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Venezuela’s El Nacional publishes last print edition

Journalists and supporters of El Nacional newspaper pose for group photo in the newsroom in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. Venezuela's last nationally circulated, anti-government newspaper stopped publishing its print edition amid unrelenting government pressure and paper shortages. El Nacional's final edition published Friday after 75 years in print. It will become an exclusively online publication. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s last nationally circulated anti-government newspaper published its final print edition on Friday amid unrelenting government pressure and paper shortages.

El Nacional’s front page delivered a defiant tone, telling readers that becoming an exclusively online publication wouldn’t change its core mission of holding the powerful accountable — especially at this moment in Venezuela’s history.

“El Nacional is a warrior and will continue to fight,” the lead headline said.

In print for 75 years, El Nacional earned a reputation for its harsh criticism of the current government of the once-wealthy oil nation that has been plunged into political and economic turmoil under two decades of socialist rule.

El Nacional joins more than a dozen local newspapers that have stopped circulating in recent years due to the crisis.

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.

In a recorded message shown Friday to roughly a hundred people in the Caracas newsroom, the paper’s president and CEO Miguel Otero expressed his regret at halting the printed version of a newspaper his grandfather and father headed.

“They have not been able to do us in, nor will they ever,” he said.

Otero, who for several years has been out of the country due to legal threats from authorities, said that the end of El Nacional’s newsprint edition is “temporary.” The presses will rumble to life again once Venezuela returns to democracy, he said.

Executives say the struggle to buy paper was a driving reason for the decision to go digital. The paper recently exhausted its foreign currency reserves to buy paper on the international market, they said.

A staff of about 80 journalists will be retrained to focus their attention on the online edition, which has been under development for several years, said general manager Jorge Makriniotis.

El Nacional will also hold firm to its critical stance toward the government, despite threats of legal action, Makriniotis said. That includes one from socialist boss Diosdado Cabello, who accused the paper of defamation after reporting allegations he was links with drug trafficking.

“Nicolas, see you on the web,” Makriniotis said, referring to President Maduro.

Venezuelan government authorities have not commented on El Nacional’s situation.

But the end of the print edition generated strong responses on social media from figures such as former Colombian President Andres Pastrana.

“Democracies in Latin America and around the world will continue to accompany them in their struggle for a return of democracy in #Venezuela,” Pastrana tweeted. “ALWAYS FORWARD AND NEVER A STEP BACKWARD!”

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