Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Oct. 7, 1999.

ANOTHER BLOW; THE GOVERNMENT ENDS BOOK ABUNDANCE By Jorge Diego Rodriguez Delgado, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA - Books and libraries have become quite unavailable for most Cubans since the disappearance of the Communist bloc from eastern Europe. This new development in our communist state represents another blow to our culture, which is to say our nation.

The Cuban government once bragged about its "premier position" in the editorial panorama of Latin America, of publishing one of the highest percentages of textbooks in the world and making any one of those available to its citizens for a very small price. That "bibliographical carnival" has ended, and how!

As far as sales go, prices have gone up 10 to 20 times: A dictionary which cost less than 5 pesos in the 1970's will now cost 50 pesos or more. If you try to buy a true "novelty," such as you might still find at the state-run bookstores, where you pay in "divisas" (exchange currency, typically dollars), the amount is terrifying: The same dictionary now sells for $50. That would require 1,000 Cuban pesos at the current exchange rate.

It should come as no surprise, then, faced with such somber prospects, that readers would look for library loans to satisfy their intellectual thirst. But the situation at those centers is equally disheartening. Maria Elena Hernandez Fernandez is the director of the Jose Machado Rodriguez Library in Guanabacoa, a suburb of Havana. She thought she had a sad privilege: To be in charge of the institution which had been shut down for the longest time in the country! She was mistaken. It has just been announced that the Mal Tiempo branch library in the Las Cruces municipality of Cienfuegos has not opened its doors in 10 years.

At a time when a national campaign to encourage reading has been in place, governing authorities have closed at least 25 libraries in Cuba due to the poor conditions of their holdings or facilities. Five of those are in the city of Havana. And now the last "drop" to spill from the bitter cup: The National Jose Marti Library has announced it will no longer allow public access to its holdings. Only duly authorized professionals, investigators or university students, after demonstrating a need, will be allowed access.

The municipal libraries throughout the country have only marginal funds and many of their books are in bad shape, especially children's literature, and can not be repaired. There also is a need for chairs, tables and shelves. Lighting is another area of great need in most libraries. Another of the system's ailments involves the migration of library professionals to better paying jobs.

The official press, seemingly alarmed by the situation, has asked of each citizen to donate five books to his or her municipal library or closest school. Now in addition to the scarcities we have of food, clothing, medicines and many other necessities we have the ever diminishing opportunity to read! Of course, the "divisas" bookstores are well stocked with expensive, 'succulent' looking volumes.

This new communist state failure further erodes our culture, our nation.

Jorge Diego Rodriguez Delgado, Cuba Free Press.

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