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.


Al Jazeera continues to ‘provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists’

Updated 26 May 2020

Al Jazeera continues to ‘provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists’

  • Qatar-based media network has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric

LONDON: Al Jazeera’s recent interview with terrorist-designated group Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as its podcast glorifying killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has stirred the ongoing debate surrounding the network’s alleged promotion of terrorism.

The exposure given to the controversial figures has prompted experts into stating that the station and news site continue to provide extremists with a platform to present themselves on.

“The fact that Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic continues to provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists, including terrorists, obviously undermines the Qatari government’s claim to be a steady force for tolerance and coexistence,” Washington director for international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, David Weinberg, told Arab News.

The station’s interview with Haniyeh served as a stage to threaten Israel with the fact that Hamas was still capable of kidnapping more Israeli soldiers, while the podcast allowed the Soleimani character a free rein to explain his support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and why he helped Syrian President Bashar Assad massacre his own people.

These were not the only controversies the network found itself embroiled in this month.

Last week, Al Jazeera’s Arabic news site carried a headline reading, “Martyr shot by Occupation forces in the West Bank for being accused of trying to run over soldiers,” to report on a Palestinian man who was shot while attempting to ram into Israeli soldiers with his car.

“Every time Al Jazeera calls somebody — anybody — a martyr, it violates the journalistic ethic of impartiality. What makes it much, much worse is that Al Jazeera consistently uses the term martyr to glorify terrorists, provided the civilians those violent extremists are trying to murder happen to be Israeli Jews,” Weinberg said.

“Encouraging slaughter of this sort does nobody any favors, not Palestinians or Israelis, neither Jews nor Arabs.”

“Al-Qaeda in Syria? Flattered by Al Jazeera. The Taliban? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Iranian proxies like Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Al-Qaeda financier Muthanna Al-Dhari? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Media practices like these are unacceptable, immoral, and bad for people of all faiths and all nations,” he added.

Al Jazeera has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Last year, its youth channel AJ+ Arabic drew widespread condemnation over an alleged Holocaust denial video that claimed Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide in order to establish Israel.

The chairman of UK nonprofit organization Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, Ghanem Nuseibeh, told Arab News: “Al Jazeera has a direct editorial input from the Diwan in Doha (the sovereign body and administrative office of the Emir of Qatar), with the Arabic channel focused on promoting the extremist ideological discourse. This is their core constituency.

“It is particularly troubling that Al Jazeera Arabic website still to this day continues to host articles and videos of interviews by proscribed groups in the UK such as Al-MuHajjiroun, and freely accessible in the UK,” he added.

Earlier this month, a Shariah expert from the Qatari Ministry of Religious Endowments advocated the beating of women in an interview on the network, stating that they “need to be subdued by muscles.” And this was not the first time.

The station has also broadcasted a religious program hosted by extremist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. Al-Qaradawi, an outspoken Hamas loyalist who was featured in Arab News’ “Preachers of Hate” series, issues fatwas riddled with comments advocating suicide bomb attacks and praises to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler for “punishing the Jews,” on Al Jazeera’s media platforms.

“Al Jazeera’s motto is, ‘the opinion and the other opinion,’ but when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s bigots and violent extremists, Al Jazeera Arabic still just presents one opinion, giving ikhwani (brotherhood) intolerance an unquestioning platform for broadcasting into millions of homes around the world,” Weinberg said.

The media network has also been called a “useful tool” for Qatar’s ruling elite notorious for their sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist and extremist groups. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in order to pressure it to halt its alleged terrorism financing and shut down the network.

US Embassy cables acquired by UK newspaper The Guardian in 2009 proved just how interconnected the Qatari government and Al Jazeera are.

“Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters … Despite (the government of Qatar’s) protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools,” the cable read.

Al Jazeera tangoes with terrorism

Favoring Daesh

• Do you support the Daesh group’s victories in Iraq and Syria?

• More than 54,000 people voted on the official page of ‘Opposite Direction.’ 81.6 percent voted ‘Yes,’ while 18.4 percent voted ‘No.’

Sectarian discourse 

• Al-Qassim said: ‘Why do you blame the regime? I want to ask you. Al-Nubl and Al-Zahraa are Shiite colonies in the heart of Sunni land. Kafarayah and Fu’aa are still living among you. Why don’t you expel them out as they did to you and curse the ones who gave birth to them?’

Party for a terrorist 

• Al Jazeera host: ‘Brother Samir, we would like to celebrate your birthday with you. You deserve even more than this. I think that 11,000 prisoners – if they can see this program now – are celebrating your birthday with you. Happy birthday, brother Samir.’

Al-Julani interview

• Interviewer: ‘What was the strategy of Al-Qaeda’s Sheikh Osama bin Laden?’

• Al-Julani: ‘He wanted to fight the Americans on their own turf, and that way to drag them into Afghanistan – because we were unable to send armies to (the United States). Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s goal in fighting the Americans was not to put an end to the American presence…’

Boosting terrorism

• ’We call upon the Islamic nation to rise up, and not make do with a futile economic boycott, in the face of this affront to our honorable Prophet. We call upon them to drive out the Danish embassies and ambassadors from the lands of the Muslims, and to expel them from the Muslim countries. They should take serious and immediate action to burn down the offices of the newspapers that affronted our Prophet, and to bomb them, so that body parts go flying, and with these body parts, Allah Almighty will quench the believers’ thirst for revenge.’