Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Venezuela Blames Hoarders for Newsprint Shortage

The Venezuelan government appears to be dealing with a shortage of newsprint in much the same way that it has dealt with food and basic good shortages: by accusing businesses of hoarding products in order to create scarcity.

Venezuelan print media are facing a historic shortage of newsprint, which has forced a number of papers in the country to drop circulation and scale back their content.  According to the Associated Press, the editors of the country’s two largest papers -- El Nacional and El Universal -- say they have only enough paper reserves to continue publishing for the next month and six weeks, respectively

Because the country does not produce newsprint, most of it is purchased from Canada and the United States by import companies or the newspapers themselves. However, strict currency controls mean that obtaining dollars from the state to buy that paper can take months. Print media, especially the opposition-aligned El Nacional and El Universal, have claimed that this is evidence of a conscious attempt by authorities to stifle criticism of the government.

The situation newsprint has earned the government criticism from local and international human rights and press freedom groups, as well as the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

Instead of responding with a solution to expedite the purchase of newsprint, however, the Venezuelan government has blamed the shortage on opportunistic hoarders. In a statement yesterday, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced that authorities had found 13,700 spools of newsprint laying untouched in a warehouse in the port city of La Guaira. “Who is buying this? Who brought it and why haven’t they taken it out of the port?” Cabello asked, insinuating that the private newspapers have been exaggerating the shortage for political benefit.

El Nacional, for its part, has denied purchasing the newsprint, insisting that it has not been allowed to acquire dollars from the government to buy paper since May 2013.

News Briefs
  • Noting a spate of recent attacks on businesses in Mexican states around Michoacan, the L.A. Times questions whether the federal government’s crackdown on the Knights Templar cartel there may have spread, in the latest manifestation of the so-called “cockroach effect.”
  • Animal Politico has a map detailing the presence of “self-defense” militias and Knights Templar affiliates in Michoacan, allegedly obtained from the vigilante groups. It suggests that militiamen have succeeded in establishing themselves in a west-east line across the state, cutting across Templar areas of influence in the south and north.
  • According to Colombia’s left-wing Marcha Patriotica, 29 of the rural campesino movement’s leaders have been killed in the country since it was founded in 2012, 12 of whom were allegedly killed by security forces. Colombian ex-Senator Piedad Cordoba, one of the movement’s most visible leaders, told journalists that some of its members were considering disbanding in the face of the violence, El Heraldo reports.
  • In an incisive column for El Espectador, Colombian legal scholar Cesar Rodriguez Garavito argues that the conflict over the removal of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro has given birth to new polarizing discourse in the country, one which challenges the legitimacy of the Colombian constitution. Rodriguez notes that Petro’s recent call for a constitutional assembly is eerily similar to demands to revise the constitution by Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez and other powerful conservatives. To him, this paves the way for “institutional sabotage” in Colombian politics, by which political minorities are able to set the agenda by effectively holding the entire system hostage.
  • Writing for the Financial Times, Havana-based journalist John Paul Rathbone claims that Cuba under Raul Castro has seen an impressive increase in political debate, which he chalks up to the lifting of a “state of fear” on the island. But while dissent is becoming less taboo, certain limits on criticism of the government remain. As Rathbone puts it, “Most Cubans want to be critical – but also keep their day job.”
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales is gearing up for a cabinet shakeup as he enters the final year of his second term in office, with all 20 of his cabinet ministers presenting letters of resignation to the president for his approval. La Razon reports that the president is unlikely to accept the resignation of his core team of eight ministers, which includes Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca and Economic Minister Luis Arce.
  • Following a Haitian judge’s recommendation that nine people -- including a former senator belonging to ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s political party -- be arrested for links to the 2000 murder of radio commentator Jean Leopold Dominique, an appellate court has yet to accept the findings.  The AP reports that the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has published a statement urging authorities to bring those responsible for the killing to justice.
  • In line with earlier remarks placing partial blame for the country’s insecurity on the media, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for the construction of a “new telecommunications culture” yesterday, El Universal reports. Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for his newly readjusted cabinet, the president said he would take advantage of the special decree powers granted to him by the National Assembly to pass tighter regulation on broadcast content.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has welcomed Maduro’s willingness to dialogue with his political foes about insecurity in the country, demonstrated by the handshake the two shared at a recent meeting on violence convened by the president. Still, Capriles told Reuters that he remains wary of Maduro’s motives, saying: “time will tell if this was for TV, just a photo opportunity, or if there really is an intent to unite the country and win the war on violence.”
  • In an interview with state-owned newspaper El Telegrafo, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has promised that he will not run for re-election when his term ends in 2017. “It is great harm for a person to be so essential that the Constitution may be changed to affect the game,” the president told the paper. The AP notes that the remark comes after Correa signaled in late 2013 that he was in favor of holding a referendum on amending the constitution to allow indefinite re-election

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