Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

The last time the Cuban government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019

Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

  • The last time the government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s
  • Cuba is facing difficulties once again, with President Donald determined to tighten US’s six-decade trade embargo

HAVANA: The newsprint shortages which forced Cuba’s Communist daily to run a trimmed-down edition on Friday would pass off as a simple supply glitch in most other countries, but in Havana they carry chilling memories of the not-so-distant past.
The last time the government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s, when Fidel Castro ushered in a “Special Period” of drastic belt-tightening in the wake of the collapse of his main sponsor, the Soviet Union.
Today, the Caribbean state is facing difficulties once again, with US President Donald Trump — who has lashed out at Cuba for its support of Venezuela’s socialist regime — determined to tighten Washington’s six-decade trade embargo.
Meager growth of 1.2 percent is not enough to cover the needs of an island nation that imports 80 percent of what it eats.
Amid shortages, the government is being forced to ration basics like flour, cooking oil and chicken, leading to long lines outside stores.
Tania, a 49-year-old nurse, has come to buy rice at a Havana grocery store but she’s going away empty-handed.
“It’s like that with everything. Sometimes you look for a product and you can find it in one place, then you go somewhere else and you can’t get it,” she said, summing up the average Cuban’s daily struggle to fill their shopping basket.
“What’s happening now doesn’t look like the Special Period, because at that time it was really a disaster,” she said.
Suddenly deprived of its big brother in Moscow — responsible for 85 percent of Havana’s foreign trade — the economy on the Caribbean archipelago ground to a standstill as it struggled to absorb the shock of Soviet collapse in the early 1990s.
Cubans suffered shortages of food and fuel and the emergence of diseases linked to malnutrition. Thousands fled, if they could.
For long since, the country has relied on medical and teaching services supplied to countries like Brazil and, in particular, Venezuela, in return for cheap oil imports. But trade with Caracas has plummeted as sanctions-struck Venezuela’s economic crisis deepens.
Tourism has been a bright spot but that has suffered after hurricane damage and a new US sanctions squeeze.
“For three years, Cuba has been trying to offset the impact of the slump in trade with Venezuela and the rise in tourism, private activity and foreign investment projects have helped cushion the economic shock,” said Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Javeriana University in Colombia.
“But the measures and threats of the Trump administration are posing obstacles to these three factors that have helped keep the economy afloat.”
Cuba recently defaulted on a portion of its debt to Brazil, a big supplier of poultry.
At the end of 2018, Havana had accumulated short-term debt of $1.5 billion, according to former economy minister Jose Luis Rodriguez.
“There is a level of debt that we will not be able to pay (in 2019) and that’s affecting the smooth running of the economy,” the current portfolio-holder Alejandro Gil said.
In Havana, 90-year-old Leandro Lopez has seen it all before and isn’t overly concerned, expressing confidence in President Miguel Diaz-Canel — elected in 2018, the first of a new breed of leaders born after the revolution.
“Diaz-Canel is trying to strengthen the economy so where he can reduce costs, we reduce them, so much the better. I do not think it will hurt the news.”
The cuts, announced on Thursday, saw Friday’s edition of the mouthpiece Granma daily slashed from 16 pages to a pamphlet-thin eight.
The measure will mean drastically shortened editions twice a week and also affect other publications.
“Yes, there are shortages, long lines, especially for chicken, soap, these kinds of things,” said Nelson Flores, turning away from a long line of shoppers waiting to buy poultry.
So far, the crisis has spared the sacrosanct “libreta” — the ration book which entitles Cubans to buy basics like rice, beans and bread at subsidized prices, though in insufficient quantities to last a month.
Worryingly, the tourist industry is beginning to feel the pinch. A hotel manager in one of the outlying island beach paradises said that tourists on all-inclusive holiday packages were unhappy about a lack of eggs, fruit and bread.


Palestinian journalists protest wounding of colleague

Updated 17 November 2019

Palestinian journalists protest wounding of colleague

  • Muath Amarneh has been in an Israeli hospital since he was hit in the eye Friday during clashes
  • Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied Sunday with one eye covered in solidarity

JERUSALEM: “The eyes of truth will never be blinded,” protesters’ placards read, as Palestinian journalists wore eye patches Sunday to decry the wounding of a colleague in the occupied West Bank.
Muath Amarneh has been in an Israeli hospital since he was hit in the eye Friday during clashes between Israeli border police and Palestinian demonstrators in the village of Surif, close to Hebron in the southern West Bank.
Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied Sunday — protesting with one eye covered in solidarity.
Amarneh, who is being treated in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, said he was some way from the protesters when he was hit by what he believes was Israeli fire.
“After the clashes started, I was standing to the side wearing a flak jacket with press markings and a helmet,” the freelance cameraman told AFP on Sunday.
“Suddenly I felt something hit my eye, I thought it was a rubber bullet or a stone. I put my hand to my eye and found nothing.”
“I couldn’t see and my eye was completely gone.”
He said doctors at the hospital told him a fragment of metal, about 2 centimeters long, pierced the eye and settled behind it near the brain.
Amarneh’s cousin Tareq, accompanying him in hospital, said doctors planned to extract the metal but changed their minds after discovering they could also damage the right eye or even trigger bleeding in the brain.
A spokesman for the Israeli police denied that the photographer was targeted, saying fire was “not directed at all” toward him.
“The security forces operated in the area in front of dozens of rioters, some of them masked, who threw stones at officers and burned tires,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“The response by the forces was using non-lethal means in order to disperse the rioters.”
Amarneh, who comes from the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, claimed he was targeted as a journalist.
“There is an unnatural and ugly targeting of journalists,” the father-of-two said.
Since the incident Palestinian journalists have launched a campaign, with protests in several cities in the West Bank.
In Bethlehem Sunday, border police dispersed a sit-in by journalists at the checkpoint north of the city, an AFP journalist said.
Demonstrators wore eye patches and held signs aloft.
Tear gas cannisters were fired by the border police, the journalist said.
Seven people were lightly wounded, according to Palestinian health officials.
In the city of Tulkarem, about 250 journalists took part in a sit-in to show solidarity, according to journalists present.
A video and photos of Amarneh spread immediately after his injury, with journalists trying to carry him with blood flowing from his left eye.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate says 60 journalists have been hit by live ammunition this year, the majority in Gaza — an enclave where violent weekly protests along the border often lead to dozens of demonstrators being wounded.