Voice of a Nation

Radio and TV Martí are supposed to remain above politics and provide Cubans with unbiased news. This is not a joke; it only seems like one.

From the beginning Mas was accused of exerting undue influence on Radio Martí's news coverage and on the hiring and firing of OCB staffers. He and his supporters always denied those accusations, which remained unproved by numerous investigations and inquiries carried out by government regulators over the years. Recommendations for closer monitoring of OCB operations had little, if any, effect; even today, despite negative programming evaluations and at least a half-dozen formal allegations of discrimination (one so far substantiated) lodged against San Roman by OCB employees, the Martí management has yet to experience any apparent repercussions. Congress and every presidential administration up to and including Clinton's have always seemed happy -- or relieved -- to leave the contentious Cubans alone.

In 1997 the OCB began moving its operations from Washington to Miami, a shift propelled by Mas. Despite sharp disagreement over the nature and extent of Mas's control at the Martís, no one disputes that his character shaped all aspects of the stations. And Florida's two Cuban-American members of Congress, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, were the Martís' staunchest defenders against the yearly attempts by other lawmakers to kill TV Martí and slash Radio Martí's budget.

After Mas's death, and after most of his closest associates at the OCB had been fired or marginalized, his son Jorge Mas Santos took over chairmanship of CANF. The U.S.-born Mas Santos is chairman of MasTec, the construction firm his father built from nothing into what Hispanic Business Magazine lists as the largest Hispanic-owned company in the nation. The glory days of the foundation, when Mas and his board of directors were helping shape both U.S. and international policy toward Cuba, already were over by the time Mas Canosa died; the early refugees from the revolution had begun to succumb to old age, and the younger generation, like Mas Santos, was different, if for no other reason than not having had to start their lives over from scratch. And a leader with the brilliance and ability of Jorge Mas Canosa simply doesn't come along very often.

Jorge Mas Santos now leads a metamorphosing Cuban American National Foundation
Jorge Mas Santos now leads a metamorphosing Cuban American National Foundation
U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart: The loudest Cuban-American voice in Congress
AP/Wide World Photo
U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart: The loudest Cuban-American voice in Congress

The Cuban American National Foundation took up the cause of Elian Gonzalez in November 1999, eventually losing both Elian and much of its standing in the public eye. Subsequently the foundation directors initiated an image upgrade. Leaving his seat on the Florida Public Service Commission after six years, dynamic 37-year-old former CANF spokesman Joe Garcia returned to the foundation in the newly created position of executive director; Dennis Hays, a prominent former ambassador, became director of the foundation's Washington, D.C., headquarters, which recently moved to a four-story townhouse a mile from the White House. CANF has helped prepare a legislative package dubbed the Solidarity Bill; among its provisions are financial and in-kind support for dissident groups and microloans to small businesses inside Cuba. U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, while Diaz-Balart has introduced a similar but separate bill in the House.


Diaz-Balart, a member of the powerful House Rules Committee, has become increasingly influential in Washington since his election in 1992 and now assumes an even higher status with the advent of a Republican administration (particularly since South Florida's Cuban-American vote is thought by many to have been the push George W. Bush needed to win the state). "Any Republican knows if you want to get anything on the floor, you go through Lincoln," remarks a former Clinton administration specialist in Latin-American affairs. Last year Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen, against the will of the majority in Congress, forced Republican leaders to attach two restrictions to an appropriations bill that effectively made U.S. food sales to Cuba impossible and may severely restrict travel of American citizens to Cuba.

On Cuba-related matters especially, Diaz-Balart apparently has the rapt attention of the White House. It doesn't hurt that the Bush brothers' relationship with CANF, by most accounts, has been strained by two incidents many Republicans regard as betrayals: Mas Canosa's 1992 indirect endorsement of Bill Clinton during a campaign stop in Tampa; and Joseph Lieberman's October 2000 meeting with CANF leaders at downtown Miami's Freedom Tower, owned by the Mas family. "The [George W. Bush] administration is not crazy about Jorge Mas [Santos]," confirms a Republican insider who is close to both families. "If they remove this guy [San Roman] and name someone else, I think they would be uncomfortable with the fact they went along with something Lincoln was against but also something Jorge Mas was for."

His current legal difficulties don't appear to have affected Diaz-Balart's standing among peers or constituents. Last year the Federal Election Commission (FEC)fined Diaz-Balart a total of $5500 for failure to file timely campaign reports; he also was forced to refund $31,000 in illegal 1998 campaign contributions (claiming all the refund checks had been lost in the mail, his staff eventually sent out new checks long after he had been able to use the contributions for his 2000 re-election campaign). In 1999 federal auditors, alleging uncooperative Diaz-Balart staffers hindered their investigation, nevertheless found the 1998 campaign's account balance was off by $114,000; more than $100,000 worth of undisclosed checks were discovered, as well as $35,700 in undisclosed interest payments and more than $10,000 in prohibited corporate contributions.

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