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.

In the summer of 1997, a Cuban government agent instructed one of his contacts in Miami to exploit a nascent division between two influential segments of the exile community: the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF)and the new directors of Radio and TV Martí, the U.S. government stations beamed at Cuba. (Correspondence on this subject emerged recently during the ongoing trial in Miami of seven accused Cuban spies.) "The purpose of this project is to increase the level of contradictions between the leaders of Radio and TV Martí with the most conservative members of the CANF in Miami," the Cuban agent advised his charge.

President Bill Clinton had just appointed a Democrat, Miami attorney Herminio San Roman, to head the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which operates the Martí stations. Displeasure with San Roman's sometimes controversial programming and personnel changes -- among them the removal of several veteran employees who also were CANF loyalists -- had been incubating among certain exile interests. Naturally the Cuban government wanted to provoke animosity and paranoia between the groups, which in previous years had been closely aligned. The spy, having already penetrated several anti-Castro organizations, monitored the major players and fed their growing distrust of one another with short, innuendo-laden letters mailed anonymously to Radio Martí and CANF. "It's known," wrote the agent to the spy, "that CANF people are losing ground."

Four years later relations definitely are strained between CANF and the San Roman regime. Radio and TV Martí have become spoils in a power struggle that, for now, CANF appears to be losing. The wealthy anti-Castro powerhouse that once was almost a government unto itself, and that Cuba's media apparatus took great pains to discredit, has undeniably lost ground. Can it really have been the work of la larga mano de Fidel? Surely his feckless spies can't claim much credit, but no matter who or what is responsible, it will be a while before the ultimate winners and losers emerge.

Jorge Mas Canosa, the strongman of Cuban-exile politics, greatly influenced the MartĂ­ stations
JK Yearick
Jorge Mas Canosa, the strongman of Cuban-exile politics, greatly influenced the MartĂ­ stations
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
CANF executive director Joe Garcia wants a revitalized Radio MartĂ­ ready for a free Cuba
Steve Satterwhite
CANF executive director Joe Garcia wants a revitalized Radio MartĂ­ ready for a free Cuba
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Steve Satterwhite
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Steve Satterwhite
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Steve Satterwhite
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Steve Satterwhite
Who could have known that Herminio San Roman would wind up at the center of a broadcasting nuclear war?
Salvador Lew has been on Miami's radio airwaves from the start of the Cuban diaspora
Steve Satterwhite
Salvador Lew has been on Miami's radio airwaves from the start of the Cuban diaspora

In Washington, D.C., the hostilities in Miami look like a typical dispute over a fairly minor presidential appointment. If San Roman had expressed an intention to step down and let a Republican take over, as many Democratic appointees have done recently, no one would be fighting. Only a relatively small number of insiders would have cared who the Bush administration wanted to run Radio and TV Martí.

Lincoln Diaz-Balart, however, would like to inform those insiders and everyone else that San Roman is going to stay right where he is. For the past few years the Republican U.S. representative from Miami -- and the loudest Cuban-American voice in Congress -- has tirelessly championed San Roman and the direction in which he has led the Martí stations, a course that has included a downhill slide in Radio Martí's Cuban listenership. Diaz-Balart continues to lobby for the retention of San Roman, even though several qualified Republicans have declared their candidacy for OCB director (and were rebuffed when they came to Diaz-Balart for his godfatherlike blessing).

This angers many Republican stalwarts who are mystified at Diaz-Balart's intransigence. Perhaps the only possible explanation, observers speculate, is political payback: In exchange for the lawmaker's commitment, Diaz-Balart's allies at the Martí stations give him special access to the airwaves and thus to the people of Cuba. In addition to its official function -- providing Cuba with uncensored information -- Radio Martí has always been seen by the exile community as a vehicle to extend political careers to the island in anticipation of Fidel Castro's fall.

