March 30, 2012

Argentina holds foreign books at customs


In Argentina, a new and bizarre piece of red tape means that imported books and magazines are being held at customs at Ezeiza airport, some 25 miles outside of Buenos Aires. Rather than receive their reading material through the letterbox as intended, readers of foreign material currently have to travel to Ezeiza — and let’s not forget that this is a country of 1,073,518 square miles — and pay a US$60 fee to DHL, plus US$10-12 handling fee, and US$2-4 per day that the items have been held. These aren’t insignificant amounts when converted into the local peso, and then there are the travelling time and costs.

The reason for all this? Of course, the government is merely trying to protect the health of Argentine readers by monitoring the amount of lead in the ink their foreign books are printed with. After all, barely a day goes by now that you don’t hear of some horrific reading-related fatality somewhere on the globe, does it?

The more serious consideration is that this a country in which, in 2010, some 80% of the books bought were imported. In trying to rebalance that figure in favour of local industry and the many wonderful homegrown publishers the country boasts, a law was passed stating that one book must be exported for every one imported. That legislation mainly affects larger businesses, and most of them don’t seem to have taken issue with it in the slightest. This parallel, lunatic legislation about levels of lead in ink, though, hits individuals in the most unfair way, in many cases making it impossible for them to get hold of the foreign books they want. It’s not quite book banning, but the effect is the same, and that’s always a very dangerous game for a government to start.



Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.