HAVANA - The Cuban government says a newsprint shortage is forcing at least six state-run newspapers to cut back on pages and circulation days in a potent sign of the cash shortage confronting the island.
The newspaper Granma said in Thursday editions that the Cuban Communist Party organ and several other papers are cutting back from 16 to eight pages on Wednesdays and Fridays. The changes take effect Friday. The newspaper of the Communist Youth League, Juventud Rebelde, will stop publishing on Saturdays.
Granma attributed the change to "difficulties in the availability of newsprint in the country,'' without providing details. Cuba has imported newsprint from China in recent years and the government has been suffering cash-flow problems forcing cutbacks in a wide range of imported products.
The last major cutback in newsprint was during the "special period'' of shortages and hardships that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba today appears far from a new "special period'' but the island has been suffering increasingly frequent and long-lasting shortages of basic products including flour, cooking oil, chicken and eggs, all blamed on a shortage of hard currency.
The government does not release much basic economic information, but gross domestic product growth has been flat since 2016, due in large part due to the economic free-fall of Venezuela, Cuba's closest ally and source of highly subsidized petroleum for nearly two decades. Observers say the slow-moving diversification of Cuba's economy, with a growing tourist sector, billions in remittances from abroad and direct flights to countries around the world, offers some degree of protection from severe economic collapse.
Nonetheless, in many parts of Cuba, state-run stores only stock goods like chicken or flour a few days a week, at most, and when those products appear, long lines form almost instantly outside the store, disappearing only when the product has been cleared off the shelves.
While some foreign companies are building hotels across the island and industrial facilities in a free-trade zone west of Havana, market-oriented reforms and plans to draw more foreign investment appear largely stalled and unable to make up for inefficiency, corruption, the collapse of Venezuelan aid and the effects of the 60-year-old U.S. trade embargo.