April 4, 2019 / 9:46 PM / 6 months ago

Cuba cuts newspaper size due to paper scarcity as shortages bite

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba says a paper shortage is forcing it to cut back on pages and circulation at several state-run newspapers including the Communist Party daily Granma, highlighting the severity of the country’s cash crunch as scarcity of basic goods increases.

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket in Havana, Cuba April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

The Communist government said on Thursday that it was halving the edition size of some weeklies as well as Granma on certain days due to the lack of newsprint, which it imports. It will also no longer publish the Union of Young Communists’ newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, on Saturdays.

It was the first time Cuba had taken such a measure since the 1990s depression spawned by the fall of former ally the Soviet Union. It comes as Cubans are having to queue sometimes for hours for basics such as eggs and flour whenever they appear on store shelves.

Last year’s introduction of mobile internet and a state app called “Donde Hay” (“Where there is”) have to some extent multiplied the mayhem as they have made it easier for Cubans to find out in real time when new stock has arrived.

“There’s nothing at the moment, and when they finally put something in the shops there are huge queues and you have to fight for it,” said Niurka Fontana, 33, a Havana resident who works at an ice-cream parlour. “Every day it’s worse.”

While Cubans have long faced sporadic shortages of particular items due to external shocks to the state-run economy and often dysfunctional central planning, widespread scarcity of some basic goods has picked up over the past few months.

First it was medicine and then flour, then vegetable oil and now eggs and meat.

“I’ve had this prescription for renal antibiotics on me for two months now, but you can’t find them anywhere,” said pensioner Georgie Pi.

The shortages have pushed up prices of some goods on the black market that not all Cubans can afford given the average state salary is around $30 per month.

The government has acknowledged that some shortages, like medicines, are due to a lack of imports of goods necessary for production.

Cuba announced austerity measures three years ago due to lower exports and liquidity problems as aid from key ally Venezuela shrank amid its own economic crisis.

It has since also had to contend with a tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo under President Donald Trump and the end of medical services exports to Brazil following the election of far-right Jair Bolsonaro as president.

It faces another threat to its exports of doctors and nurses as protests roil old friend Algeria.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the National Assembly in December that the government would be increasing austerity this year.

The Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez said last month that egg production had recently been affected by problems with the importation of avian feed. Cuba would import more of certain basic goods in upcoming months and take measures to avoid hoarding, he added.

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Many state-run shops are already rationing sales, creating a new headache for private eateries that do not have access to wholesale markets.

Most Cubans say they are used to shortages, although some fear they will only get worse.

“If there is a crisis in Venezuela, it affects us directly,” said state worker Carlos Perez, 51.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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