Books. readings and education have always moved along together, intuitively and actually the growth of a nation’s level of alphabetization relies on the diffusion of press and books, quite as much as schools. Nevertheless sometimes, the fascination of books and learning improvement may take unusual turn.
Thanks to the innovative idea of a Cuban public librarian Saturnino Martinez in late 1800 public readings of literature classics to the employees started within the premises of a cigar manufacturer “El Figaro” in Havana. It was 1865 then, and over two thirds of the population could not read or write. Martinez was born in the North of Spain – Asturias – and once in Cuba, profiting of his experience and acquaintances in his mother-land labour movement proved to be very active among his Cuban co-workers. He also founded the first Cuban labour newspaper “La Aurora”, who had a successful circulation within the cigar-factories workmen, denouncing the bad working conditions and the great ignorance into which the personnel was held. Martinez was also the founder of the first Cuban Trade Union: “La Asociación de Tabaqueros de Habana” established in 1866. Unfortunately he was deported to Spain because of publishing on his periodico “La Union” articles manifesting his favour towards the First International. However the movement spread over the country and by the end of 1880 workers were grouped in unions to fight for their rights.
This genial project of reading to the workers while they were performing their duties was so successful that soon spread over the other cigar-makers and still now is diffused in many other countries of Central America. Even Victor Hugo was so highly pleased to apprehend that his heroes and plots were read to the cigareros in Cuba that sent an appreciation letter which was punctually read by the same Cuban reader who usually impersonated Jean Valjean or Dumas Edmond Dantès.
In the old days the workers were supposed to choose the novels they wanted to listen to (as they did pay the reader), although apparently the employers tried often to censure some readings which could arouse independence or unionist sentiments, until in 1867 the Government suppressed this highly “dangerous” practice…, which later was recovered. Nowadays the public readers are civil servants, and their readings are limited to those allowed.
Thus this is partly how education spread over during its hard times and also the reason why some of the most famous cigars are named after Byron, Romeo and Montecristo…