Breach of Faith

Radio journalist Emilio Milian's persistent denunciations of Miami's exile terrorists almost cost him his life in 1976. Now he's fighting for his career.

Over Barnett's protests, the judge continued to grant extensions so the Milians could try to come up with the money to pay off creditors. "I've never seen a bank fight so hard to avoid being paid off," WWFE's bankruptcy attorney Chad Pugatch said in court. That summer Milian spoke of taking Radio Fe public and asked listeners to contribute money. Milian now says a total of $411,000 was raised, which he later returned to the donors.

Tavormina received at least half a dozen unsolicited offers to buy Radio Fe. The owners of both Radio Mambi and WQBA made written proposals. The Catholic Archdiocese wanted to buy. The lawyer for a corporation called Metrovision Broadcasting made an offer A and submitted a contract along with it. One reason for all the attention: A recent change in FCC regulations had made it permissible for a single entity to own up to two AM and two FM stations in a single market.

But Metrovision wasn't taking advantage of any new FCC rules, a fact that became abundantly clear to Milian when he discovered who was behind the company: Two of its three major partners were CANF members. He went on the air to accuse the foundation of trying to buy his silence, and he called a press conference to denounce "the Cuban Mafia's" designs on free speech.

So persistent was Milian's on-air raging about CANF that the foundation's attorney wrote to Tavormina charging that WWFE was in violation of FCC rules regarding the airing of personal attacks. Hewitt recalls that after Barnett's lawyer called him, he suggested to Milian that it might be a good idea to limit his criticisms of the station's principal creditor. "I believe [Milian] did tone down his rhetoric after that," Hewitt adds. (Milian says he had offered Mas and others equal time to present their point of view, as required by the FCC, but that no one took him up on the offer.) Today CANF spokesman Fernando Rojas echoes past assertions that the foundation had nothing to do with Radio Fe's difficulties. "I can tell you categorically those accusations are patently false," says Rojas. "And it's very sad if he continues to bring them up."

WWFE was slated for Chapter 7 on December 3. Unless a sale could be closed, Radio Fe would have to be auctioned off. But to the surprise of the principal players, Judge Weaver set a minimum price for the station: $2.7 million, nearly a million dollars more than anyone had offered to pay. (The judge said the figure represented the amount required to satisfy WWFE's debts.)

"That was the only time in 37 years I've seen a judge set a price in Chapter 7," Hewitt observes.

Barnett attempted to persuade Weaver to lower the asking price, noting that Metrovision was willing to pay no more than $1.9 million. "Why would Barnett go out of its way to make things easier for this 'potential bidder' when it has refused to budge an inch to accommodate Milian?" wrote Miami Herald columnist Liz Balmaseda at the time. "It isn't IBM trying to buy Radio Fe. It's a group of guys from the foundation. Now, could things get more obvious?" A fall 1992 60 Minutes profile of Mas Canosa, and a March 1993 article in the New York Times, added credence to the CANF vs. WWFE scenario.

Although the Metrovision directors protested they were only interested in buying the station as a business investment, some saw the protest as hollow. "The right wing elements in this community are merciless -- if you don't play along, they destroy you," asserts Eddie Levy, founder of the Cuban American Defense League, a group that monitors Cuban radio in Miami and forwards to federal officials transcripts of broadcasts it considers defamatory, inflammatory, or in violation of civil rights or communications laws. Levy believes WWFE was run out of business because Milian wouldn't cater to the establishment. "Milian was not the victim of terrorists for being a leftist. He was not an open-minded person," Levy says. "He was one of them. On the air, he was really pretty tough with everybody who used to call who didn't think like him."

Others call the conspiracy theory nonsense and blame Milian's downfall on capitalism, pure and simple. "It's not complicated what happened to him. He didn't take in enough money to pay his bills," says Herb Levin. "He couldn't accept that. He wanted to be a martyred guy. Emilio failed not because of any conspiracy, he failed because of his inability to market his station competitively in a very competitive market."

Levin says that when he was part-owner of a different station, he aired a program that many in the community found offensive -- including Jorge Mas Canosa, who was the frequent victim of what Levin calls "stupid" insults. "[Mas] never called me and said 'Get him off,'" Levin says. He does, though, concede the simple power of social ties: "If Emilio came to anyone who was a friend of Jorge and asked him for a loan, or to advertise on his station -- any friend of Jorge who wanted to keep a relationship with Jorge -- that friend would think twice about it. Emilio wasn't being civil, playing the game of being nice to people like Arboleya and Mas. To get by, you either have to pay your bills or have friends. He didn't do either."

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