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Venezuela's press faces closures as newsprint runs out

Sept. 12, 2013 at 6:17 PM   |   Comments

CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- A chronic newsprint shortage is causing premature demise of regional newspapers in Venezuela and forcing many news media outlets to leap toward digital publishing.

Publishers blamed bureaucratic red tape in the government of President Nicolas Maduro for preventing early release of foreign currency for newsprint imports.

Critics said at least some of the shortages might be deliberately engineered to control newspapers that have been critical of Maduro and, before him, former President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March.

Shortages have in the past forced many newspapers out of business, including some that were frequently critical of Chavez's populist government style. Maduro has faced similar criticism.

Oil-rich Venezuela is in recession for a third consecutive year despite repeated government pledges economic recovery will soon begin. Central Bank data this week put the annual inflation rate at 45.4 percent, based on August figures.

The inflation is rated by Central Bank analysts as the highest in five years and the highest in the region.

A recent drop in Venezuela's consumer price index hasn't allayed popular fears about the economic and social impact of the country's inflationary spiral.

Author and Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, in an interview, denounced Venezuela's troubles as "a total disaster, a real chaos; where demagogy, corruption, and violence abound."

Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian, spoke at the international launch of his latest book, "El heroe discreto (The discreet hero)", Venezuela's El Universal newspaper reported.

The Organization of American States has served notice on Caracas that OAS, which has headquarters in Washington, will watch Maduro's performance closely, as it should, it argues, because Venezuela is an OAS member.

Vargas Llosa says he's worried Maduro is struggling to carry on Chavez's "messianic idea" -- a reference to the populist Bolivarian Revolution project -- with unimpressive results while the rest of Latin America seems to be improving.

He called Venezuela "tragic" and "a negative exception" to an optimistic outlook for Latin America.

"I'm afraid that Venezuela is rather the exception to the rule," Vargas Llosa said. "Nowadays, there are more countries in Latin America where democracy is developing, featuring modern economic policies which are leading to progress and development."

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the government was carrying on with political rallies and marches while the nation faced galloping inflation and urban violence, one of the highest rates in the world.

Analysts say high government spending and little action on removing shortages is to blame for Venezuela's current problems. The Chavez administration lavished gifts on loyalist voters last year before the late president won a new term, which he could not complete. Maduro took over as interim president and in April won a hurriedly called election by a narrow margin against Capriles.

Six months on, the government has struggled to remove shortages despite maintaining a steady income from crude oil exports.

More than half the country's print media outlets may be within weeks of being silenced, news media reported. Publishers say a switch to digital and online publishing will not work as Venezuelans' access to smart phones remains limited because of the country's economic problems.

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