Mr. Diaz-Balart Goes to Washington

When an unsuspecting Colorado congressman tries to cut funding to Radio and TV Martí, the freshman lawmaker gives a taste of exile politics, Miami-style

They were also proposing to spend over $200,000 for domestic interviewers. I am not sure what those folks do. Anyway, there were substantial costs associated with this program.

If it were a unique program and one of proven effectiveness that was providing a service that was not being furnished in any other fashion, we might be able to rationalize those kinds of costs. But I think it comes up short there as well.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates there are 23 commercial radio stations in South Florida that reach Cuban listeners. Nine of them broadcast in Spanish, and five of the Spanish-language stations have primarily news or a news-talk format, presumably a source of much the same kind of public information, news, and analysis that is the mission of Radio Martí.

Radio Martí also thinks that these stations reach Cuba, in that it has leased time itself on two of them to broadcast its own programs.

The signals of Radio Martí are often jammed, and that jamming sheds some doubt on the claim that 70 percent of the Cuban population regularly listens. According to their budget request, overcoming jamming has become Radio Martí's top priority. One wonders if that is the problem, again given the other sources of free radio signals into the Cuban market, whether this is a particularly cost-effective program.

Its assertion of audience size is also, quote, questionable. There is no way of validating this, obviously. There is no Nielsen ratings for Cuba. But the widely quoted statistic that 70 percent of the Cuban people listen to Radio Martí seems to be based primarily on a 1991 survey of some 487 Cubans seeking asylum in this country, which may not be an entirely objective pool of respondents.

The quality of programming for Radio Martí has also raised numerous allegations of unsound practices and questionable contracts, incompetence, and censorship. Violations of federal rules and regulations appear to be a serious problem there.

The former director of Radio Martí, Ernesto Betancourt, who resigned in 1990, charges that he was ousted because he refused to promote the political aspirations of Cuban American hard-liners. The former director of the Office of Cuban Broadcasting also resigned earlier this year, citing conflicts within TV and Radio Martí over their coverage of the Cuban American community in Miami.

Finally, a reporter in my area of the country who was recently in Cuba for an extensive assignment reports that from the interviews done by this reporter, anyway, the Cubans are really a pretty sophisticated media audience; that they discount or distrust all government-generated media, whether it comes from Cuba or the United States; and they do in fact rely mainly on other sources of information, including a very effective underground grapevine that taps into CNN signals and newspapers coming in from Miami and so forth.

Anyway, for all of those reasons, it just seemed to me, given our shortages of funding for a whole range of vital national programs, that these were two programs that could well stand to be eliminated without seriously jeopardizing our national interest.

So in view of that, I was particularly startled earlier today when my colleague, the gentleman from Florida [Mr. Diaz-Balart], approached me on the floor of the House and expressed his strongest possible objection to my plan to try to delete funding for Radio Martí from this appropriations bill which we had under debate earlier this afternoon. He said that he did not intend to threaten me, but that if I followed through with my plans, he would do all he could to go after everything he could find that was important to me.

He argued that I should back off of my objection to Radio Martí funding because it was the most important program to him and the Cuban Americans that he represents, while cutting the program I conceded was certainly not the most important issue in the world for me, although I thought it was the appropriate thing to do.

I attempted to explain that this involved matters of national interests because of its obvious fiscal and foreign policy dimensions, and that therefore this was not just a project in a member's district about which arguably he was due some particular deference, but rather that each member of the House had a legitimate basis to address the issue. I told Mr. Diaz-Balart that I planned to proceed with my challenge to Radio Martí funding.

Later this afternoon, he proceeded to raise a point of order against some $82 million in construction funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, known by its acronym NIST, about half, less than half of which was probably going to NIST facilities in the district I represent in Colorado.

As the Speaker is aware, that point of order was sustained and the money was stricken from the bill. Sometime later, the work on this bill was suspended before the House had even reached the portion of this appropriations bill involving funding for Radio Martí. We are expected to resume it when we return from the Fourth of July work period on July 13 or 14.

In any case, I was greatly disturbed and saddened that the normal legislative business of this House should have been subjected to this kind of retributive tactics and would not have requested this time on special order but for the fact that the CANF proceeded to issue a press release crowing over the success of Representative Diaz-Balart in attacking a program presumed to be important to me because of my stated intention to deal with funding for Radio Martí.

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