By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In the coming months, the federal government will relocate the headquarters of Radio Marti and Television Marti from their current home in Washington, D.C., to Miami. The move from the capital of the United States to the capital of Cuban exile politics represents more than a 1200-mile trek down Interstate 95; it is a journey fraught with as much peril for the integrity of those broadcast organizations as the Florida Straits are for desperate Cuban balseros.
The Republican-controlled House and Senate may have passed the legislation mandating the move, but it was a Democratic president who happily signed the measure into law the very next day A further evidence of Bill Clinton's willingness to relinquish control of U.S. policy toward Cuba and cede it to Congress and leading forces in the Cuban exile community.
Not all members of el exilio supported the plan, however. For example, in an April 17 letter to Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Western Hemisphere Affairs subcommittee, former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares warned the Indiana Republican that moving the radio station in particular would be a serious mistake. Characterizing the proposal as a "crazy idea," Valladares wrote, "The strength of Radio Marti has always been its impartiality and that it carries the message and point of view of the United States government. I seriously believe that once in Miami, those strong points will be lost immediately. No longer will Radio Marti be viewed as the voice of the United States but rather, as it succumbs to exile politics, as one more station carrying the viewpoint of some exile group. The credibility Radio Marti has earned for so many years will evaporate in a short time."
Despite Valladares's assertions, Radio Marti's credibility and impartiality have for years been the subject of debate. Lately that debate has intensified, and allegations of one sort or another have been flying about wildly. The question -- and the advisability of moving the station to Miami -- might have been resolved months ago had Marian Bennett, inspector general of the United States Information Agency (USIA), completed in a more timely manner her investigation of management practices at the radio station. Bennett's inquiry was prompted by charges that Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the influential Cuban American National Foundation, routinely interfered with station operations by shaping its news coverage and influencing personnel decisions.
Radio Marti, which has been broadcasting to Cuba for eleven years, was Mas Canosa's brainchild, and its creation has been one of his crowning achievements. In the early Eighties, Ronald Reagan appointed him chairman of the President's Advisory Board for Cuba Broadcasting. His term officially expired seven years ago, but apparently neither George Bush nor Bill Clinton believes there is sufficient political advantage in replacing him, and he remains in the post.
Federal law prohibits Mas Canosa, as board chairman, from involving himself in the internal affairs of the Marti stations. And yet for years rumors have persisted that he didn't simply meddle from time to time, but that he actually ruled the broadcast outlets (Radio Marti in particular) through fear and intimidation. In a much-publicized blowup, the first director of Radio Marti, Ernesto Betancourt, resigned in 1990 after complaining loudly about Mas Canosa's alleged influence over the station.
In June 1994, the Office of the Inspector General for USIA -- the federal agency that oversees the Marti stations -- formally opened an investigation after several employees claimed they had been removed from their posts or stripped of their responsibilities after refusing to acquiesce to attempts to distort the news or to deceive Congress regarding the size of the stations' audience in Cuba. The employees also said they believed that Jorge Mas Canosa was behind the reprisals. (Mas Canosa would not comment for this article.)
In July 1995, in response to a request from Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colorado), a confidential "status report" on Bennett's investigation was prepared and sent to him and at least one other congressman, as well as to USIA director Joseph Duffey. A week later, on July 23, the New York Times, citing "officials familiar with the report," wrote that investigators had found that Mas Canosa "has systematically interfered in Radio Marti's day-to-day operations" and that "the radio station has improperly retaliated against employees who protested such manipulation."
The article, however, proved to be premature, if not downright misleading. In a cover letter and again in a summary of the status report, Inspector General Bennett made it clear that, contrary to the Times's assertions, her investigators had not yet reached any conclusions. "The OIG [Office of the Inspector General] investigation is not complete," her report states. "OIG must conduct additional interviews and must further evaluate information gathered in the investigation before we can draw final conclusions." Bennett also stressed that the material she was providing was to be held in strictest confidence.
USIA officials quickly responded to the media coverage, and while not releasing the contents of the status report, they reiterated that no conclusions had been reached by investigators and that the probe remained open. USIA director Duffey, scrambling for cover, issued a statement expressing his concern that Bennett would release confidential material during an ongoing inquiry, and he announced that a separate investigation would be launched into Bennett's handling of the affair.