Colombian Book Fair Spotlights U.S. as Political Tension Rises

By Chepesiuk, Ron | American Libraries, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Colombian Book Fair Spotlights U.S. as Political Tension Rises


Chepesiuk, Ron, American Libraries


Latin America's largest publishers' convention, Feria Internacional del Libro, took place April 23-May 5 in Bogota, Colombia. The International Book Fair, which attracts publishers and writers from all over the world, had a record 600 exhibitors, including such well-known international publishers and vendors as Cambridge University Press, Prentice-Hall, Thompson Corporation, World Book, Harcourt Brace, and Xerox Corporation.

This year's "special guest country" was the United States, which highlighted its presence with a special exhibition organized by the United States Information Service (USIS) and coordinated and assembled by IBM Corporation. The exhibition's subject matter reflected the broad theme of this year's fair: "Culture, Science, and Technology."

That the United States was the guest of honor was ironic to some attendees, given that less than two months before the fair the U.S. government had "decertified" Colombia for the second straight year as a helpful partner in the war on drugs. The move has chilled U.S.-Colombia relations to perhaps their lowest point in history.

The United States is required by law to apply sanctions to countries unless the president reports to Congress that they are cooperating fully with U.S. anti-narcotics efforts. The politics of the war on drugs could affect U.S. libraries and publishers because Colombia's thriving publishing industry could be liable to sanctions.

In the past two years, Colombia's book exports grew from 110 to 125 million U.S. dollars, with total production reaching 50 million copies, many of which are sold to the U.S. market. The country is now Latin America's leading printer of books and printed material, including children's pop-up titles, magazines, and picture books.

Cali-based Caraval S.A. is the world's largest publisher of children's pop-up books, many of which are published in English. Caraval's subsidiary Impresion de Publicationes exports 50% of its hard- and soft-cover books (general interest, encyclopedias, and dictionaries) to U.S. publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Harcourt Brace.

Asked if the Colombian book industry is subject to sanctions, U.S. ambassador Myles Frechette, who opened the exhibit, told American Libraries, "We don't know what sanctions, if any, the U.S. will apply to Colombia."

For some Colombians, anti-American feeling may be running high, but that didn't stop thousands from visiting the U.S.'s large and eclectic exposition, which was set up in three distinct sections. The first contained exhibits and gadgetry dedicated to computers and the Internet, with, of course, plenty of displayed IBM products. The second, which one Colombian journalist praised as "bringing faith to the experience of African-American writers," gave an introduction to blacks in U.S. history through the works of such authors as Terry McMillan and Houston Baker Jr. The last section presented a photographic exhibit depicting life in the United States.

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Colombian Book Fair Spotlights U.S. as Political Tension Rises
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