On March 20 the Internet site Crisis at Radio Martí (www.cubapolidata.com/carm/carm.html, which is run by knowledgeable and ferocious critics of the current OCB leadership) announced, "The reason for Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart's support of the disastrous administration of Herminio San Roman has been his political ambition. Sources reveal that Diaz-Balart cut a political deal with Democrats more than a year before the 2000 election." Diaz-Balart, according to the site, promised "full support and political protection" for San Roman and his closest allies "in exchange for Democratic support of a cabinet level (Secretary of Labor) appointment of Diaz-Balart...."

Regardless of its accuracy, the tidbit reflects a broader conflict over a far more important job than overseeing the $22 million annual Radio and TV Martí budget. It's about the right to be the strongman, to lead Cuba's government-in-exile and perhaps soon -- no matter how unacceptable Cubans on the island find the notion -- a government in Havana.

Jorge Mas Canosa, former chairman of CANF and founder of Radio and TV Martí, was that strongman. Mas never worked on the staff of the OCB but served in the appointed unpaid position of chairman of the President's Advisory Board for Cuba Broadcasting. Nevertheless Mas was heavily involved in behind-the-scenes operation of the Martís until his final months; he died of cancer in late November 1997 at the age of 57. Charismatic and charming, at times ruthless and dictatorial, he was a multimillionaire businessman and the most dynamic expatriate Cuban leader exile since Jose Martí. He was compared both favorably and unfavorably to Fidel Castro, and it was no secret that he and his followers dreamed of the day Mas would return to Cuba as president. But unlike many of his generation, he first became a skilled participant in the U.S. political system. He formed CANF in 1981, patterning it after Israel's well-organized Washington lobbying forces. He was close to presidents, prime ministers, and politicians of all stripes who courted the favor of the Cuban-exile community he represented.

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.

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.

The Diaz-Balart family has been involved in politics for generations, beginning in Cuba. Lincoln's grandfather Rafael was an ally of the dictator Fulgencio Batista, and his father, also named Rafael, became a minister in the Batista administration that took power in a 1952 coup (he also had his own radio show). Fidel Castro, the man who drove Batista and his supporters out of the country with the 1959 revolution, was Lincoln's uncle by marriage during the early Fifties -- Castro's first wife was Mirta Diaz-Balart, sister of Rafael and mother of Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart (Fidelito). Mirta divorced Fidel in 1954. Rafael Diaz-Balart, now 74 years old, spends several months a year in Spain and, when in Miami, hosts a program on Radio Martí. His son is frequently heard on Radio Martí, as well. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's father, Enrique Ros, an amateur historian, also hosted a show on Radio Martí but resigned after complaints that both fathers' programs gave the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Critics of Herminio San Roman accuse him of awarding coveted airtime to Diaz-Balart and Ros to curry favor with their influential offspring. Too much of that airtime, those critics allege, goes to people with mediocre broadcast credentials but sterling political connections. For example Yusimi Sijo, a young woman who had previously cohosted an AM-radio chat show with Rafael Diaz-Balart, now has her own program on Radio Martí; Julio Estorino, active in local Democratic affairs and friend of Radio Martí director Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera, currently hosts two programs, panned by a panel of independent journalists, that replicate the opinionated, often strident shows Estorino aired in the past on Miami's anti-Castro AM stations.

A job with Radio Martí, which almost invariably pays more than AM radio, is a big step up for most broadcast talent. (Some of the reporters hired within the past three years are earning almost $60,000, while veterans pull in $75,000 or more per year. San Roman's annual salary is $133,000.) Yet many at the station have never departed from the inimitable Castro-bashing style prevalent in exile-AM broadcasting. "They're still doing their old rinky-dink Calle Ocho shows," in the words of a former OCB employee. And they're talking to a bored Cuban population vastly different from the one they might remember or hear their parents talk about. In fact in 1998 dozens of dissidents throughout the island distributed a packet of letters complaining about the programming changes initiated by San Roman and accusing Radio Martí of broadcasting "a rain of lies and outdated information"; of favoritism in choosing on-air reports; of "creating false situations to increase hostility between the U.S. and Cuba"; and of "fomenting illegal departures from Cuba, making heroes out of those who traffic in people." The packet was distributed to Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen, CANF, and an anti-Castro group in Puerto Rico; nothing has come of it.

