Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 08, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 08, 2019

Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

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.

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