Tonight, Jan. 31, PBS will broadcast the premiere of a new documentary on
Fidel Castro. Look at your local TV listings to find out when this
critically-praised "American Experience" program will be shown in your area!

In other news, the Cuban government has just banned a Puerto Rican publisher,
Plaza Mayor, from attending the 2005 International Book Fair in Havana. Below
is printed a German commentary on the Cuban regime's censorship of the 2004
Havana Book Fair.


The Friends of Cuban Libraries
CENSORED: the Havana Book Fair, Cuban officials and German "dissidents"

BERLIN, Feb. 13, 2004 (Freitag/"Christoph Links") - [Introduction: The
following article contains excerpts translated from the current issue of Freitag.
The author is a former journalist who covered Latin America; since 1990 he has
published books on German history].

For over 20 years I have traveled regularly to Cuba.... Actually, I wanted to
be in Havana again this week to participate in the Book Fair, to meet
publishing colleagues, to advise cooperative projects, and in the evenings to drink a
good Mojito along the Malecón [seafront boulevard]. The fact that it did not
happen is due to some events that occurred earlier...

[After a brief flirtation with liberalism in the mid-90's, the screws have
tightened once again on Cuba's state-controlled publishing industry].... This
atmosphere includes the increased monitoring of the cultural scene and the
control of communications with foreign countries. A friend of mine had to defend
himself ideologically at the University of Havana because he brought into Cuba
an English-language copy of “The Chronicle of the Change,” [about East
Germany's democratic transition] issued by our publishing house. Officials at the
University argued this book would foster counterrevolution. Other shipments of
books about change in the former East Germany did not reach the addressee at
all. The donations by our publishing house to the German-language section of the
national university library are rotting... because they are stored in a room
with a leaky roof, which has been leaking for months. Nobody seems bothered by
this fact. The library in the renovated "Humboldt House" [a German cultural
foundation] in Havana’s Old City, which also holds books donated by German
publishing houses, was for a long time accessible to only a few insiders; it was
forbidden to reveal its existence or to display a sign listing its opening

At the 2002 Havana Book Fair I could notice a drastic contrast between a
facade of openness and the hidden monitoring that took place. It started with the
fact that after a nocturnal censorship tour on the opening day, Cuban
officials demanded the removal from the German exhibitors' stands of books by critical
Cuban authors [living abroad]. The memoirs by Fidel Castro’s daughter [Alina
Fernández, who fled Cuba by using a false Spanish passport] caused major
concern. After we rejected this demand, the Cuban State Security police ordered
Cuban colleagues at neighboring stands to secretly steal these books. But instead
of doing this, they told us what was happening, so that in the evenings we
would take the books back to our hotel for safekeeping.

For the first time, [at the 2002 Book Fair], there was also an Internet café,
although Cubans are normally not permitted to enter this area. Upon closer
scrutiny, it turned out that only foreigners were allowed to use the Internet
café after showing their passport and paying in dollars. You could buy [cards]
allowing a certain number of minutes of Internet access. Two additional cards
bought for Cuban colleagues, with whom we hoped to keep in touch after the Fair
by Web Mail, turned out to be bad investments, since the access codes were
canceled as soon as the Book Fair ended. It is not a coincidence that during the
trials of writers, [librarians] and journalists last spring, which ended with
the majority of them receiving sentences of over 15 years..., the Internet
was branded as a “diversionist instrument of imperialism".

The 13th Havana Book Fair is now being held from February 5-15. At this Fair
the main theme is German culture... [The German government had previously
agreed to finance the event]. But then in March 2003 the country-wide raids
against dissidents started, followed by circus-like trials with their draconian
sentences. When protests erupted among many normally Cuba-friendly, Western
European intellectuals, these complaints were rejected as "submission to US
imperialism" and "complicity with the Iraq aggressor". Due to this affair, in
mid-August the German Foreign Office canceled official German participation in this
year’s Book Fair. However, it allowed all publishing houses to participate in
the Fair....

Two German participants... were singled out for praise at the Fair's opening
ceremony this year; they were called "real dissidents” by Iroel Sánchez, the
boss of the Cuban Institute of Books, since they are opposed to official German
government policy. In contrast, said Mr. Sánchez, the dissidents in Cuba are
manipulated and promoted by the North American press. One day later, the
Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, praised the "culture of resistance" of the German
representatives.... He declined to talk about the resistance in his own
country. Nor did he speak about Cuban dissidents during an earlier Fair meeting
when he was presented with a petition from the PEN writers’ club calling for the
release of arrested Cuban writers. He said these authors were “not real
writers”, therefore it was not the business of PEN.

Because of these developments and because of the fact that it is not possible
to make arrangements with colleagues in Cuban publishing houses, since they
have no decision-making power, many German publishers did not attend the Havana
Book Fair this year. Nevertheless, we still favor an active cultural exchange
with Cuba.

None of us would probably be pleased to be called a “dissident” by a Cuban
government official who justifies the suppression of dissidents in his own

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