Book fair in Guadalajara is one-sided over Cuba
Andres Oppenheimer. Posted on Thu, Dec. 05, 2002 in The Miami Herald.
LIMA - The latest scandal in Latin America's literary circles: One of the region's best-known book fairs, Mexico's Guadalajara Book Fair, is holding its annual event this week in honor of the only country in
the hemisphere that officially bans freedom of expression -- Cuba.
It sounds funny, as if somebody organized an international human rights conference in honor or former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, or a world convention of women in tribute of Afghanistan's
ousted Taliban regime, which banned women from going to school or working.
But the University of Guadalajara, which organizes the annual event with partial support of the Mexican government's culture office, Conaculta, invited the Cuban regime two years ago as guest of honor
this year, without demanding that it allow Cuba's many internationally-recognized pro-democracy writers and poets to travel to the book fair.
PARTY FOR THE PARTY
As a result, the Guadalajara Book Fair was flooded with a 600-strong Cuban government delegation, made up of several dozen government-sanctioned writers and hundreds of Communist Party apparatchiks.
Many Cuban writers on the island who wanted to participate, such as Raúl Rivero, a poet and independent journalist, were denied permission to travel. Not only does Cuba prohibit most of its independent writers to travel abroad, but it also forbids their publishing either at home or abroad.
Under law No. 88 of 1999, they face up to eight years in prison for ''reproducing subversive'' information, and up to five years in prison for "collaborating with foreign radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or other mass media with the purpose of . . .destabilizing the country and destroying the socialist state.''
RALLY BROKEN UP
As was to be expected, the Cuban government's cultural storm troops took over the Guadalajara Book Fair. On Sunday, Cuban delegation members and pro-Castro militants broke up a panel by pro-democracy
writers of Mexico's Letras Libres magazine, one of the few events at the fair that offered a critical view of the island's one-party regime.
With shouts of ''Cuba sí, Yanquis no,'' the crowd -- which included several Cuban officials -- disrupted the meeting. As reporter Blanche Petrich wrote in the daily La Jornada, a journalist from Cuba's Prensa Latina News agency in the crowd accused Rafael Rojas -- a Cuban academic now living in Mexico -- of ''being financed by the CIA.'' The panel ended when the protesters took the microphones, and for a while kept the speakers from leaving the room.
Rivero, one of the independent writers who was denied a travel permit, told me by telephone from Havana that he was not alone. He said poets Lina de Feria, Rafael Alcides and Reina María Rodríguez -- the latter, twice winner of the Cuban government's Casa de las Américas literary prize -- had also expressed interest in going to Guadalajara, but were not included in the Cuban delegation because of their ideological independence.
''I've been asking for permission to travel for the past 15 years, without any success,'' said Rivero, winner among other prizes of the Paris-based Reporters Without Frontiers Award and Columbia University's Maria Moors Cabot honorary mention. "They tell you that if you leave, you can't come back home.''
Rivero said he was not surprised by the takeover of the Letras Libres panel in Guadalajara. ''That happens all the time: it's something absolutely orchestrated by the government,'' Rivero said. 'These delegations of official writers are trained to 'confront the enemy,' and the enemy is whoever has a different opinion.
''In their Stalinist mind, anybody who doesn't applaud their government is a CIA agent, until he proves the contrary,'' Rivero said. "That's what they claim about us every day in Cuba.''
Book fair director Raúl Padilla, instead of demanding Cuba to allow its nonofficial intellectuals to travel to the fair and all others to speak freely, put out a bland statement claiming that the fair had invited all sides in the Cuban conflict. Then, he tried to minimize the incident.
Sari Bermúdez, head of the Mexican government's culture department, told me late Wednesday that she will consider, once she has all the information about this week's events, whether to continue sponsoring
the Guadalajara Book Fair.
''Padilla had assured me that both sides had been invited,'' Bermúdez said, referring to Cuba.
"If the reports I hear are right, there was an obvious lack of respect and violation of human rights of the people who were speaking in that panel. This type of behavior is inadmissible in a democratic country like ours.''
The bottom line: There was nothing wrong in inviting the Cuban government to a book fair. But doing it without demanding that it allow Cuba's independent writers to travel, and others to freely air their views, made a mockery of the Guadalajara Book Fair, and exposed the Cuban regime for what it is.