Radio Free Miami

Welcome to the new Radio Marti, dragged into the swirl of local exile politics, more quarrelsome than ever, and growing increasingly irrelevant

Complaints have been filed against San Roman for his allegedly harsh management style, and the union is consulting with its lawyers about legal action to rectify purported unfair labor practices. A new high-level governmental investigation has been launched to evaluate Radio Marti's programming.

Although Mas Canosa and San Roman came from different political corners and are not similarly motivated -- Mas Canosa was a zealot and San Roman is an ambitious federal appointee -- they both kept Radio Marti in an uproar of divisive exile politics and have disenchanted employees who believe they cannot do their jobs. The unsteady beat goes on.

In the small foyer of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, larger-than-life framed color portraits of Bill Clinton and Jose Marti, the Cuban father of independence, hang side by side on a powder-blue wall. They face a walk-through metal detector and x-ray machine. Over the past year, most of the OCB has been operating out of these temporary offices and studios set up in a sprawling former car dealership northwest of Miami International Airport.

The director of Radio Marti, Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera, strides down a blue-carpeted hallway toward one of the studios, where his live show, Breaking Ground, will start at 11:00 a.m., ten minutes from now. Rodriguez-Tejera, 46 years old and a former cohost of a current-events program at La Cubanisima (WQBA-AM 1140), has been director of Radio Marti for about six months. His show exemplifies the most salient and positive changes in programming.

Rodriguez-Tejera's producer stops him in the hall. "The number for Ana Luisa Lopez Baeza is wrong," he says. "We reached someone speaking in English."

Rodriguez-Tejera wheels around and backtracks to his office to find another phone number for Lopez, an independent journalist in Havana who is scheduled to be among the guests on today's show. She is affiliated with CubaPress; this and other independent agencies on the island are increasingly consulted by outside media. During the papal visit, many independent journalists were contracted by foreign news outlets to file reports. These assignments can be arduous; modern communications equipment such as computers, fax machines, and portable phones are unavailable for most independent journalists, who usually work out of private homes. Sometimes, they say, they must move from house to house to escape harassment from government agents or sympathizers.

Rodriguez-Tejera will also chat by phone with Jesus Llanes Pelletier (both he and Lopez are in Havana) and Omar del Pozo, a recently released political prisoner now living in Montreal. The news of the moment concerns Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien's visit to Havana.

Soon Rodriguez-Tejera is back in the studio and seated at a large table. "Ana Luisa, we'll start with you," he says. "How would you evaluate this visit from a journalistic standpoint?"

"The government is creating in the press the perception they want to give," Lopez replies. "They're making a lot of the fact that this is the first time a Canadian prime minister has come here. They're presenting Cuba as a country that respects human rights, but in reality all Cubans are aware of the truth."

Llanes Pelletier, a former Castro ally later imprisoned for turning against the revolution, thinks the Castro government is using the visits of Chretien and Pope John Paul II as political currency in the world opinion market. "By coming here, [such dignitaries] legitimize the policies of Cuba," Llanes Pelletier says. "But prisoners remain in prison in violation of our own judicial laws, and many people are living just moments away from being thrown in jail."

Under Rodriguez-Tejera's leadership, a slew of new shows has gone on-air that, because of live or call-in formats, serve as forums for island Cubans to speak out about their experiences. The first of these was Rodriguez-Tejera's own. Now there is also Speaking Seriously, a half-hour talk show hosted by veteran journalist Clara Dominguez, who often interviews her colleagues in Cuba. There is The News as It Is, which isn't new but has been changed to a live format, again with extensive interviews with people in Cuba. Its hosts are well-known former AM reporters.

Rodriguez-Tejera says he's just getting started, that he has recently begun to record and air roundtable discussions conducted in Cuba. He hopes the subjects will range from prostitution and alcoholism to racial discrimination. So far only two discussions on the tamer topic of independent labor unions have been taped. "We're not doing everything right, but we're not afraid of criticism," he says. "If there's going to be change in Cuba, Radio Marti will play a tremendous role."

Rodriguez-Tejera's management style is more conciliatory than San Roman's, according to many employees who have become his fans. "I am allowed to do my job as a journalist, and I am doing my job," says news producer Cristina Sanson. "The news is more aggressive as far as Cuban issues are concerned. I feel very strongly the change is positive."

Nine months ago Sanson, then news director for TV Marti, was demoted and shunted to a no-work job after she publicly objected to some of San Roman's policies. Of all the OCB employees who can claim they have been retaliated against, by whomever, Sanson had perhaps the most clear-cut case. Nonetheless Rodriguez-Tejera brought her over to Radio Marti in February, and she says her bitterness is gone, largely because of Rodriguez-Tejera's morale-building influence.

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