Venezuelan journalists protest as paper shortage hits newspapers, causing some closures

CARACAS, Venezuela – Journalists and journalism students protested on one of Caracas’ avenues Tuesday to demand that the government auction off dollars to allow newspapers to buy newsprint after nine regional dailies shut down and some of the main media chains are experiencing difficulties.

About a hundred reporters and students protested in front of the National Center for Foreign Trade, which sells currency. “The press is in agony, help Venezuela,” they shouted.

Miguel Henrique Otero, editor-in-chief of El Nacional, one of Venezuela’s largest circulation dailies, recently said that the newspaper had only enough paper reserves to last until February.

Many journalists have accused authorities of wanting a newsprint shortage to silence newspapers, which provide one of the last bastions for criticism of the leftist government after a crackdown on broadcasters in recent years. Officials deny that, and have questioned if newspapers are hoarding paper as part of what they call the political opposition’s “economic war” to destabilize the government.

“There is an emergency situation that must be resolved immediately,” Marco Ruiz, secretary general of the National Press Workers Syndicate, said Tuesday.

He said several major papers are in danger or shutting down in the coming weeks.

The newspapers El Impulso and Correo de Caroni have paper only for this week, according to their directors. El Sol de Maturin, Antorcha, Caribe, La Hora and Version stopped operating in August 2013, and El Guayanes and El Expreso closed earlier this month.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” said journalist Pedro Ramirez, who runs the Antorcha’s website, the one part of the newspaper that still sends out news.

A good part of Latin America’s newspapers import paper from Canada. But such purchases require dollars and the Venezuelan government has restricted access to dollars for 11 years.

Ruiz said authorities have promised to provide him with information on the issue in the coming days.

He said that if authorities don’t give an adequate response, journalists will hold more street protests in front of government buildings.