Interview with Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto on reading

-Minister, what do you think about the Fair this year?

"Unfortunately I have not been able to see all of it. I have not gone through all the stands, but I have been in different presentations. I think it has being a success again. As I saw in the reports of the Cuban Book Institute, people are very happy with the rescue of the Central Library, which gives the reader the opportunity to see the news in one place.

-Is it different from last year?

-there is more culture, more integration of the arts. Last year there were posters, sportspeople and cartoons but less of those this year.

For a long time we have seen a lot of marketing merchandise, throwaway literature. Do you consider that the Book Fair has been shifting towards a commercial fair?

-If so, if that distortion has been happening, this year there was an attempt by the Organizing Committee to rectify it. What happened here? It seems to me that the reduction in reading in this country, was combined with a certain pragmatic spirit. Products for sale not associated with reading only, such as handicrafts, souvenirs …When you look at it over the years, when you compare it with the original Fairs, the phenomenon is more noticeable. Concessions were given to foreign exhibitors, who brought Walt Disney and junk mass culture. That distortion exists and must be stopped.The Fair is a space for books, for reading, for the arts. It is a cultural thing. Excessive marketing can turn Fidel's dream of the Fair into a caricature. We cannot afford it.

-In spite of those actions reading in Cuba is no longer in such good health … Do you agree?

"I think there have been setbacks." We have to develop a strategy to regain ground. We looked at ways to induce young people to read. I think this year the digital books have had a boost. We are distributing a terabyte of information on mobile data drives, for free."But it's not all bad news. Look at the ten bestselling books of 2016. Not one is a mediocre or superficial work. There are historical books, such as Raul Castro's biography, a man in Revolution; But there are also novels by one of the most important authors that we have in Cuba at the moment, Daniel Chavarría, with ‘La piedra del snuff'; and foreign writers like George Orwell, with 1984, among other notable titles. "

-Although the difficulties remain, the Fair is still a public success. How do you explain it?

-I think Fidel, first of all, and all the cultural and social work of the Revolution, sowed something in the Cuban people, left a substrate that remains and must be looked after. The fact that the Cuban family, however humble, has a space in their home for books, for a small library, is unique in the world. And that survives, because the book in Cuba carries great weight."It is true that many people now do not read, they prefer videos; that children choose videogames rather than undertaking a more serious intellectual challenge … Yet there is a seed that bears fruit. "-What does the Cuban State do to look after that seed?

"In the whole world, the book has become a commodity. It is treated, evaluated and promoted as a commodity. We do not think like that. We continue to subsidize the book in this country. It may be that prices have risen in recent times, but none covers their cost of production. It is subsidized by a decision of the Government, which considers that reading and knowledge are our right."This work must be done deliberately so that it will not be lost. It is still there, despite the difficulties. And it has to do with the work in the family, the school, the cultural institutions, the librarians."We have to work so that people are not left in the void, so that those famous words of Fidel, "we don't tell the people to believe, we tell them to read"; Or those of Martí, "to read is to grow," do not dissolve and lose their meaning ."

Interview published on JuventudRebelde – link to interview in Spanish