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.


Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf becomes first female editor of Financial Times

Updated 12 November 2019

Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf becomes first female editor of Financial Times

  • Khalaf has served as deputy editor, foreign editor and Middle East editor during her more than two decades at FT
  • Khalaf will join Katharine Viner at the Guardian as one of the few women to edit major newspapers in Britain

LONDON: Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf will become the first woman to edit the Financial Times in its 131-year history after Lionel Barber, Britain’s most senior financial journalist, said he would step down.
Barber said on Tuesday he would leave in January after 14 years as editor and 34 years at the Nikkei-owned newspaper, which had one million paying readers in 2019, with digital subscribers accounting for more than 75% of total circulation.
Khalaf has served as deputy editor, foreign editor and Middle East editor during her more than two decades at the salmon-pink FT and in recent years has sought to increase diversity in the newsroom and attract more female readers, while also becoming the publication’s first Arab editor.
“It’s a great honor to be appointed editor of the FT, the greatest news organization in the world.
“I look forward to building on Lionel Barber’s extraordinary achievements,” said Khalaf, whose earlier writing for Forbes magazine had earned her a small role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Her article described the leading character Jordan Belfort as sounding like a twisted version of Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.
Khalaf will join Katharine Viner at the Guardian as one of the few women to edit major newspapers in Britain and one of few leading female editors in the world after Jill Abramson left the New York Times.
Before joining the FT in 1995, Khalaf worked at Forbes in New York and earned a master’s at Columbia University and graduated from Syracuse University.
Tsuneo Kita, chairman of Japan’s Nikkei which bought the FT from Pearson in 2015, said in a statement Khalaf was chosen for her sound judgment and integrity.
“We look forward to working closely with her to deepen our global media alliance.”
Nikkei’s Kita described Barber as a strategic thinker and true internationalist, adding he was very sad to see him leave.
“However, both of us agree it is time to open a new chapter,” he said.
During his time as editor, Barber engineered a successful push into online subscription that protected the title as others battled an unprecedented collapse in advertising revenue, as well as managing the move to a new owner.