I have a great deal of respect for Mark Coker of Smashwords and I support his endeavor to convince President Obama to lift the book embargo against Cuba.
A message from Mark Coker of Smashwords:
“Background on this Petition:
Last month, I joined a publishing industry delegation to Cuba to meet with Cuban writers, publishers and government representatives from their ministry of culture and book institute.
The goal of the meetings was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration between the Cuban publishing community and the American publishing community.
I was struck by what I learned.
First, the good news.
Cuban writers and publishers are excited about the warming political relations between Cuba and the United States.
Cuba has an adult literacy rate of nearly 100%, about 20 points higher than the US.
Cuba boasts a rich literary culture.
I visited the Havana Book Fair, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of Cubans. I’d estimate 90% of attendees were millennials. These young readers are smart, educated and optimistic. They want greater access to books. They’re the future of Cuba.
Here’s the bad news.
The US embargo against Cuba has been enormously harmful to the Cuban people, and it’s been especially harmful to their book market. Cuban publishers have difficulty acquiring even the basic raw materials of bookmaking like paper and ink. Because so much of the infrastructure of global book publishing passes through the United States, the embargo makes it difficult for Cuban authors and publishers to reach a broader audience.
According to a Pew poll in 2015, fully 72% of the American public wants the embargo lifted.
The US stands virtually alone in this embargo which has now persisted over 50 years.I realize the politics around this are heated. I realize many Americans — especially Cuban-Americans who emigrated in the ’60s — have strong feelings about the current political regime in Cuba. I respect these feelings. I want to take the politics out of this and focus on the Cuban people.Would it be so bad to let the books flow freely in both directions? Might books help heal the wounds on both sides?
President Obama has taken steps over the last year to normalize relations with Cuba and set the stage for the end of the embargo.
But change can’t come soon enough. Given the current political dysfunction in the US, it’s unlikely the US congress will vote to end the embargo even though 59% of Republicans want it ended, according to that same Pew poll above.
The embargo is composed of a spaghetti mess of presidential edicts, Treasury department statutes and Congressional actions.Despite the political gridlock, President Obama has some latitude to make modifications around the edges. He’s already relaxed travel restrictions and allowed American telecommunications companies to invest in Cuba so they can make Internet access more ubiquitous in Cuba.
President Obama says he wants to do more to expose Cubans to American culture and more global information. Books are the solution!
As we say in the petition, books promote greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development and free expression.On the eve of President Obama’s March 21-22 trip to Cuba, I’d like to ask your support. Let’s encourage President Obama to lift the embargo against books and educational materials. It would be a good first step.”