When Carlos Noguera took over the presidency of the Monte Ávila publishing company in 2003, he faced an organization in a state of “intensive therapy.” Founded in 1968 as one of several cultural projects sponsored by the government as Venezuela entered an oil boom, the company had seen its revenue dwindle during the country’s economic troubles of the 1980s and 1990s.
Yet Monte Ávila retained its status as one of the country’s most acclaimed publishing houses, and the Minister of Education, Aristóbulo Istúriz, indicated that for this reason, the company needed to continue.
“He told me, ‘I’m not going to let Monte Ávila go under. Not under my watch. This company is too important,’” Noguera said. “My function was, first, to maintain the tradition that Monte Ávila had represented, the prestige that it had gained in the hearts of readers nationally and internationally. And after that, to fit that tradition within the new realities that we’ve been living in since 1998.”
With Istúriz’s support allowing for slight increases in the operating budget, Noguera began to move forward.
Financially, he focused on three immediate goals: canceling labor liabilities, which had built up for several years, clearing all remaining debts with suppliers, and honoring the company’s commitment to giving its authors royalties of 10 percent.
At the same time, he moved to publish books that reflected the new political scene emerging in Venezuela and Latin America. A recent collection, Milenio Libre, focuses on “the transformative tradition that existed very sparingly in the previous Monte Ávila.”
Through another collection, titled Warairarepano, after the indigenous name for Caracas’ Ávila Mountain, the company attempts to recognize the traditions of native cultures.
“We created this collection adhering to the constitution,” Noguera said. “We’re a country that is constitutionally pluri-cultural, multi-lingual. There had never been a collection that focused on any of the other traditions, myths, and legends told orally by distinct communities.”
Each book in the series, illustrated and written for children, features two languages – Spanish and the language of the corresponding indigenous group. Created “with the direct support of the original communities,” the books, which are available for less than $10 USD, contain information on each group and a disk of the story being read in each language.
“What is the population of our indigenous people? Around three to four percent,” Noguera said. “Many of the wayú don’t speak their language, and other peoples, such as the añú, at one point just one speaker. Of its three thousand people, they had one speaker of their original language. And we still published our book in the language. Why did we publish a book just for one person? Exactly because of that.”
Noguera explained that the outreach to indigenous groups is part of a combined effort by several government institutions to promote different forms of culture. To that extent, they have facilitated the creation of “cultural stores,” through which individual families market their paintings, books, hammocks, musical instruments, and small crafts.
Though Monte Ávila was recognized from the beginning for its “consideration of the reader,” Noguera pointed to late president Hugo Chávez’s emphasis on reading as a catalyst for making the company more visible.
“He dedicated much time to his weekly television show [Aló Presidente] for discussing books. He always brought at least one book with him. Sometimes he mentioned a certain book that wasn’t previously available in Veneuzuela, and he would suggest that we look into distributing it,” he said.
While Monte Ávila retains close contact with the Minister of Culture, Noguera emphasized that the company avoids only representing the government’s perspective. In 2005, two years into his presidency, he received criticism from certain sectors of chavismo after publishing the books of several authors from Venezuela’s opposition.
“If you only publish books that have to do with one point of view, from the government, naturally they become propaganda,” he said. “We recognize that. We’ve made an effort to publish collections from the political left specifically because these were excluded from the previous Monte Ávila. And the fact is this goes both ways. I have friends who published with Monte Avila during the Fourth Republic who refuse to publish with us now because they identify with the opposition.”
A renowned author and poet, Noguera publishes his writings through other companies to avoid partiality. His corner office, located in Caracas’ capitolio district, looks out upon the National Assembly, the city’s barrios and high-rise apartment buildings, and the Ávila mountains – a jumbled representation of the diversity that Noguera aims to embody.
“We have the opportunity now to pay a debt that Monte Avila maintained with its international and Venezuelan readers,” he said. “The debt of political thought and of history, of offering the tradition of the left, the traditions of indigenous cultures which existed very sparingly in the previous Monte Avila. We’re continuing the historic mission and tradition of Monte Avila while adding certain elements, like these.”