Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Argentina Government Bans Import of Books - Yes, the kind made from paper

            Last week, Argentina “banned” the import of books from foreign countries.  The new law is designed to protect citizens from lead poisoning. Apparently, there may be a small percentage of lead in the ink used to print books, and the government believes that this poses a significant health risk. Huh?

            The Argentine government assures its citizens that there is no real ban on books. Readers are welcome to order books from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any other book-seller in the world. Unfortunately, in order to take possession of a book that was ordered, the buyer has to show up at the local customs office and prove to a customs official that there is less than 0.006% of lead in the chemical makeup of the ink before he or she can take the book home. I’m not sure exactly how to check the chemical composition of the ink on pages in a book, or if it can be done without rendering the book unreadable, but I guess that’s the buyer’s – and not the government’s – problem. Sorry, but placing impossible restrictions on the purchase of a book reads like a ban to me.

            I’m also not buying the whole “lead in books poses a significant health risk” reason for the law. I have never heard of death-by-reading. I have never gotten lead poisoning despite reading three or four books a week for my entire life. I have had nasty paper cuts, and once I dropped the final volume of Harry Potter on my foot and had to limp about for a few days, but lead poisoning? Um…no.

There are a couple of reasons why Argentina might want to ban the purchase of foreign books, though. Foreign purchases send Argentinean dollars out of Argentina. In a faltering economy, persuading citizens to purchase local products is a good idea. However, “persuading” and “banning” are two entirely different concepts.

The final reason brings to mind Fahrenheit 451. While the idea smacks of conspiracy theory, it is possible that the government of Argentina is making an attempt to control its citizens by not allowing them to read anything that isn’t published in Argentina. However, since paper books are definitely taking a back seat to electronic readers these days, this probably isn’t a very effective way of keeping Argentinean citizens from reading foreign authors and “getting ideas” that the government doesn’t want them to have.

It remains to be seen what Argentina’s real purpose is in enacting this law. If the government starts regulating the internet, we’ll have a pretty good idea, won’t we?

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