Diaz-Balart has insisted in the past that he supports San Roman because the OCB director has carried out major reforms at the Martí stations and is doing a good job. "It's entirely possible that could actually be one of the reasons Lincoln is supporting Herminio," says a friend of San Roman. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

In an April 8 interview on WLRN-TV(Channel 17), Diaz-Balart deflected a question about the controversy over San Roman by asserting, "Since Herminio San Roman has arrived, the microphones have been open to all Democratic points of view, and because of this, Castro feels more threatened and has intensified his interference of Radio Martí. We're going to get President Bush to find ways to overcome this interference, because Radio Martí has hurt Castro." Radio Martí, a shortwave station, also is transmitted on two AM frequencies from Miami.

Two months ago Diaz-Balart's chief of staff, Ana Carbonell, elaborated on the reasons her boss is so enthusiastic about the Clinton appointee and self-proclaimed "friend of Al Gore." Carbonell called Miami station WQBA (1140-AM) to argue San Roman's case during a show dedicated to the OCB controversy. "No one has been more critical of the Clinton administration," Carbonell said of Diaz-Balart. "But the leadership of Herminio San Roman and Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera is in line with the philosophy of the Republicans; they're open to all points of view."

In February several witnesses in Washington recall a polite but angry discussion between Diaz-Balart and at least two outspoken critics of San Roman. The dispute occurred at the opening of CANF's new $1.8 million Washington office, which ambitiously has been christened the Embassy for a Free Cuba. "[Diaz-Balart] was very confrontational," remarks one attendee. "Obviously if he's taking criticism of Herminio personally, he's in deep."

Diaz-Balart isn't just taking it personally; he is believed to be retaliating against some who don't hold San Roman in the same high esteem. At least three almost-certain candidates for (three different) presidential appointments, all of whom have been critical of the state of affairs at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, suddenly have been dropped from consideration by the Bush administration.

The foundation, despite its longstanding political and ideological kinship with Diaz-Balart, has been lobbying against San Roman, mainly behind closed Republican doors but also in public statements, and questioning Diaz-Balart's motives for backing him. CANF won't endorse anyone to replace San Roman. "Our position is very clear," declares CANF executive director Joe Garcia. "We want Radio and TV Martí to do what they're supposed to do: to transmit accurate and newsworthy information to the people of Cuba. We know it isn't working now, we know what's going on, and we want it fixed. If there is someone living in China under a rock, and he can do the job, that's the guy we want. A lot of brave men and women put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into [the Martí stations], and it's embarrassing to us and embarrassing to the entire Cuban-American community."

When George W. Bush was campaigning in South Florida this past August, he told an audience at Florida International University the government needs to "revitalize Radio and TV Martí." That remark, reflecting one of several issues CANF representatives had lobbied the candidate to address in his speech, was seized upon by Martí-watchers as a sign of the Republicans' desire to make the broadcasts a more important part of U.S. policy toward Cuba. San Roman's opponents took it as a sign that a Republican administration would be disposed to remove him as director of the OCB. Now it looks as though the foundation will have a more difficult time wresting changes from the Bush White House. "I think the foundation's influence has receded, and Lincoln's has grown, although I don't know whether it's grown that much. I don't think [the foundation] has got the clout he has right now," admits Wayne Smith, the senior fellow at the Center for International Policyin Washington and former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. In 1996 Smith also was the target of a defamation lawsuit brought by the foundation, a case in which he eventually prevailed. "There's nothing I like to see more than these guys [Diaz-Balart and the foundation] fighting among themselves," he quips.

After George W. Bush became president, several reliable sources came to believe that his brother Jeb and other influential Republicans, including Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, were supporting Antonio Navarro for the OCB directorship. Navarro, who headed the OCB from 1990 until 1993, when George Bush, Sr., was president, also is a former member of the President's Advisory Board for Cuba Broadcasting. (Navarro's successor, former Miami television executive Richard Lobo, resigned in 1996, and an interim director served until the appointment of San Roman, who played a major role in Clinton's Florida re-election campaign.) A spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush explains her boss is "not endorsing any particular candidate at this time." (At least Bush's office returned phone calls; the three Cuban-American U.S. representatives -- Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez -- who have been perhaps the strongest Congressional backers of the Martís and San Roman, didn't respond to numerous inquiries.)

