March 14, 2016
Publishers petition to end Cuban book embargo
by Julia Fleischaker
The March 14th cover of Publishers Weekly won’t feature an author, or a new book. Instead, it will highlight a petition, signed by more than 40 representatives of the publishing industry, calling for an end to the book embargo against Cuba.
According to PW, a group of 40 American representatives visited Cuba last month, to meet with their industry counterparts:
The two days of meetings, held with the support of the Cuban government, represented a historic milestone. Their purpose was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration.
The American delegates included authors, publishers, distributors, literary agents, service providers, consultants, and independent booksellers. Cuba was represented by officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture, and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as by Cuban authors, publishers, academics, and students.
Signers of the petition are calling “upon the U.S. Congress and President Obama to lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.” It notes that not only does Cuba have a rich literary tradition, but that the adult literacy rate is approaching 100%, a rate which is “among the highest in the world.”
Jeffrey Trachtenberg and Felicia Schwartz at The Wall Street Journal report that the group is reaching out to President Obama, who is visiting Cuba on March 20th (the first sitting president to visit the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928), and who has already made moves to normalize relations. Trachtenberg and Schwartz report:
The Obama administration has already loosened trade and travel regulations in three previous rounds, all with the goal of using executive action to chip away at the embargo on Cuba as much as possible before Mr. Obama leaves office so his changes can be permanent.
Congress must act to fully lift the trade and travel embargoes, which they are almost certain not to do before Mr. Obama leaves office. The Cuba policy shift continues to face staunch Republican opposition, though proponents of the policy shift believe they might be able to get rid of the travel ban through the appropriations process before Mr. Obama leaves office.
The Journal quotes Marc Coker, CEO of Smashwords Inc, stating that existing regulations are confusing, and that both U.S. and Cuban publishers remain unsure—“I’d like to hear the Treasury Department or the president state that publishers can transact business without fear of penalties or hassles…We need clarity.”
Signers of the petition include representatives from PromoLatino, Independent Publishers Group, Baker & Taylor, and Romance Writers of America, as well as publishers, including Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House, Michael Pietsch of Hachette, and Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster.
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.