Wednesday May 23, 2018

In Advance of Obama’s Trip to Havana, A Call to Lift the Book Embargo

A trip to Cuba by US publishing professionals spurs an industry-wide petition

At the opening in February of the 2016 International Book Fair in Havana


Under the headline “End the Book Embargo Against Cuba,” the trade magazine Publishers Weekly announced a petition to President Obama and the US Congress to lift the US trade embargo related to the production, distribution, and sale of books and educational materials.

Posted on the Publishers Weekly website on March 10 and featured on the cover of its March 14 edition, the petition called the book embargo “counter to American ideals of free expression,” adding that “books are catalysts for greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression, and positive social change.”

The petition resulted from a trip to Cuba last month by members of the US publishing industry. The trip took place during the Havana Book Fair and included two days of meetings with Cuban publishing professionals, held with government support.

Poster for the 2016 International Book Fair in Havana


Some 40 US industry professionals were part of the trip, including authors, publishers, literary agents, booksellers, and others. They met with officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture, and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as authors, publishers, and others.

Signatories to the petition include representatives of book publishers Penguin Random House, described by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s larges consumer book publisher; the Hachette Book Group; and Simon & Schuster. Others signing the petition include representatives of the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, the Independent Book Publishers Association, and the Romance Writers of America.

Pointing out that the adult literacy rate in Cuba is close to 100 percent, “among the highest in the world,” the petition noted that “exciting commercial opportunities exist for the American and Cuban publishing communities to collaborate for the benefit of readers and writers everywhere.”

The petition comes just ahead of President Obama’s March 21–22 trip to Cuba, the first by a sitting US president since Calvin Coolidge’s trip in 1928.  

A separate but related petition, open to signing by members of the US public, has been posted on the White House website.