DeFede

Radio Marti: Ethics in Exile

The misleading nature of the Times article (which was reprinted in the Miami Herald), and the questions raised about Bennett's conduct, gave Mas Canosa and his allies ample ammunition to castigate the inspector general, to call for her immediate firing, and to derail the investigation.

What had begun as an ambitious examination of Jorge Mas Canosa's influence over Radio and TV Marti had degenerated into a rancorous debate over the ethical responsibilities of government investigators. Lost in the ensuing political maelstrom was any hope of completing the inspector general's inquiry. With Bennett's actions under severe attack, her lead investigator -- the man responsible for gathering the bulk of the evidence and conducting the interviews with Marti employees -- abruptly resigned from the inspector general's office.

For the past year Marian Bennett has been unable or unwilling to complete the investigation of Mas Canosa. (Bennett did not return phone calls seeking comment.) And for his part, Mas Canosa can rest easy in the knowledge that Bennett is unlikely to pose any future threat to him. Contained in the legislation relocating the headquarters of Radio and TV Marti to Miami was a provision abolishing the inspector general's office in the USIA and transferring those responsibilities to the State Department's inspector general.

Whether the State Department's investigators will pick up where Bennett left off is unclear (department spokesmen declined to comment about the investigation). But with Radio and TV Marti headed for Mas Canosa's home turf, the questions posed by the original inquiry take on added significance. When those allegations of interference first surfaced, Mas Canosa issued a categorical denial. "These charges are baseless," he declared, "and I challenge anyone to provide proof to the contrary."

Sworn affidavits may not constitute proof, but those attached to Bennett's 1995 status report (and apparently not leaked to the Times) are at least persuasive. One after another, government employees stepped forward last year to provide statements to federal investigators, and they described in great detail their experiences with and observations of Mas Canosa and his influential role at the radio and television stations.

Over the past few weeks, U.S. News and World Report and the Miami Herald obtained copies of those affidavits and published articles based on their contents. New Times also acquired copies of the documents. While USIA officials downplay their significance, the agency still refuses to release them to the public, which frustrates people like Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst specializing in Cuban affairs at the National Security Archives. A Washington-based public-interest group that regularly seeks to declassify documents dealing with U.S. foreign policy, Kornbluh's group has requested but not received copies of all material gathered by Bennett and her team.

"This was an investigation about conflict of interest, political bias, professional corruption, and abuse of taxpayer money," Kornbluh asserts. "Jorge Mas Canosa, for good or for bad, is a key actor in Cuba policy, and Bennett's report is about how he conducted himself in his official role as the chairman of the President's Advisory Board for Cuba Broadcasting."

Kornbluh believes that Bennett's investigation hasn't been completed in part because Mas Canosa and one or two other Marti officials have refused to cooperate. "Most people I know see that refusal as a stall tactic," he says. Mas Canosa, he theorizes, did not want Bennett's full report to be issued while Congress was debating whether to relocate Radio and TV Marti to Miami. And now Kornbluh sees the upcoming presidential campaign as a further deterrent to finishing the investigation, especially if its findings could embarrass Mas Canosa. Florida's votes, Kornbluh says, are simply too important to Bill Clinton. "The report is being held up because no one in USIA, the State Department, or the White House has the cojones to demand its release in an election year," he charges. "This is essentially a coverup for reasons of political cowardice."

Like Jorge Mas Canosa, Bruce Sherman has been with Radio Marti since its inception. In 1990 he was appointed deputy director of the station, responsible for supervising technical operations, the research and personnel departments, and on-air components such as programming and news. Sherman provided investigators with a remarkably detailed affidavit, 29 single-spaced pages in length. As he explained, he was able to recall names, dates, and conversations with unusual clarity because throughout his tenure at Radio Marti, he maintained "extensive notes" -- a diary of sorts -- detailing his career at the station and Mas Canosa's involvement.

In his statement, dated April 20, 1995, Sherman made it clear that his most serious problems arose from his supervision of Radio Marti's news division. Above all else, Sherman stated as a sort of preamble to his lengthy affidavit, Radio Marti's most important mission is the dissemination of objective and accurate information to the citizens of Cuba. "Telling the truth, if you will," he explained, "so as to promote the freedom of the Cuban people."

Instead, Sherman wrote, he encountered constant attempts to turn radio Marti into the propaganda arm of Mas Canosa and the Cuban American National Foundation. Mas Canosa exerted significant control over the news department, Sherman alleged, by placing people loyal to him in key positions. One of those individuals, Sherman claimed, was Agustin Alles Soberon, the station's news director from 1991 to 1995.

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