After 500 days of its paper being withheld by the government, La Prensa of Nicaragua negotiates its release

Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa reported that there is a negotiation underway for the release of tons of paper and other materials, held by customs for more than 500 days, according to a note from the editorial board, published on Feb. 5. The blockade has imposed severe restrictions on the circulation of the newspaper and threatened its survival.

In the statement, the newspaper denounced the "economic asphyxiation" promoted by the government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, through the General Directorate of Customs (DGA, for its acronym in Spanish), "which violates the freedom of expression and free access to information for all Nicaraguans; rights established in the Political Constitution of Nicaragua.”

On the frontpage of its Sept. 9, 2019 edition, La Prensa published Article 66 of the constitution regarding the right to truthful information. (Screenshot)

On the frontpage of its Sept. 9, 2019 edition, La Prensa published Article 66 of the constitution regarding the right to truthful information. (Screenshot)

According to the statement, apostolic nuncio (an ambassador of the Holy See) Waldemar Sommertag started negotiations to lift the embargo on customs and managed to open a communication channel with the DGA. As a result, the newspaper was authorized to inspect the retained material, in a process of reviewing the raw material found in the customs warehouses, according to the statement.

“After more than 500 days of illegal retention, Editorial La Prensa must inspect the state of the raw material to verify if the supplies have not been damaged as a result of the arbitrary decision of the DGA. At the same time, the illegal withholding has created a large debt for storage that has been generated by the customs blockade and therefore should not be assumed by La Prensa,” the newspaper said.

Just days before, in a Jan. 27 editorial entitled "The dictatorship strangles La Prensa," the newspaper wrote that Nicaragua risked being the only country in the world without a print newspaper. The editorial claims that La Prensa and Hoy (another company publication) are the only paper newspapers left in the country –La Prensa has been published since 1926.

The text says that the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) has been consulted and there is no country in the western hemisphere that does not have print newspapers. "In the entire planet there is not a single country without newspapers printed on paper. Even in failed states, such as Syria, Somalia and South Sudan, there are written newspapers,” the publication said.

The editorial also stated that closing La Prensa is "an old totalitarian delirium by Daniel Ortega" and ended with a strong appeal to international organizations and groups defending human rights. "La Prensa asks the international democratic community for support to survive. Don't let La Prensa die!"

According to another article from the outlet, published in January, 92 tons of newsprint, 49 tons of semi bond paper, in addition to plates, inks, developers and other chemicals used in the presses have been retained by DGA since October and November 2018.

The retention of newsprint for several publications had profound impacts on the country's press. In January 2019, the newspaper El Nuevo Diario stopped circulating its national print version on weekends. In September of the same year, the newspaper closed its digital and print publication due to economic, technical and logistical difficulties that made its operation "unsustainable" after four decades of circulation.

La Prensa, the oldest newspaper in the country, tried to circumvent the situation with cuts in spending and drastic changes in printing. Since January 2020, the newspaper started to circulate in tabloid format on weekends. In addition, it was forced to use bond paper, normally used for books and other publications, which is 75 percent more expensive than newsprint, according to a statement by the company's financial manager, Ernesto Juárez, as published in La Prensa.

Also according to the January note from La Prensa, the daily edition was reduced to just eight pages, in black and white. “The cost per copy of each printed newspaper of La Prensa is probably not only the most expensive in the world today but the most expensive in history,” the text said. “But the measure is not only hitting La Prensa economically, but by forcing it to reduce its edition to only eight pages, the regime is violating the freedom of access to information and the freedom of expression of Nicaraguans,” the article concluded.

The restriction also forced La Prensa to lay off more than half of its professionals, according to an Infobae article.

The site Confidencial, which also reported on the negotiations to release the La Prensa material, recalled that the Nicaraguan regime maintains censorship of television channels and, for more than a year, the country's police have occupied the newsrooms of 100% Noticias and Confidential itself. "More than 70 journalists have been forced into exile by the aggressions and threats of police and paramilitaries,” Confidencial reported.

The Nicaraguan government and its supporters have been cracking down on the independent press since protests against the current regime began in April 2018. According to an Article 19 report, launched in December 2019, Nicaragua is one of the countries globally that has suffered the most damage to freedom of expression in recent years.