I have nothing to be afraid of. I have not committed any crime. I have been a Venezuelan committed to our country, to our people, to our constitution and to our future,” he said. “If there is some decision to illegally imprison me, well, I will be there, to assume this persecution and this infamous decision by the state.”

    He encouraged protesters to be peaceful and to allow him to walk the final stretch to the ministry alone.


    BBC NEWS: Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez ‘to attend march’

    Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez says he will lead a march through the streets of Caracas on Tuesday.

    He was last seen on Wednesday, when three men were shot dead at the end of opposition protests in the capital.

    In a video posted online, Mr Lopez says he has not committed any crime and challenges the authorities to arrest him during the Tuesday march.

    President Nicolas Maduro says an arrest warrant was issued against Mr Lopez shortly after the incidents.

    Mr Maduro has accused Mr Lopez of inciting violence as part of a coup plot against his left-wing government.

    The opposition say they were killed by pro-government militias known as “colectivos”.
    Continue reading the main story
    “Start Quote

    I will be there to show my face. I have nothing to fear. I have not committed any crime”

    Leopoldo Lopez

    Mr Lopez, 42, is a former mayor of Chacao district, in eastern Caracas. He organised the recent protests against the government.
    ‘Dress white’

    On Sunday morning, Venezuelan police searched the houses of Mr Lopez and his parents.

    Hours later, he posted a new message on Twitter and a three-minute long video.

    “I want to invite all of you to join me on a march on Thursday, from Venezuela Square [in central Caracas] towards the Justice Ministry building, which has become a symbol of repression, torture and lies,” Mr Lopez said on the video.

    He called on his supporters to dress white, “to reaffirm our commitment to peace”.

    “I will take very clear demands to the authorities: that the government involvement in the deaths of 12 February are investigated; that the students arrested [in protests in the last week] are freed; that the pro-government paramilitary groups are disarmed,” he said.

    “And finally, I will be there to show my face. I have nothing to fear. I have not committed any crime. If there is any order to illegally arrest me, well, I will be there,” added Mr Lopez.



    AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Venezuela must investigate demonstration deaths – 13 February 2014

    Authorities in Venezuela must urgently investigate the deaths of three people during protests yesterday, said Amnesty International.
    “It is extremely concerning that violence has become a regular feature during protests in Venezuela. If the authorities are truly committed to preventing more deaths, they must ensure those responsible for the violence, demonstrators, security forces and armed civilians alike face justice,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
    “Protesters still held in detention must be charged with a crime or immediately released.”
    According to reports, journalists were prevented from covering the protests. At least one TV channel is now believed to have been blocked.
    “The Venezuelan authorities must show they are truly committed to respect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly by ensuring they can participate in protests without fear of being abused, detained or even killed. It is essential that journalists are allowed to report events freely and human right defenders are able to monitor demonstrations,” said Guadalupe Marengo.

  9. Sue,

    I don’t know anything about the Road Scholar program in particular, but almost all these programs are carefully staged propaganda exercises.

    Few if any of the Cubans you will meet are “real” and all your meetings and question and answer sessions with “ordinary” Cubans will be closely monitored by that nice friendly “guide” or “community leader” or “ordinary worker” who works for the Cuban KGB. If you learn about Cuba on a tour bus, you will hear lots and lots of lies about Cuban life from your guide.

    Do yourself a favor and ditch your Cuban and American handlers and go out for uncensored conversation with as many different Cubans as you can meet. Make yourself an independent tourist.

    Do not wear anything politically sympathetic to the regime (bearing the figure of Che or Castro or Chavez), no matter how small, or else you will be marked by every Cuban you meet. I would avoid saying anything politically sympathetic to the regime either. Tourists often make the mistake of praising something about Cuba that Cubans know is a lie (free quality health care, education, low crime, etc).

    If you spend enough time in Cuba, you will understand what I mean. You want people to be honest with you, not distrust you or hate you.

    If you stay with your organized tour the whole time, none of my advice applies.

    If your America handlers are Castro sympathizers in any way they will tell you a very big lie. They will say that independent travel is illegal under the embargo. The truth is that the Cuban government doesn’t want you to get an uncensored picture of Cuba and staying with your group is a condition of all these programs. But many American students have ditched their groups and nothing has ever happened to them, at least from Uncle Sam.

    Good luck and report back here on your trip.

  10. Hi Sue,

    I recently finished “My Cuba Libre, Bringing Fidel Castro to Justice” by George Fowler. It is an easy read and well worth it. I would not recommend bringing a copy with you to Cuba.

    YOUTUBE: Policia de Aragua Venezuela, Golpeando estudiantes hasta la muerte. Police from Aragua Venenezuela, Beat a student to death!

  12. During my first and definitely last (until the communists depart) visit to Havana in 2010, I was impressed by the notable lack of a variety of opinions on news stands. I saw no bookstores at all.

  13. I will be traveling to Cuba in March through the Road Scholar program. I have been reading to prepare myself. I have read “Cuba for the Misinformed” by Mick Winter, “Havana Real” by Yoani (and I continue to read her blog to the present day), “Trading with the Enemy” by Tom Miller and the Lonely Planet Guide book. Do you recommend anything else?

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