Tens of thousands of people have been pouring into the book fair. This 26th annual event is a giant cultural festival that unfolds for 10 days in Havana and then travels to every province across the island, concluding April 16 in the eastern city of Santiago. This year Cuban publishers have available for sale 4 million copies of some 700 new titles, a significant increase over last year. Publishers from 46 other countries are participating — including Canada, this year’s country of honor.
“There is no other book fair in the world like this one, because it is a product of the Cuban Revolution,” noted Fernando González at a special program on “Fidel and Culture.” González, one of five Cubans who spent more than a decade and a half in U.S. prisons for their actions in defense of the revolution, pointed to the high level of literacy and interest in reading among the Cuban population, of which the book fair is a visible expression.
This year’s fair is dedicated to Armando Hart, one of the historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution who as Cuba’s first minister of education directed the revolution’s monumental literacy drive, and served for 20 years as the country’s minister of culture. Today he heads the Office of the José Martí Program. Daily events honor Hart’s revolutionary record, and new collections of his writings are being presented.
Revolution expands access to culture
“Education has been one of the highest priorities of the revolution,” said Juan Rodríguez, president of the Cuban Book Institute, at the book fair’s opening ceremony. From the beginning, he said, Fidel Castro led the efforts to expand access to culture in Cuba. This included, in 1961, the yearlong campaign that brought literacy to some 700,000 adults.
These themes were developed in a two-day book fair program on Castro’s political leadership. “The biggest cultural development in Cuba was the revolution itself,” said historian Rolando Rodríguez in one panel discussion. “Thanks to Fidel’s leadership we transformed ourselves, from a subjugated country with an inferiority complex — always looking to the North for direction — into a free, sovereign, independent nation.”
Rodríguez gave many examples of Fidel’s leadership in transforming education and the broad cultural level in Cuba. Fifty years ago, Rodríguez noted, the Cuban leader asked him to head up the newly founded Cuban Book Institute, part of an effort that established new publishing houses and printing plants.
One day, he said, Castro learned of plans to build a large new printing plant in Santiago de Cuba. He contacted Rodríguez and proposed it be built in Guantánamo instead. Rodríguez argued with Castro, saying it would be much more expensive to build a large industrial project in Guantánamo. It simply wasn’t possible because Guantánamo — one of the poorest and most underdeveloped provinces in the country before the revolution — lacked the necessary infrastructure and trained workforce. “‘That’s precisely why we need to build the plant in Guantánamo,’ Fidel answered, ‘and why you are going to help me do it,’” Rodríguez said.
Also on the panel were Fernando González, as well as Gerardo Hernández, another of the revolutionaries known worldwide as the Cuban Five. González is today vice president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). Hernández is vice rector of the Higher Institute for International Relations (ISRI).
Huge turnout to honor Fidel Castro
González highlighted the massive turnout by ordinary Cubans at events paying tribute to Fidel Castro after his death Nov. 25. Especially significant was the large participation by youth, he said, “because many in these generations — unlike my generation and previous ones — never had direct experience with our commander in chief in the leadership of the country: orienting, educating, persuading.”
There is “perhaps no figure in the world against whom the imperialists have invested greater resources to denigrate and attack” than Fidel Castro, Hernández said. Yet “Fidel’s image remains untarnished among millions around the world.”
Hernández told of his discussions with fellow inmates in U.S. maximum security prisons, where he served more than 16 years. “There were quite a few who could not locate Cuba on a map but they knew who Fidel was.” A frequent comment was, “I don’t know much about politics, but Fidel really stood up to the American government.”
“For revolutionaries and rebels around the world,” Hernández concluded, “Fidel will always be an example.”
Since the opening day of the book fair, communist workers at the Pathfinder Press stand have talked with many students, workers and others who recounted how they took to the streets to pay tribute to Fidel after his death. “We were responding to the international press that said the revolution doesn’t have support among young people,” Yessica Pugh, one of a group of University of Havana students at the fair, told the Militant.
Many who visited the Pathfinder booth said proudly that they were among the 6 million Cubans across the island who signed a pledge to continue defending the revolution.
The fair in Havana continues through Feb. 19.
Interest builds in joining May Day brigade to Cuba
Cuba’s internationalism was born with revolution
Castro: ‘Ours is a more just society and we believe in it’
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