Global Report

Venezuela: A different kind of newspaper crisis

Lots of readers, no paper

A man reads a newspaper that headlines US President Barack Obama's reelection on November 7, 2012 in Caracas (Photo: Juan Barreto/Getty)

A man reads a newspaper that headlines US President Barack Obama’s reelection on November 7, 2012 in Caracas (Photo: Juan Barreto/Getty)

In contrast to their struggling North American counterparts, Venezuelan newspapers still enjoy wide and devoted readerships and a lively advertising market. But the country’s otherwise healthy newspaper industry is now being threatened by a much more basic problem: there’s just not enough newsprint available to publish on.

At least five regional Venezuelan newspapers have been forced to temporarily cease print operations due to the shortage. Others have reported concerns about imminent shutdowns.

“The shortage has been several months in the making,” says Briceida Morales Alburjas, investigative journalism unit co-ordinator of the Caracas-based Institute for Press and Society.

Most Venezuelan newsprint is imported from Chile and Canada. The trouble is that newspaper companies can’t simply buy more; protective currency controls, originally enacted under Hugo Chavez’s regime, mean they must secure government-issued certificates allowing them to buy imported goods in dollars (at an exchange rate higher than the standard 6.3 bolivars to the dollar). Nicolás Maduro’s new government has slashed the number of certificates available.

It’s not the first time Venezuelans have had to contend with supply shortages at the hands of bureaucratic paralysis. Earlier this year, the country was faced with a shortage of both powdered milk and toilet paper.

“We’ve always kept a newsprint reserve, but we’re being more cautious all around,” says Mario Peláez, editor-in-chief of El Caribazo, based in the northern state of Nueva Esparta. He reports that other papers are conserving newsprint by focusing on their digital editions and restricting their pages per issue, in addition to reducing the total number of copies they print.

In the meantime, newspapers are doing what they can to stay afloat. “We’re constantly on the lookout for paper,” says Peláez. “When we see it, we buy it.”