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Culture

Cuba Shuns Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair will have to do without Cuba this October. The communist country cancelled its participation after Germany withdrew from the 2004 Book Fair in Havana.

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Cuban President Castro: "Germany is an accomplice to the United States"

The letter didn't come as a surprise. In it the Cuban Book Institute told the Frankfurt Book Fair management Cuba would not take part in the industry's biggest trade event. "It's clear the Cuban Culture Ministry is behind the letter," book fair spokesman Holger Ehling said.

The cancellation came in response to Germany pulling out of the International Book Fair planned for Havana in January 2004, where it was supposed to be the guest of honor. In mid-August 2003 the German government said Germany would not take part in the fair after relations between Cuba and the European Union turned frosty over the Carribbean island nation's reinstatement of the death penalty and a crackdown on dissenters. Cuba executed three men who hijacked a boat in an attempt to escape to the United States and jailed 75 dissidents for up to 28 years in the spring.

"The European Union had already agreed on diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in early June. Government delegations were supposed to stay away from the island and cultural exchange was supposed to be reduced. We complied with that," a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry said of its decision to withdraw from the book event.

German businesses and private individuals may still travel to Cuba, but they will not be supported by the Foreign Ministry, so it's unlikely that many German authors or publishers will attend the Cuban fair in January.

A Trojan horse?

Cultural exchange between Germany and Cuba has intensified in recent years. The two countries signed a cultural accord in 2002, and the Goethe Institute, which promotes Germany abroad, planned to set up shop in Havana. Since then German literature, art and music has been drawing more attention on the island.

But now things have been put on ice. Cuban President Fidel Castro deemed the EU the "U.S.'s Trojan horse" in July. And the Cuban Book Institute communiqué also accused Germany and the EU of "directing aggression" against the country in complicity with the United States.

Arturo Arango, a writer who lives in Havana, said the German government's shouldn't have cancelled its participation in the fair. In an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, he said the tit-for-tat behavior hurts readers and intellectuals, who have no real power in Cuba, more than anyone else.

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