By the end of the afternoon, tens of thousands of people had visited the 13th Havana International Book Fair on the first full day of this 10-day cultural festival. Fair officials expect to surpass last years record attendance of 300,000.
Some 5 million copies of books and pamphletsincluding more than 1,000 newly published titlesare on sale here. Since 2001 the annual fair has been expanded into an island-wide event. In 2002, in addition to the international event in Havana, Cuban publishers took the fair to 15 cities. Last year the book fair traveled to 30 cities in all, and this year it will take place in 34 towns and cities. When the fair closes in Havana February 15, it will travel to the western, central, and eastern regions of the country over the following three weeks.
Some 30 Cuban publishers and 60 from abroad are represented at the fair this year, according to organizers. The largest numbers of publishing houses and cultural figures are from Spain, Mexico, and Germany. Also here are publishers from Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, France, Angola, Puerto Rico, and the West Indies, among others. The authors featured range from U.S. writer Alice Walker and German playwright Bertolt Brecht to previously unpublished young Cuban authors, as well as literary giants from Honoré de Balzac to Henry James.
This years fair is dedicated to distinguished Cuban poet Carilda Oliver Labra.
Aldabonazo by Armando Hart
Among the new titles being launched at public meetings during the fair this year is a book by one of the small handful of living historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution, Armando Hart.
The book, Aldabonazo: Inside the Cuban Revolutionary Underground, 1952--58A Participants Account, has just been published simultaneously in both English and Spanish editions by Pathfinder Press. Hart tells the story of the men and women in cities across Cuba who, following the March 1952 military coup by Fulgencio Batista, risked their lives in dangerous clandestine actions. With the launching of the revolutionary war in Cubas Sierra Maestra mountains at the end of 1956, the urban underground, of which Hart was a central leader, helped mobilize working people to support the Rebel Army, including the victorious island-wide general strike and insurrection in January 1959 that overturned the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship and opened the socialist revolution in the Americas.
Over the more than four decades since that triumph, Armando Hart has been a leader of the revolutionary government, serving as minister of education and minister of culture, as well as a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Mary-Alice Waters, editor of the book and author of the publishers preface, appeared on the morning TV program Buenos Días, to promote Aldabonazo. Waters was also interviewed by Radio Havana Cuba as well as by the Cuban news agency AIN, which published a February 6 story highlighting Aldabonazo.
During the interviews, Waters also spoke about another just-published Pathfinder title being featured at the book fair, Rebelión Teamster. The book is the first-ever Spanish translation of Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs. Rebelión Teamster tells the story of the strikes and organizing campaigns that transformed the labor movement throughout the Upper Midwest in the mid-1930s and helped pave the way for the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations as a militant social movement. A third new Pathfinder title at this years Havana book fair is the French-language translation of Their Trotsky and Ours by Jack Barnes.
These and many other of Pathfinders more than 400 titles on revolutionary working-class politics are on display at the booth sponsored by the Pathfinder Bookshop in London. The bookstand is staffed by an international team of volunteers from the United Kingdom, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, and Sweden. Pathfinder has taken part in every Havana book fair since 1986.
Sabotage by German government fails
At the close of last years fair, organizers announced that Germany would be the country of honor at the 2004 Havana International Book Fair. In August, however, the Social Democratic-Green Party government in Berlin declared that it was withdrawing from official participation in the event.
This move was one of a series of actions taken by European imperialist powers against Cuba on the pretext of protesting alleged violations of the human rights of dissidents by the revolutionary government. German officials condemned Cuba for the trials, sentencing, and jailing of 75 opponents of the revolution convicted in March 2003 for collaborating with U.S. government officials in Washingtons 45-year-long drive to undermine and overthrow the Cuban Revolution. Berlin also denounced the execution of three Cubans convicted of the armed hijacking of a ferry loaded with passengers.
At the ceremony inaugurating the book fair, these actions by Berlin were described by Dietmar Koschmieder of the May 8 Publishing House, who spoke on behalf of German publishers participating in the fair, and by Reinhard Thiele of the German solidarity network Cuba Sí. Hoping to isolate Cuba, Berlin reneged on its commitment to provide some 55,000 euros to subsidize German publishers renting display space at the event.
In his remarks, Thiele made it clear that some of the 37 publishers and 40 prominent literary and musical figures from Germany participating in the fair joined in Berlins criticism of the actions taken by the Cuban government. They disagreed with the boycott campaign, however, and had organized the funds to pay for the facilities needed.
The German government argues that Cuba has made errors in defending itself. That may be true, Thiele said, but as Lenin stated, what is important is not making errors but drawing the correct conclusions from these errors.
Thiele approvingly quoted one of the participants from Germany who said he didnt care what Washingtons position was, nor Berlins, so long as there was money to be made in Havana.
Iroel Sánchez, president of the Cuban Book Institute and chair of the fairs organizing committee, said at the opening ceremony that this attempt to carry out a cultural blockade has failed. He pointed to the massive popular character of the book fair, calling it a festival of freedom. The fair, he said, is an example of the major expansion of access to education and culture that Cubas socialist revolution has made possible.
Sánchez highlighted the breadth of the cultural events that will take place during the fair. These include dozens of book launchings, panel discussions, nonstop poetry readings, special events at the Childrens Pavilion, used book sales, film showings, theater and musical performances, and art exhibits, held both on the fair grounds and at venues across Havana.
Martín Koppel and Mary-Alice Waters contributed to this article.