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Venezuelan newsprint shortage halts regional paper

Thursday - 10/31/2013, 4:50pm  ET

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- A pro-government newspaper from Hugo Chavez's home state is the latest Venezuelan broadsheet to halt its presses as a shortage of newsprint has the government scrambling to guarantee supplies.

"There's no newsprint!!" read the front-page headline in Monday's printed edition of De Frente, when the Barinas-based paper informed readers it would only resume printing once it obtained supplies. The paper returned to newsstands on Thursday, but the publisher says it only has enough inventories to guarantee publication for another week.

"The crisis is far from over," said Elvis Ramirez, news editor of the publication, which generally aligns itself with the government.

De Frente is the fifth regional newspaper to stop printing since July as 50 percent inflation and restrictions on dollar purchases to stave off devaluation makes it difficult to import paper and other basic supplies. Even better-financed national publications have been forced to reduce page count and the number of copies sold at newsstands as the bolivar currency slides to a record low on the black market.

De Frente, with a daily circulation of about 5,000 copies, stayed afloat in recent months by collecting unpaid bills from other publications in the form of newsprint, Ramirez said. Still, the situation turned critical three weeks ago when the 29-year-old paper had to eliminate its weekend editions.

Venezuela's largest association of journalists accuses the government of trying to censor newspapers, one of the last bastions of government criticism after a crackdown on radio and TV stations in recent years that gave airtime to the opposition.

The government denies its policies are strangling press freedom, and has instead launched probes into larger papers favored by the opposition for hoarding supplies as part of an "economic war" to destabilize the government. It said Wednesday it would supply 5,000 metric tons of newsprint for 83 regional papers, enough to guarantee circulation until March.


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