Venezuelan Government Blames “Import Mafias” for Alleged Paper Shortage

International and local private media have accused the Venezuelan government of infringing “freedom of expression and information” by restricting newspapers’ access to official exchange rate dollars, and therefore their ability to import paper. The government however says the dollars have been supplied, and blames speculating paper import companies.

By Tamara Pearson
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Merida, 29th January 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – International and local private media have accused the Venezuelan government of infringing “freedom of expression and information” by restricting newspapers’ access to official exchange rate dollars, and therefore their ability to import paper. The government however says the dollars have been supplied, and blames speculating paper import companies.

Some private newspapers have alleged that they have had to reduce the number of pages in their newspaper because of a lack of paper. However, in Merida state newspapers remain the same size, and none have closed.

Julio Chavez, head of the national assembly commission for media, said yesterday that in Carabobo state a company has been buying newspaper paper and selling it “in order to destabilise”.

“The company buys paper at Bs 11/ kilo and sells it for Bs 45 to Bs 47... the case is being looked after by state security authorities,” Chavez told YVKE Mundial.

He also said that the paper importers buy their product overseas at the official exchange rate, and then regional newspapers, “that don’t have the infrastructure to import, nor access to official rate dollars, are charged 300% above the maximum suggested selling price”.

Legislator Chavez said the “import mafias” demand regional papers pay them in dollars... we’re going to unmask these mafias and criminals who take advantage of the official dollar... because of the lack of controls and supervision by the state”.

He said that today the media commission would meet with Seniat, Venezuela’s taxation body, and the ministry of industry, among others, in order to “collect more information about how the newspaper import mafias work”.

In November last year, legislator Chavez told private television station Venevision that in 2013 the print media had requestioned US$ 108 million at the official exchange rate. He said that by 24 October, US$74 of those has been granted.

He said that in 2012, 66,000 metric tonnes of paper had been imported, and that in the first ten months of 2013, 130,000 had been imported. “And they say there is scarcity,” he said.

Protests and the El Impulso case

Chavez also explained that the newspaper El Impulso, from Lara state, hadn’t been granted dollars because “they have a labour insolvency problem that they need to resolve in order to opt for dollars”. However, last year he also said that El Impulso had been assigned over US$ 1 million.

Earlier this month, Lara state legislator and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leader, Jhonny Colmenarez accused El Impulso of “social and racial discrimination” and of threatening to fire workers who demanded their work rights. Colmenarez said workers are owed almost two years of various social benefit payments.

“The owners of the newspaper El Impulso, who say they are defenders of freedom of expression in Lara state... lie to the Venezuelan people ... they try to generate the idea that they are persecuted by the revolutionary government, something that is totally false,” Colmenarez said.

Pedro Carvajalino, a VTV journalist, also accused the editor of El Nacional of “workplace terrorism”, for using the alleged paper shortages as an “excuse to threaten workers with being fired”, then “blaming the government for the situation”.

In six suburbs in Caracas yesterday people hung banners on bridges protesting the so called lack of paper. “More than 80 newspapers are threatened with closing for lack of paper” read one, and “Without paper there are no newspapers or jobs” read another.

El Universal reported that this morning media workers protested outside Cadivi, the organisation responsible for assigning official dollars, to request that the dollars be provided. Some dozens of journalists turned up to the protest.

In the lead up to the protest, head of the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), Marcos Ruiz claimed that 30,000 workers are “at risk” due to the lack of official dollars for imports. Ruiz alleged that nine regional newspapers have stopped circulating due to lack of paper, and that 15 more would be in danger of closing should dollars not be supplied soon. The SNTP is over 60 years old but some of its current leadership is known to support the opposition.