Cubans love books — too bad they have almost nothing to read.
Reading this Associated Press account of the International Book Fair in Havana, I don’t know whether to laugh at the farce of a literary festival held under Castro’s iron heel, or to weep at the spectacle of all those book-loving Cubans, ravenous for the freedom to read.
The story, by Andrea Rodriquez, reports six million people will turn out, either for the 10-day literary festival just concluded in Havana, or during a two-week tour of the provinces. This number, no doubt supplied by official sources, seems ridiculously high.
Nonetheless, many thousands of people showed up for the Havana portion of the event, looking for something to read in a country that has the highest literacy rate in the world. It’s one of the (few) great successes of the Castro regime, bringing illiteracy close to zero — then restricting freedom of the press and the right to read to a similar number.
Talk about good news/bad news. Hey, you can all read! Here’s your Communist Manifesto, now shut up.
“This fair is oriented toward the reader … as a chance to acquire books and have a dialogue with the authors, both Cubans and foreigners,” organizer Edel Morales told The Associated Press. “It is a notable difference to others in the world where people rarely attend. Here it is the people who make the fair.”
This, of course, is typical socialist hyperbole. We used to get a steady diet of that kind of thing during the Cold War, when nearly a third of the world lived under one communist regime or another. Now that radical Islam has become the West’s great bogeyman, it almost makes me nostalgic when something like that comes out of Cuba, or North Korea, or Venezuela.
As anyone knows who has tried to make it from the Auditorium to the Chapman Conference Center during Miami Book Fair International, it’s the people who make the fair here, too — with one big difference.
In Miami (or Nashville or New York or Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. or — ) a fairgoer can find about any title he or should might want. In Havana, the only books on offer were from government publishers or houses affiliated with the goverment. The same was true, according to the AP, of foreign publishers.
Take, for example, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Surely Cuban readers are interested in Latin America’s latest Nobel laureate, but not one of his novels was available at the International Book Fair. Llosa is a longtime critic of the Castro regime, by the way.
Sigh. The freedom to read and write that Americans and most Europeans take for granted will sadly have to wait until Fidel and Raul die, or until the Cuban people rise up, like the Egyptians, to shrug off the heavy hand of tyranny.
In the meantime, I cannot but be heartened by the throngs of book lovers crowding Havana’s streets last week. When the Cuban people are finally free, I predict an explosion of creativity on the island — one that may spread over the whole world.