BY MARTÍN KOPPEL AND SETH GALINSKY
HAVANA, Cuba - Sixty thousand people visited the Seventh International Havana Book Fair, held here February 7-13. Throughout the week, a common scene near the fair site was that of young people hitching a ride back home with a stack of newly purchased books under their arms.
"I would've come to the fair every day if I hadn't had exams," remarked Roberto Santana, a university student who has been to the last several book fairs, which are held every two years. He came by the Pathfinder Press booth to see its newest titles and talk with the volunteers staffing the booth. Santana was particularly interested in finding out about recent events in France, where a wave of strikes in December pushed back the government's attempt to cut workers' social security.
The Havana book fair offered 1,500 titles from Cuba and around the world. Fifty-two publishers from 26 countries were represented. Those from Spain had the largest presence. Exhibitors also came from Germany, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, India, Russia, Colombia, and France, among others.
Pickup in Cuban publishing
Sixty-eight Cuban publishing houses and other institutions had literature displays with a wide variety of books and magazines - noticeably more than at the 1994 fair. José Donate Llosa, general director of the Havana book fair, noted in the opening ceremony that "Cuba, which had previously produced five books per capita every year, was seriously affected by the special period," referring to the economic crisis that was precipitated in Cuba in 1989 by the sudden disruption of trade and aid from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. "Book publishing reached a low point in 1993," he stated.
Pickup in Cuban publishing
"But the revolution's commitment to the right to read, even throughout the special period, now allows us to point to a pickup in publishing," Donate said, adding that "no other country in the world" could have done what Cuba has done the last seven years. While capitalist governments around the world have cut funding for education and cultural activities, Cuba, despite its economic crisis, has managed to increase such spending the last two years.
The best-selling titles in the fair's bookstore, which sold in pesos in a section adjoining the exhibition hall, were an array of previously scarce children's books, led by La edad de oro (The Golden Age) by José Martí. Also popular were science textbooks and titles by and about Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara.
Hundreds bought copies of a newly reprinted two-volume selection of works by Guevara, as well as a new book by Editora Política, Pombo: un hombre de la guerrilla del Che (Pombo: A Man of Che's Guerrilla), by Cuban brigadier general Harry Villegas, who fought with Guevara in Cuba's revolutionary war in 1957-58 and later in the Congo and Bolivia.
Titles on display at the fair ranged from Los cultos afrocubanos (Afro-Cuban Religions) by Cuban writer Miguel Barnet, to an anthology of Antonio Gramsci, to books on virtual reality. A few religious institutions, such as the Cuban Council of Churches, a Bahái group, and the India-based Ananda Marga, had literature booths as well.
In the exhibition hall, books and other materials were sold in dollars only. Unlike previous years, however, a small quantity of books were bought by Cubans. Since the decriminalization of foreign currency in 1993 a greater number of Cubans now have access to dollars. One high school student, for example, came by the Pathfinder stand to get a copy of Nueva Internacional with the lead article "The Opening Guns of World War III," which he said was a birthday gift from his father.
New magazines on culture and politics
A range of periodicals were on exhibit. The Union of Young Communists (UJC) and its publishing house, Abril, have resumed publication of several magazines, including the quarterly cultural magazine El Caimán Barbudo (The Bearded Alligator), which reappeared after an absence of almost five years.
New magazines on culture and politics
Two new magazines on culture and politics have sparked considerable interest in this country, Temas (Themes) and Contracorriente (Countercurrent). Both are forums of debate and discussion. Contracorriente, for example, which assistant editor Rubén Zardoya describes as a magazine defending Marxism against the prevailing capitalist ideology in the world, has run articles that take up subjects like prostitution in Cuba, the political impact in Cuba of the collapse of the Soviet regime, and Marxism in Latin America.
Another feature of this year's book fair was the prominence given to promoting the use of computers. A national network of youth recreation centers around the country, called Joven Club (Youth Club), encourages young people to learn to use computers and, despite severe limitations of equipment, computer courses in the high schools and universities are highly popular. Cubans are increasingly relying on computer use to overcome the limitations of paper supplies and other resources, as well as a way to communicate internationally and combat imperialist efforts to isolate Cuba.
A number of exhibitors demonstrated their computer services, including projects to make publications available on CD-ROM, such as José Martí's complete works. One booth belonged to the Press Information Center, sponsored by the Cuban Union of Journalists, which now provides quick access to all major Cuban newspapers in digitized form.
One popular display at the fair, sponsored by an Italian- Cuban joint enterprise, was a flight simulator module. Crowds lined up to climb inside a mock cockpit for the demonstration of the use of virtual reality technology.
The hunger for literature here was evident at several book launches. One of the new releases that sparked the greatest discussion was Mi Verdad (My Truth) by Vitali Vorotnikov, published by Abril and launched at the fair. Based on Vorotnikov's daily working notes from meetings of the Soviet Communist Party's Political Bureau, of which he was a member from 1983 to 1990, it gives his views on the perestroika policies that he believes led to the destruction of the Soviet Union.
Another title that drew a lot of interest was Guevara's Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War. Pathfinder launched its new English-language edition of this book at the Havana fair jointly with Editora Política's presentation of Pombo: A Man of Che's Guerrilla (see article in last week's Militant and facing page).