Ros-Lehtinen has long stood with Diaz-Balart behind San Roman. Lately, though, Ros-Lehtinen has made some effort to distance herself from San Roman and despite writing letters of support for the three leading pretenders to the throne, now seems to have more emphatically endorsed Salvador Lew, a veteran Miami broadcaster and current member of the President's Advisory Board. Lew also sought the blessing of prominent local businessman (and Jeb Bush friend) Armando Codina. At first, Codina recalls, he was willing to informally vouch for Lew. "I got a call from Salvador Lew, who I think is a fine gentleman, and I did call Al Cardenas on his behalf," Codina says. "I found out to my surprise this thing is a nuclear war. At stake here is what and who gets heard in Cuba. So I'm going to let the people who get the big bucks to worry about these things decide for themselves."

Eduardo Palmer, a Cuba-born producer of television documentaries and newsreels for 40 years, is another top candidate for the OCB job. Palmer says Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen both backed him four years ago, when San Roman eventually was chosen to head the OCB. This year, assuming he had a better chance with a Republican administration, Palmer again contacted Diaz-Balart for his support. "He said he would like to, but he was supporting San Roman," Palmer recalls. "I find it completely unfair, unjust, and unexplainable, because when San Roman got the job, he boasted, “I don't know anything about [broadcasting], but I'm a friend of Al Gore.' Ratings have dropped from almost 70 percent to 7 percent. Mr. San Roman is a very nice and decent person, and if he were very efficient and professional in communications media and doing a good job, then I think it wouldn't matter if he stays. But he doesn't know anything about communications media."

The trouble with that reasoning is it makes too much sense. In the end the OCB director must serve the political interests of those who put him there. It's not in any president's interest to allow the Miami exiles to dictate Cuba policy, but neither does he want to offend them. So, as Bill Clinton did, it's safer to do as little as possible with the Martí stations. George W. Bush can talk about revitalizing Cuba broadcasting, but actually accomplishing it could have explosive consequences; he always has to walk the line between the growing trend toward reopening relations with Cuba and the uncompromising stance of the anti-communist purists. "The Republicans are much better at pretending they don't feel like the Democrats felt," says the former Clinton administration Latin-American-affairs expert. "The Republicans are going to say things, but they're not going to do anything, because you can't do anything. If you do something, you're going to have a migration crisis, and George Bush doesn't want people pouring into Florida any more than Clinton did. Nobody wants to talk about this. They pretend it's going to be different, but [Cuban-Americans] are going to be frustrated all over again with the Republicans."


Even if it doesn't matter who's in charge of the OCB, the most recent Radio Martí program evaluations and audience surveys don't inspire confidence in the current director. Radio Martí's staff and news coverage have been labeled unprofessional and unbalanced by a panel of independent journalists contracted by Florida International University's Center for International Journalism; and the government's own monitoring reports, which once had Radio Martí attracting approximately 50 percent of Cuba's radio listeners, in 1998 put the audience at 9 percent. Both audience surveys inside Cuba and focus-group interviews of recent U.S. arrivals are notoriously inexact. While Radio Martí critics have always questioned high audience numbers in the past, the current OCB management insists the recent low figures are not reliable, and whatever decline there might be is the result of increased jamming by the Cuban authorities. (TV Martí, despite its nine-million-dollar annual budget, never had many viewers owing to technical obstacles, a situation worsened by the loss a year and a half ago of the station's transmitting balloon. A new balloon resumed transmissions this past October, according to a government spokesman, but there's no word on whether this has raised the audience figures.)

