August 11, 2006

Literature as a revolutionary propaganda tool

Katy says: Venezuela has just announced that it will not participate as the guest of honor in the La Paz Book Fair. Our country's representatives allege that this fair supports a "mercantilistic" view of literature, and that instead Venezuela will host a counter-fair through which 25,000 books will be distributed freely, courtesy of Venezuelan taxpayers.

The director of the National Book Center said that "books are not merchandise, but an instrument in the struggle for freedom", and that he wants literature "to stop being a privilege for the elites." (sic)

Oh, how noble. If only this were a reflection of the government's actual policies at home. It is well known that, in Venezuela, books are outrageously expensive, thanks in part to high taxes and import tariffs.

To drive this point home, I did a little experiment and compared some of the prices listed in Venezuela's Tecniciencia chain of bookstores with the primary bookseller of the empire and Satan himself, Amazon.

Here's a sample:

On Tecniciencia's website, a copy of Mario Vargas Llosa's "Travesuras de la Niña Mala" will set you back 45,000 bolívars, roughly US$21.42 at the fixed rate. I'm not sure this includes the Value-added tax or not, but let's be conservative and assume it does.

The same book on Amazon costs you $13.57.

Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" sells for Bs. 55,000 ($26.19) in Venezuela, and for US$7.99 in the US.

Laura Restrepo's "Dulce Compañía"? Bs. 40,000 ($19.04) in Venezuela; $10.62 in the US.
Laura Esquivel's "Malinche"? Bs. 50,000 ($23.80) in Venezuela, $15.61 in the US.
J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"? Bs. 24,500 ($11.66) in Venezuela, $8.99 in the US.
Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Teheran"? Bs. 58.000 ($27.62) in Venezuela, $9.72 in the US.

Now, dear reader, I realize you are entitled to be skeptical about this back-of-the-envelope comparison. What about Venezuelan authors?

Federico Vegas' wonderful must-read "Falke" (another post on this some other time) sells for Bs. 55,000 ($26.19). I couldn't find a price quote overseas, but Vegas' "Venezuelan Vernacular" goes for $11.95 in Burbank, CA (according to Abebooks) so the price for Falke probably won't be that far off.

Chavista intellectual and author Luis Britto García's "Por los signos de los signos", published by our very own state publisher Monteávila Editores, sells for a healthy Bs. 30,000 on Tecniciencia, or $14.28. Perhaps Bolivians will get to read Britto García for free - and in the process find out what a piece-of-crap author he is.

In fact, one of the few instances I found of books being cheaper in Venezuela was über-communist (and anti-chavista) author Domingo Alberto Rangel's "Gómez, el amo del poder". This book sells for a modest Bs. 20,000 ($9.52) at Tecniciencia. The same book is not listed in Amazon, but according to Abebooks, you can get a copy in Llibres de Companyia in trendy Barcelona, Spain, for a mere US$11.86. At least there appears to be some consistency to Rangel's values. Perhaps chavistas would do well buying the book, sitting at a café in the ramblas, buying themselves a Café Latte or some churros con chocolate and railing against capitalism when compared to chavista altruism. In the process, they should try and learn some communism from people who actually try to practice it.

You see, you can't go around telling people you believe books should be available to all when your own country's tax policy prevents all but the rich from affording books.

This, of course, is by no means a scientific study on the Venezuelan books market. It is a simple gimmick to llustrate the hypocrisy in giving away books in Bolivia while heavily taxing them at home. It's the world upside down, but if you are gullible enough to believe official propaganda, it's the dawn of the new man.