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School Book Ban Raises Censorship Concerns in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

Several university professors in Puerto Rico are protesting a decision to ban five books from the curriculum at public high schools in the U.S. territory because of coarse language.

The Spanish-language books previously were read as part of the 11th grade curriculum, but proofreaders this year alerted education officials about “coarse” slang, including references to genitalia in “Mejor te lo cuento: antologia personal,” by Juan Antonio Ramos.

Also among the banned books is the novel “Aura” by Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, one of Latin America’s most prominent contemporary writers. The other four authors affected are from Puerto Rico.

Magali Garcia Ramis, a communications professor at the University of Puerto Rico, expressed concern Saturday about how books are being evaluated by the island’s Department of Education.

“This kind of mentality rejects everything that is art and only associates sexuality with inappropriateness,” Garcia Ramis said.

Department of Education spokesman Alan Obrador could not be reached, and the Puerto Rico Teachers Association also was unavailable.

The island’s secretary of state, Kenneth McClintock, showed his support for screening books when he updated his Facebook status Saturday. He said he was “glad that Secretary of Education Chardon is taking a hard look at the rough vocabulary in some assigned-reading books!”

Silvia Alvarez Curbelo, another communications professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said so-called bad words have to be considered in their context.

She and other professors said the ban was reminiscent of censorship imposed by the Taliban, the extremist Islamic movement whose regime in Afghanistan once banned music, movies, TV and nearly all other forms of entertainment as part of their strict interpretation of Islamic laws, or Shariah.

“These kind of things happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban,” she said of the book ban.

Fuentes’s “Aura” includes a brief romantic encounter beneath a crucifix. It is a scene that prompted Mexico’s former interior secretary to try to have the book dropped from a reading list at his daughter’s private school, without success.

Fuentes said last year that the attempt boosted sales of the book.

The other banned books are “Antologia personal,” by Jose Luis Gonzalez; “El entierro de Cortijo,” by Edgardo Rodriguez Julia; and  “Reunion de espejos,” a compilation of essays by Jose Luis Vega.

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