Venezuela Newspapers Await Emergency Shipment of Paper from Colombia

Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Colombian media are making a special delivery to their friends in Venezuela’s struggling newspaper industry.

Andiarios, Colombia’s National Association of Newspaper Editors, is sending
52 tonnes of printing paper
to three Venezuelan dailies, which are currently running out of material to print their news on.

The emergency shipment, which Andiarios has described as a “loan”, will help Venezuelan newspapers El Nacional, El Impulso and El Nuevo Pais continue circulating for the next two weeks.

Andiarios is hoping that the trucks, which are currently waiting to go through customs procedures on the border between both countries, will eventualy be allowed into Venezuelan territory.

Over the past four months, six newspapers in Venezuela have had to shut down their print editions due to chronic printing paper shortages according to Venezuela’s Institute for Press and Society. These shutdowns limit the amount of news and opinion that Venezuelans can receive on their country’s escalating political crisis, and on protests against president Nicolas Maduro.

The printing paper trucks headed to Venezuela where decorated with banners that said “We are all Venezuela, without freedom of the press, there is no democracy.”

Venezuelan oppositon activists, wearing t-shirts with the #SOSVenezuela hashtag also took pictures next to the trucks, which were published on the website of El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper.

But Andiaros said that the printing paper delivery was not meant as an affront to Venezuela’s socialist government, which has been accused of blocking paper imports by newspapers in that country.

“We are not attempting for this to become an act of political defiance,” Andiaros president Jon Ruiz said.

“This is simply an act of solidarity of Colombian newspapers, with our Venezuelan colleagues.”

Three reporters from Colombian media are riding along with the trucks, and have tweeted that their entry into Venezuela was delayed by Venezuelan customs for several hours. But the trucks might still be able to go through.

WHY IS PRINTING PAPER A PROBLEM IN VENEZUELA?

Venezuela does not produce its own printing paper.

And currency controls in the country are so strict, that newspapers must get permission from the government to trade their local cash into US dollars, in order to buy printing paper from abroad.

Local newspaper editors, say the government is using the currency control system to block or delay printing paper imports, in a veiled attack against its media opponents.

And printing paper shortages already seem to be having a severe effect on the local newspaper business.

According to Espacio Publico, a Human Rights NGO, 9 newspapers in Venezuela have had to shut down due to paper shortages since August of last year, and another 17 have had to significantly reduce the size of their print editions.

Government officials acknowledge that printing paper shortages exist. But they say that there is no plot to starve newspapers of printing paper, arguing that due to the country’s economic problems, it is impossible for the government to quickly grant requests for U.S. dollars to all media companies.

But activists say there are reasons to believe that the government is cracking down on critical voices, and using exchange controls to supress freedom of speech.

Since 2007, Venezuela has shut down more than 30 radio stations, claiming that they did not fulfill legal requirements. Many of these radio stations aired programs critical of the Venezuelan government.

RCTV, a major TV channel that was also critical of the government was not granted a new broadcast license in 2007, and was then forced off local cable operators by government regulators.

Several channels toned down their criticism of the government since the RCTV shut-down, including privately run outlets like Televen and Venevision, which has one of the largest audiences in Venezuela.

Globovision, the only news channel that was openly critical of the government, was sold to a businessman with government ties after a series of hefty fines imposed on the channel by Venezuela’s National Telecoms Commission made it an unprofitable operation. The channel no longer broadcasts political rallies and protests held by Venezuela’s opposition, and fired several news anchors who were critical of the country’s government.

Some activists in Venezuela see the internet and the press as the last bastions of free speech in that country. They fear that if printing paper shortages continue, major newspapers like El Nacional, could also go out of business, or simply take the Globovision route.