CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s last nationally circulated, anti-government newspaper will stop publishing its print edition amid unrelenting government pressure and paper shortages, editors said Thursday.
El Nacional’s final edition will run Friday after 75 years in print. It will become an exclusively online publication.
Upon learning of the changes to come, editors and reporters in the Caracas newsroom said they were undaunted, ready to press ahead and continue bringing critical news to readers.
“They won’t beat us. We’re not defeated,” said general manager Jorge Makriniotis, who recalled growing up with the paper in his family’s home. “It’s important to note that.”
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El Nacional is known for its harsh criticism of the government of Venezuela, a once-wealthy oil nation that has been plunged into economic turmoil under two decades of socialist rule.
Both the late President Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, have had strained relations with the media and accused journalists of contributing to anti-government plots and publishing fake news.
El Nacional joins more than a dozen local newspapers that in recent years have stopped circulating due to the lack of imported paper and the economic crisis striking media companies across the country.
“We’ve endured longer than the others,” Miguel Otero, El Nacional’s president and CEO, told the Spanish newspaper ABC. “But in the end we could not persist.”
Venezuelan journalists work under the threat of jail or crushing lawsuits, driving several abroad fearing for their personal safety. A pro-government constitutional assembly created last year has passed a law decreeing up to 20 years in prison for publishing material deemed hateful.
Journalists working at online news publications often complain of what they call government censorship done by blocking web searches through internet providers stopping readers from seeing their stories.
Since August, El Nacional had cut back from printing daily to just five days a week. The newspaper does not release its circulation numbers, but editors say their print readers have dramatically shrunk in the last several years.
El Nacional recently exhausted its foreign currency reserves to buy paper on the international market. Managers said in a letter sent to employees and published on the El Nacional website that they are finally forced to stop printing and turn to online only.
The 50 journalists who work for the print edition now the 35 already working on the digital edition, and no one will lose their job, said the paper’s editor, Patricia Spadaro. It was unclear what would happen to the 80 press workers.
Pressure on El Nacional and its executives had mounted over the last 15 years, Otero said, citing an onslaught of tax reviews, advertising restrictions and lawsuits. He fled the country several years ago to escape threats of prosecution by authorities.
Powerful socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello sued El Nacional charging defamation of character and claimed he won it and another lawsuit he filed against La Patilla, a popular news web site.
Veteran crime reporter Rosibel Gonzalez covers the violent streets of Caracas, which is reputed to be one of the world’s most dangerous cities. She said moving to being a digital reporter doesn’t deter her.
“We’re not leaving. We’re staying right here,” she said. “Rosibel Gonzalez will continue writing in the news — in print and now in digital.”