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ARGENTINA | 26-04-2019 19:50

Protest overshadow inauguration as Buenos Aires Book Fair kicks off

45th edition of Buenos Aires International Book Fair began Thursday, with opening speeches from Culture Secretary Pablo Avelluto and international feminist scholar Rita Segato.

A group of protestors had waited patiently, harbouring both hidden posters and hidden angst. All building up to the perfect moment, when suddenly the calm of the invite-only International Book Fair inaugural event was violently disrupted.  

What started as a small herd of angry protestors quickly grew and soon the room was rattled by the yelling of audience members and the pounding of protestors fists on the doors of the auditorium.

Recalling a similar protest at the inauguration of last year’s fair, National Culture Secretary Pablo Avelluto, found himself once again overpowered by a cacophony of protestors, as soon as he began speaking. 

“I will not stop talking,” said Avelluto, responding to the mix of chanting, clapping, and whistling that was being produced by the audience in an attempt to drown out his speech.

According to initial reports from Infobae, the protesters who infiltrated the inauguration of the 45th edition of the annual literary event were a group of teachers. Among their demands, which could be read from the small flyers they threw into the audience, were “the recognition and formalisation of the Bachilleratos Populares” (community/technical colleges) and “the recognition of the professors of popular education.”

Attempting to calm the rowdy audience, María Teresa Carbano –  the president of Fundación El Libro, the organiser behind the event, who had already spoken – briefly reclaimed the stage in the middle of Avelluto’s disrupted speech. But in a week marred by economic instability, there was little that could be done to quiet the crowd from displaying their anger towards a high-level representative of the Macri administration.

Carbano, who was the first speaker of the night, herself acknowledged the impact of the economic crisis, noting its impact on Argentina’s publishing industry, saying in her speech that while in 2015, 83 million books had been printed, by 2018 this number had dropped to only 43 million. The first quarter of 2019 has already been the worst first quarter for the publishing industry in the last five years, she added.

But along with pointing out the clouds on the horizon, Carbano also encouraged audience members to view the book fair as “a way to strengthen our cultural identity and our creative capacity.”

Just outside of the Jorge Luis Borges building that housed the inaugural event, a large crowd of people had gathered on the grass to sit and watch the inauguration, which was being live-streamed on a large screen that had been propped up near the building’s entrance.

“To me it seemed like something very good,” said Martina López, 21, in reference to the protest.

“We both study at the University of Buenos Aires and that education is free, and that’s why I believe that we are very near to the situation,” added Rocío Lago, 20.

“We are talking about books and the access to information, but we don’t let people fight for their right to be educated,” said Lago.

“It doesn’t make sense, it’s not logical,” added López.  

Although supportive of the protest that had broken out during Avelluto’s speech, both of the young women said that they had come to the inauguration to listen to the main speaker of the night, Rita Segato.

Welcomed by a series of supportive chants, Segato, an international scholar and highly respected Latin American feminist, took the stage after the 20 or so minute raucous that had characterized Avelluto’s hardly audible inaugural address.

During her speech, Segato covered a myriad of topics stemming from the impact that the most recent dictatorship had on the publishing industry, the imperial nature of the North, and the necessity of a radically pluralistic world.

Having warned earlier that the Ni Una Menos movement should not be confused with the #MeToo movement, Segato concluded her speech by once more shouting out “Ni Una Menos,” a declaration which she met with a hearty applause.

The night ended with each of the six speakers standing together, Avelluto in the middle, and the cutting the ceremonial light blue ribbon, marking the official start of the 45th International Book Fair of Buenos Aires, which will run at the La Rural convention center in Palermo until May 13, 2019.

Information about tickets and entry to the 2019 Buenos Aires International Book Fair can be found, in Spanish and English, on the event’s website: www.el-libro.org.ar.

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Madeline Lyskawa

Madeline Lyskawa

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