During a ceremony marking the first official visit of American publishers to the 25-year-old Havana Book Fair, representatives of Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cuban Book Institute. The pact sees to it that the parties continue to promote "cooperation and understanding" between the U.S. and Cuban publishing industries.

The memorandum was announced by Zuleica Romay Guerra, president of Instituto Cubano Del Libro--the Book Institute of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, and the organizer of the Havana Book Fair--at the first of two days of professional panels on the Cuban and U.S book markets organized by Publishers Weekly, PubMatch, and Combined Book Exhibit.

The agreement supports a continuing American exhibition presence at the Havana Book Fair, while laying the groundwork to bring Cuban publishers and books to the 2016 BookExpo America. The pact also emphasizes the importance of continuing to organize panels and educational programs.

The agreement was signed by Cevin Bryerman, executive v-p and publisher of Publishers Weekly; Jon Malinowski, president of Combined Book Exhibit; and Guerra. The signing ceremony took place at the San Carlos de La Cabana Fortress in Havana, a historic 16th century fortress which also serves as the site of the Havana Book Fair

Guerra, in a presentation during one of three panels about Cuba and its publishing industry, was both optimistic and candid in her assessment of the challenges facing the country's book industry. As Cuba's publishing industry begins to emerge from the isolation of the long-running U.S. trade embargo, she said the country is facing drastic change. "Cuba is going through a crisis," she explained. "We have done things one way...but the dynamics of Cuba are changing and we need to act differently if we are to continue our publishing system." And part of "acting differently," Guerra went on, is learning how to publish books that the Cuban public wants to read.

Addressing the importance of the pact, Guerra said Cuban publishers are looking to both learn from the U.S. market--seeing how it operates--and get into it. "In particular we are interested in the vast Spanish speaking market in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, a country that we are close to because of language and custom." She then added: "We want Cuban classics translated into English. We want the best of American literature, and best of Cuban literature, to be visible and known in the U.S."

Helping to lay the groundwork for the pact was the trip PW organized, the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba. It allowed 40 American publishers to exhibit at the Havana Book Fair and for a handful of U.S. industry members--publishers, authors, literary agents and distributors--to attend the Havana Book Fair and educational sessions on the Cuban publishing industry.

The pact also commits PW, Combined Book Exhibit and the Cuban Book Institute to work to maintain an American presence at the Havana Book Fair. It also calls for the establishment of an exhibition of Cuban books and publishers in the U.S.

"Eventually the Cuban market is going to open up," Bryerman said. "So getting publishers from both countries together will facilitate ideas that lead to new publishing partnerships." Malinowski added that the pact is laying the groundwork to access to a market that has been closed for 60 years.