Venezuelan newspaper workers protest paper shortage

Some 600 people took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital Tuesday to protest a newsprint shortage that has caused the temporary closure of dozens of newspapers.

"No paper, no job!" protesters, including newspaper workers and opposition politicians, chanted as they marched to the National Foreign Trade Center, Cencoex, in Caracas.

The demonstrators are demanding the government make dollars available to import newsprint in an effort to secure their survival.

Tight currency controls enacted in 2003 have led to a shortage of dollars for international purchases. More recently, the government made it even harder to get newsprint and other supplies not produced locally by requiring them to get a special license.

The result, especially for small regional newspapers, has been editions with fewer pages, a less frequent publishing schedule, or even no publication at all.

"700 jobs are at stake," read one banner held up by an employee of El Nacional, which is critical of the government and has recently had to reduce the number of pages it puts out.

"This is a cheap excuse to limit freedom of speech and now we are defending our right to work," Sharay Angulo, a journalist at Ultimas Noticias, the country's largest-circulation newspaper, told AFP.

Angulo claimed some 10,000 jobs were on the line.

Against the backdrop of a sharp drop in foreign currency reserves, the government is making just a trickle of dollars available even though imports of paper only cost about $140 million a year. Newspapers need the backing of the government to import paper.

"The government does not want the truth to be told... that we have an economy where food is not reaching the people," the president of the National Association of Journalists, Tinedo Guia, told AFP.

In October, the Inter American Press Association accused the Venezuelan government of financially strangling the country's newspapers by restricting their access to imports of supplies necessary for publication.