A few days ago, the 20th Annual Book Fair concluded in Holguin. This event traveled from Havana where it was presented as an event of international character, but other provinces received a watered down version.
When I walked by the small stands where books were displayed for sale, it seemed as if there were two fairs, two countries, and two provinces. On National TV, they had been enthusiastically promoting books which contained testimonies from soldiers who had gone to the war in Africa, as well as other titles which consisted of discourses, essays, and other documents belonging to Fidel Castro. The TV would show the publications from the Ministry of the Interior: police novels where the bandits were always caught and such.
But the fair that we actually miss is the one where true political or social literary novelties were sold. Those were the days where some books would be snuck in, and although they bothered the vigilant eyes of the ideological apparatus of the PCC (Cuban Communist Party), they always somehow found their way into the hands of readers. The frank and open debates which challenged the current radical thought which prefers to cheer on the so-called Bicentennial Collection (of American Independence) before bringing some clarifying texts of current social thought to light.
I bumped into a rather amusing sight in Holguin: a tent with many books on display, some happy and expectant customers browsing through the titles, and a gang of uniformed MININT (Ministry of the Interior) officials keeping a close watch from behind. I asked myself, “What were they guarding? What were they searching for? What are they defending?” Maybe this would be logical at a bar, one of the ones known as “Perreras” where Cubans go to empty out their worries over fermented drinks. Maybe, there it would make sense to have some sort of authority to calm down so much energy (never through beatings, right?), but at a book tent…
As a product of the budget cuts, we were once again presented with the same old books which had been circulating among some of the darkest libraries throughout the island months ago. Here, they were presented to us as if they were brand new literary publications. Once again, that old custom of going to a bookstore or library to always find some recent publications has been lost. It’s all an absurdity, an urgent measure taken by a fair which has gotten worse each year, just like the euphoria which instantly vanishes time and time again.
Translated by Raul G.
March 13 2011