The Pathfinder booth, which occupied a central location at the book fair, was one of the most popular. Organized by Pathfinder Distribution in London, it was staffed by an international team of volunteers including Pathfinder supporters from Australia, Canada, Iceland, and the United Kingdom. They showed books to and discussed world politics with a nonstop stream of visitors all week. Many were attracted by the large reproduction of the cover of Episodes and colorful displays of books by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V.I. Lenin, Fidel Castro, Guevara, Malcolm X, James P. Cannon, and other revolutionary leaders published by Pathfinder.
A number of people were already familiar with Pathfinder literature. Some Cubans had obtained Pathfinder books from members of the Young Socialists during the Cuba Lives international youth festival here last August. Others had frequented the Pathfinder booth at one or more previous book fairs or international conferences. In some cases, like Roberto Santana, they came to resume a political discussion they had begun at the 1994 fair and to discuss the reading they had done in the meantime.
Irina Valiente, 19, a medical student, came to the Pathfinder stall several days in a row and sat in a chair reading for hours. She finished Habla Malcolm X (Malcolm X Speaks) and read an article from Nueva Internacional magazine titled, "Defending Cuba, Defending Cuba's Socialist Revolution," by Mary-Alice Waters. "That article is the clearest explanation of the situation in Cuba today that I've ever read," she remarked emphatically, adding that she was planning to organize discussions on it with other youth.
Antoinette Melchor, another student, spent several days reading a Spanish-language edition of Problems of Women's Liberation by Evelyn Reed. "Every machista in Cuba should read this book," she said. "It explains a lot of things about women's real place in history, like how women were the ones who domesticated animals and began to cultivate plants for food many centuries ago."
Many passersby were drawn to an attractive photo display showing communist workers in numerous cities around the world selling revolutionary books - at picket lines, plant gates, demonstrations, and international book fairs. It helped answer a commonly asked question: Isn't it hard for communists to carry out political work in the imperialist countries?
Interest in political developments in capitalist countries was high. Discussing the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., a 14-year-old high school student referred to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and asked, "Wasn't the organizer of that march accused of involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X?" Others expressed curiosity about the pro- independence upsurge in Quebec. Many people had heard about the fight for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal. A good number knew about the case of framed-up union and political activist Mark Curtis in Iowa and were glad to hear about the state parole board's decision to grant Curtis parole, even though he is still behind bars.
One young man looked for books to shed light on the current imperialist war drive against Yugoslavia. "I think U.S. intervention will only make things worse in Bosnia, but I want to understand what's really going on there," he said.
Of those who had been to the Pathfinder stand at previous book fairs, many had read that publisher's Spanish-language edition of Leon Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed and now wanted to read the Spanish edition of In Defense of Marxism by the same author. Orlando Hernández, a retired dock worker and veteran of Cuban internationalist missions in Angola and Ethiopia, spent hours at the booth reading The Revolution Betrayed. "There used to be a stigma against Trotsky in this country," he said. "Now it's possible - and important - to read him" in order to understand the roots of the crisis in the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries.
`History of the Russian Revolution'
One of the most sought-after books this year was Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. Many visitors who had studied in the Soviet Union and knew Russian well browsed through a copy of Pathfinder's three-volume edition in the Russian original and asked how they could get copies to study it. Others were interested to hear that Pathfinder is planning to publish a Spanish-language edition of Lenin's Final Fight: 1922-23. Volunteers in Havana and Matanzas have been helping to translate documents for this book from Russian to Spanish and to improve existing Spanish translations of Lenin by checking them against the Russian originals.
`History of the Russian Revolution'
Not all Cuban visitors at the Pathfinder exhibit were pro- revolution. "Things aren't going well here," said a computer science student. "They always say that those who are against the revolution want to return to the days of [dictator Fulgencio] Batista. But having capitalism isn't the same as returning to that period."
José Gutiérrez, a young security guard at a textile plant outside Havana, had a different view. "We're having meetings in all our factories to discuss how we, as workers, can get Cuba through the special period. It hasn't been easy, but together we've managed to resist for the past six years." He was referring to workplace meetings under way to prepare for the April convention of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers (CTC).
Gutiérrez returned to the book fair another day to attend the launching of Guevara's Episodes. Like many others, Gutiérrez was impressed by the quality and attractiveness of the new Pathfinder edition. "This book is wonderful," he said. "And I'm very happy it's being sold in the United States too."
Answer to lies in `New York Times'
A number of people who stopped by the Pathfinder booth remarked that they had read in Perspectiva Mundial the reply by Mary-Alice Waters, editor of Pathfinder's The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara, to an article by Thomas Lipscomb in the November 26 New York Times on Guevara and the guerrilla campaign he led in Bolivia in 1966-67. Waters's letter, printed in full in the Militant and Perspectiva Mundial, and in abbreviated form in the Times, refuted Lipscomb's allegation of sharp political differences between Guevara and Fidel Castro.
Answer to lies in `New York Times'
"It was important to take on the lies in the New York Times," commented journalist Víctor Pérez Galdós, who works for Radio Progreso. "The letter answered them point by point and with facts, not general phrases."
At the end of the book fair, the national directors of the Joven Club network invited Pathfinder volunteers to take the book exhibit to a national youth conference they were organizing in the city of Santa Clara, capital of Villa Clara province and Cuba's third-largest city. The entire display was packed up and transported by bus. At the end of the conference there the books will be donated to the University of Santa Clara library.
Pathfinder books at previous book fairs have been donated to other libraries in the cities of Havana, Holguín, and Matanzas.
"For us this is an important part of the book fair," said Pathfinder president Mary-Alice Waters, who was in Havana for the event. "We want these books to be available for those in Cuba who are interested in reading them."
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