Writers and readers: please help end the US book embargo against Cuba

Please read this email sent to me by Mark Coker from Smashwords, and help end this sad embargo that prevents Cubans from benefiting from something we all take for granted: publishing, and reading books from the USA. If you are willing to help, please sign the petition ASAP as the US Government is due to announce modifications to its embargoes against Cuba, and we’re hoping this will be one of them. Now, over to Mark:

I’m writing to ask for your help.

Writers and readers: please help end the US book embargo against Cuba

As a basic human right, readers everywhere deserve greater access to books and literature.

Please go to https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba and consider signing my petition to end the US book embargo against Cuba.

Background on this Petition:

Last month, I joined a publishing industry delegation to Cuba to meet with Cuban writers, publishers and government representatives from their ministry of culture and book institute.

The goal of the meetings was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration between the Cuban publishing community and the American publishing community.

I was struck by what I learned.

First, the good news.

Cuban writers and publishers are excited about the warming political relations between Cuba and the United States.

Cuba has an adult literacy rate of nearly 100%, about 20 points higher than the US.

Cuba boasts a rich literary culture.

I visited the Havana Book Fair, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of Cubans. I’d estimate 90% of attendees were millennials. These young readers are smart, educated and optimistic. They want greater access to books. They’re the future of Cuba.

Here’s the bad news.

The US embargo against Cuba has been enormously harmful to the Cuban people, and it’s been especially harmful to their book market. Cuban publishers have difficulty acquiring even the basic raw materials of bookmaking like paper and ink.

Because so much of the infrastructure of global book publishing passes through the United States, the embargo makes it difficult for Cuban authors and publishers to reach a broader audience.

Cuban readers don’t have easy access to books published by American authors and publishers.

Cubans earn the equivalent of only about $20 USD per month, whether they’re a doctor or a janitor. They don’t have a lot of money to invest in publishing. Imagine if we could make our free ebook publishing and distribution services available to their writers? Imagine if Cuban readers could gain greater access to the nearly 400,000 low cost ebooks at Smashwords, including over 60,000 free ebooks? I want to help them today but I can’t because of the embargo.

I founded Smashwords to break down barriers like this. To give every writer the freedom to publish, and every reader the freedom to read what they choose.

According to a Pew poll in 2015, fully 72% of the American public wants the embargo lifted.

The US stands virtually alone in this embargo which has now persisted over 50 years.

I realize the politics around this are heated. I realize many Americans — especially Cuban-Americans who emigrated in the ’60s — have strong feelings about the current political regime in Cuba. I respect these feelings. I want to take the politics out of this and focus on the Cuban people.

Would it be so bad to let the books flow freely in both directions? Might books help heal the wounds on both sides?

President Obama has taken steps over the last year to normalize relations with Cuba and set the stage for the end of the embargo.

But change can’t come soon enough. Given the current political dysfunction in the US, it’s unlikely the US congress will vote to end the embargo even though 59% of Republicans want it ended, according to that same Pew poll above.

The embargo is composed of a spaghetti mess of presidential edicts, Treasury department statutes and Congressional actions.

Despite the political gridlock, President Obama has some latitude to make modifications around the edges. He’s already relaxed travel restrictions and allowed American telecommunications companies to invest in Cuba so they can make Internet access more ubiquitous in Cuba.

President Obama says he wants to do more to expose Cubans to American culture and more global information. Books are the solution!

As we say in the petition, books promote greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development and free expression.

On the eve of President Obama’s March 21-22 trip to Cuba, I’d like to ask your support. Let’s encourage President Obama to lift the embargo against books and educational materials. It would be a good first step.

Three things you can do today to make a difference

1. Please sign the petition at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba

2.Compose friendly Tweets directed at the White House (@WhiteHouse) and President Obama(@BarackObama), urging the Obama administration to end the book embargo. In your Tweets, include the link to the petition. For example, earlier today I tweeted this:
End the Cuba book embargo https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba @WhiteHouse @BarackObama Books help cross-cultural understanding and economic development
You can retweet it at https://twitter.com/markcoker or feel free to copy and paste it into your own tweet, or compose an original tweet.

3.Visit the many news stories and blog posts that have been written about our campaign and use their social media buttons to share on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Or join the discussions in their comment threads.

Here are some links:

Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/publishers-petition-white-house-to-end-cuba-book-embargo-1457629202
NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/10/469987895/publishing-heavyweights-petition-white-house-congress-to-end-cuba-book-embargo
Huffington Post (I wrote this): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/end-the-cuban-book-embarg_b_9440950.html
Publishers Weekly: http://publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/69621-a-letter-from-pw-on-the-cuban-book-embargo.html
Smashwords Blog: http://blog.smashwords.com/2016/03/a-call-to-end-cuban-book-embargo.html

The timing today is critical. Next Thursday, the Obama administration will announce modifications to the embargo that will likely loosen some restrictions on the embargo. Let’s encourage him to add books to his list!

Thank you for your consideration and support. At the bottom of this email I’ve pasted in the full text of the petition.

Best wishes,


Mark Coker

The Petition

Sign it now at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba

End the book embargo against Cuba

On the eve of his historic visit to Cuba March 21-22, we call on President Obama to utilize executive powers to immediately lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.

As a basic human right, readers everywhere deserve greater access to books and literature.

Books promote cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression and positive social change.

The book embargo runs counter to American ideals of free expression.

Cuba’s adult literacy rate — at nearly 100% — is among the highest in the world.

Cuba boasts a rich literary heritage.

End the embargo to make the works of American and Cuban writers more accessible to readers in each country.

72% of Americans support an end to the trade embargo against Cuba (Pew, 2015)

Other petition for larger literature organisations

I also orchestrated another petition which will appear next week on the cover of Publishers Weekly. Unlike the petition above which is for the general public, the other petition was signed by nearly 50 CEOs of publishing companies and writers associations (RWA, Authors Guild and more). You can read about both petitions in the news stories above.

As Mark asks, writers and book lovers everywhere: please sign the petition. Sz