Industry Groups Call for End to Book Embargo Against Cuba

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The American Booksellers Association has joined with Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, the Authors Guild, and others in the book industry, to sign a petition calling on Congress and the White House to end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba as it relates to books and educational materials.

Posted on the Publishers Weekly website on Thursday, March 10, the petition comes on the heels of the first-ever publishing mission to Cuba in February, which was organized by PW and Combined Book Exhibit. The two-day program of panels and professional education was designed for American publishers looking to build professional relationships with the state-run Cuban publishing industry and included an exhibition of titles from American publishers at the Havana Book Fair.

The petition, which was launched by Publishers Weekly, in cooperation with Combined Book Exhibit and the e-book distribution platform Smashwords, asks Congress and the president to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba “related to the production, distribution, and sale of books and educational materials.” It further notes that lifting the embargo is “consistent with the will of the American people, who, according to 2015 Gallup and Pew polls, overwhelmingly support the elimination of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”

An end to the embargo would mean that Cuban writers could be published in the U.S. and U.S. publishers will be able to sell their books in Cuba. The Wall Street Journal reported that the petition will be published on the editorial cover of the March 14 edition of Publishers Weekly, with the names of the signatories printed inside.

The petition’s more than 50 signatories also include the Independent Book Publishers Association; Independent Publishers Group; Baker & Taylor; Hachette Book Group; Open Road Integrated Media Inc.; the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; and 26 of the 40 Americans who took part in the publishing mission to Cuba, including Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, Rhode Island.

The petition contends that “the U.S. trade embargo is harmful to book culture and runs counter to American ideals of free expression. Books are catalysts for greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression, and positive social change.”

Mark Coker, chief executive of Smashwords, told the WSJ that copies of the petition will be sent to the White House and members of Congress after it is published in PW. Coker, who also took part in the publishing mission to Cuba, said he expects his company to digitally publish thousands of Cuban writers in Spanish, making their works available internationally.

President Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba from March 21 to 22, which will make him the first sitting president to visit the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. After more than 50 years of a U.S. trade and travel ban against Cuba, President Obama began loosening restrictions in late 2014 and is expected to announce another action to ease restrictions before he leaves on his trip. An act of Congress is required to fully lift the embargoes, however, an action that is opposed by many Republicans.

According to the WSJ, the petition signed by members of the book industry sets the stage for a separate but related petition that the American public can sign at under the “We the People Petitions” section. Once the online petition is up, it has 30 days to reach 100,000 signatures. If it reaches 100,000, the White House is obligated to respond.