Cuba’s Books Not Bombs Celebration
The US National Youth and Student Peace Coalition is asking people to wear Books Not Bombs buttons, t-shirts and armbands on March 19, the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the US war on Iraq. In Cuba, the current International Book Fair is another expression of the same message.
Famed Argentine classical pianist Miguel Angel Estrella told La Jiribilla online that he was making his first visit to a Cuba Book Fair accompanied by his adult children. “I was really impressed. I have been to many book fairs in the world and I have never seen one as popular as this, a party you could say. I’m impressed to see kids buying books. I’m very happy to have come.” Estrella performed both at one of the book presentations and in full concert.
While the mainstream foreign media harps continually on the economic limitations in blockaded Cuba, it fails to understand its economic and social system and leads people astray as to what the island’s revolution is really about.
“On very few occasions have I had the opportunity to see such a wonderful landscape: so many people attracted by reading fever,” said Mexican novelist and journalist Elena Poniatoswka who presented a Cuban edition of her book Tinisima at the fair.
Argentine cartoonist Miguel Repiso (REP) expressed the general sentiment of visual and performing artists, authors and playwrights attending the fair: “All creators can use their subjectivity to help make a more humane and better world… Culture is liberating, it opens doors.”
A non-commercial battle of ideas
Cuba’s International Book Fair is part of what the government calls the Battle of Ideas, a concept that pits the model of US military democracy, guided by the marketplace, consumerism and the survival of the fittest, against the Cuban system that prioritizes culture, education and a concern for humanity and the environment at home and abroad over corporate interests.
One of the surprises at this year’s fair was hearing the voice of US political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal who in a taped message introduced a Spanish language edition of his book We Want Freedom: A life in the Black Panther Party.
“It is with true joy that I find I can share this history with Cuban brothers and sisters,” Mumia told his audience. “Cuba, which has inspired so many people, all around the world, is, in many ways, the parent nation for many of us in the West.
“Why would I, an African–American, say something like this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to speak of the American ‘revolution’ as the parent revolution for the West? Those of us who have done the research know that it was a deeply bourgeois ‘revolution’, what Jerry Frescia calls ‘a baron’s revolt.’ It did not extend freedom, despite its proclamations.
“For millions of Africans who were enslaved before the ‘revolution’, there was no difference in their civil status after the ‘revolt.’ These four millions, one quarter of the U.S. population, remained in chains.
“In a sense, the opening chapters of We Want Freedom are devoted to that story, and the necessity for a true revolution, that has yet to come to America. The Black Panther Party is one expression of that social force.
“I thank you my brothers and sisters, for your inspiration, and hope you find something useful in this work. We will be victorious. With revolutionary love, Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
It Doesn’t Happen by Chance
There are objective factors that involve resources and commitment that explain why Cubans of all ages like to read and want to increase their personal libraries, something greatly in decline in most of the Third World and many developed countries.
Firstly, state-owned publishing houses, which exist in Havana and the different provinces, have a budget allowing them to print large quantities of books by Cuban and foreign authors and offer them to the public at between 5 and 15 percent of what they would cost in other countries. The country’s non-commercial use of literature motivates some foreign authors to donate the rights to Cuban editions of their works.
Secondly, the book fair —which began in Havana Feb. 8-18 and concludes in Santiago de Cuba on March 11— takes place not only in the capital but in 40 cities across the country.
Cuban television, which is non-commercial, includes short daily programs promoting the fair and the morning, afternoon and evening news are peppered with scenes from the book and cultural presentations, thus wetting the appetite of readers.
A novelty at the 2007 fair in Havana was the government’s use of over a hundred young social workers to improve information and service to the public at book stands and the six halls where book presentations and conferences were held throughout each day. Their contribution was notable as were the efficient book check out counters with code reading machines at the largest stands.
Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo told La Jiribilla online that he was also visiting the book fair for the first time. “I have seen a lot. What most impresses me is the multitude of people that turn out. It’s true that recently we have also had popular book fairs in Italy but I was impressed here by the number of families, the young people, of people looking at books, not just wandering around the fairgrounds.
“I believe it is a good sign of what I already knew about Cuba,” says Vattimo. “Cuba has been revolutionized by the quantity of cultural initiatives [...] The art schools existing throughout the island are places where people practice sculpture, painting, theater, dance […] This gives me a lot of hope, because from what I know of Europe, including Italy, what takes place is a consumerist type of [cultural] development […] I am amazed by what I see here and like all admirers that come from abroad, someone could say to me, ‘you are naïve, can’t you see there are problems.’ But this is something that exists; the Cuban people’s interest in culture is real.”