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Newsprint shortage threatens to close Venezuela's oldest newspapers

Venezuela's oldest newspaper is scrambling for newsprint as worsening shortages threaten to take several publications out of circulation in the coming weeks.

While newspapers have been beset for years by currency controls that make it difficult to import supplies, the situation has turned critical in recent weeks as reserves of newsprint have fallen to an all-time low, says the Venezuelan Press Block, which represents the nation's broadsheets.

Caracas-based El Nacional, one of the nation's largest newspapers, has enough paper to continue publishing for only one month, says its president and editor Miguel Henrique Otero. El Universal, its main rival, says it can hold out for just six weeks.

The situation is most dire among smaller papers outside the capital, several of which have been forced to interrupt printing or cut back on coverage over the past year.

This week, Venezuela's oldest newspaper, El Impulso, warned that it may have to halt its presses in three weeks unless it receives a delivery of newsprint. Another, El Correo del Caroni, reduced its page count to extend supplies that it says will run out in two weeks.

The Barquisimeto-based El Impulso, which has been publishing for 110 years, has been waiting for months for the state agency that manages the country's dwindling supply of dollars to process its request to import newsprint.

"The government is keeping quiet," Jose Angel Ocanto, the paper's chief editor, said. "We don't know what's going to happen."

Journalists accuse the government of restricting access to newsprint to censor newspapers, one of the last bastions of government criticism after a crackdown on radio and TV stations in recent years.

Authorities didn't comment on the paper shortage. But the government has previously denied its policies are strangling press freedom, and has instead launched probes into larger papers favored by the opposition for possible hoarding of supplies as part of an "economic war" to destabilize the government. At the end of last year, it said it would directly supply 5,000 metric tons of newsprint for 83 regional papers, enough to guarantee circulation until March.

The Inter American Press Association this week said it holds President Nicolas Maduro's government "directly responsible" for bringing about the shutdown of El Impulso and other print media for their critical editorial stance.

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Associated Press writer Gisela Salomon in Miami contributed to this report.