President Obama is in Cuba today, probably the most visible sign that the country is becoming more politically open. And it seems that the Cuban books community is benefiting from that political openness, as reported by German publication Deutsche Welle. This also comes at a time when many in the US are asking the White House to stop the embargo on books and educational materials between the US and Cuba. All of which spells some potentially great things for literature in Cuba.
Publishing in Cuba faces numerous challenges, and the most significant is not overtly political: paper shortages. The country does not produce its own paper and importing it is expensive. Despite this relative scarcity of books, however, Cubans read a lot, more than people in almost any country in Latin America. And lately, they've also been able to find politically controversial books that have been missing from Cuban shelves for years, such as 1984 by George Orwell. Spanish translations of the anti-totalitarian novel were sold in Cuba even after the revolution, but like many anti-communist writers, Orwell eventually disappeared in Cuba. This year, however, it was announced that 1984 will once again be published in Cuba.
And Cuban writers are experiencing more freedom as well. Cuban author Leonardo Padura told DW, "The Cuban writer has to constantly be aware of what he wants to say and what he can say. But the scope of what should not be said is being opened up more and more by writers. I myself believe that I have said everything I wanted to say by now, but in an artistic form."
Writers are still not free to, for instance, argue for a change in government, but they do say they are more free to criticize than in previous times.
So is all this only the beginning for increased freedom of expression in Cuba? Will the Cuban literary community only continue to benefit from this growing political openness? And what impact will increased imports of US books have on all of this if Obama chooses to lift the book embargo?
Only time will tell.