Beyond programming concerns and the political intrigue common in government offices, the OCB management has been accused of an inordinate number of illegal personnel practices since San Roman took over. At least a half-dozen formal complaints have been filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging job discrimination. Most are still pending, but an administrative-law judge ruled on one case this past February 5. Not only did Judge Jeannette Walters-Marquez validate all charges filed by former Radio Martí reporter Angelica Mora, the judge forcefully attacked the credibility of San Roman, Radio Martí director Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera, and TV Martí senior reporter William Valdes. Mora, who has extensive connections among dissidents and independent journalists in Cuba, was taken off the air in 1998 for reasons never fully explained. Rodriguez-Tejera, however, did imply on Radio Mambí that Mora had somehow been tainted by contact with Cuban state security agents.

In her eighteen-page decision, Walters-Marquez discounted Rodriguez-Tejera's story as "untrue and a pretext for national-origin discrimination." Mora, a Chilean, eventually found a lower-level job in Washington with the Voice of America. The case, according to several sources familiar with the proceedings, is in the process of being settled. San Roman did not return two phone calls, and Rodriguez-Tejera declined to comment, saying the station's legal department advised him not to speak about any personnel matters. Walters-Marquez's unequivocal ruling, according to another ex-Martí employee who says his own discrimination complaint has been languishing for three years, has caught the attention of government investigators whom he believes are pursuing his case more energetically than before.

The decision for Mora also encouraged former Radio Martí programming director Oscar Barcelo to seek redress for what he alleges were San Roman's discrimination and threats of blackmail because of Barcelo's sexual orientation. In what some observers believe could potentially do the most damage to San Roman's reputation, Barcelo has formally complained to the EEOC and says he is considering additional legal action. On February 21, 2001, in a three-page letter to the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal agency that oversees all government broadcast operations, Barcelo listed several alleged instances in which San Roman ridiculed Barcelo's homosexuality and threatened to "out" him on Miami radio stations. Barcelo, who testified in Mora's case and was determined by Judge Walters-Marquez to be a "credible witness," also accuses San Roman's bureaucratic bosses of disregarding numerous complaints about San Roman's violations of "personnel, contracting, and other governing regulations" while "destroying careers left and right." In 1998, after a thirteen-year career with the OCB, Barcelo was transferred to a temporary position in Washington. When that job ended, he was unemployed for six months, finally finding work with Voice of America.

San Roman came to the Office of Cuba Broadcasting as a reformer, a progressive Democrat seen as someone who could give Radio Martí an updated edge and -- at least in the minds of those who longed to cast off the looming shadow of Jorge Mas Canosa -- root out his people and present a modern, foundation-free face to the island.

And he did accomplish many of those changes. Today, even though audience ratings are plummeting, some anecdotal accounts from the island portray Radio Martí as the best and most popular alternative to Cuba's state-run media. A report of an unofficial and relatively unrestricted visit to the island by representatives of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress stated: "[Two independent Cuban] journalists praised Radio Martí and noted that independents in Cuba who make information available for broadcast over Radio Martí play an important role." Furthermore, despite complaints from various independent journalists that Martí airwaves are accessible only to chosen dissident groups, San Roman and Radio Martí chief Rodriguez-Tejera frequently are credited with expanding contact with dissidents in Cuba.

In mid-February Florida International University hosted a panel discussion in which academics and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors discussed the Martí stations and ways they could keep up with changes in Cuba and the rest of the world. San Roman was in the audience and heard almost no negative remarks from the panel, which included a few of the Martís' sharpest critics. On one hand most panelists seemed to agree that some of the softer, entertainment and sports programs on Radio Martí were more effective in attracting Cuban listeners. On the other hand, several august members of the audience, which included Voice of America and Radio Liberty executives, asserted that government broadcasts had played a stabilizing and motivating role in the downfall of communism in Europe and should do the same when Castro departs Cuba. The Martís' news operations, several speakers said, needed to become "a model of absolutely reliable information for a post-Castro Cuba," "never shrill," and "should have a very high level of professionalism."

Judging from some expert assessments, Radio Martí may have a ways to go before becoming that model of reliability. A scathing 1998 evaluation by a panel of journalists convened by the FIU Center for International Journalismrepeatedly noted a lack of professionalism and balance in news programs at Radio Martí. A 1999 report by the U.S. Department of State's Office of the Inspector General echoed the 1998 criticisms and called for the OCB to correct widespread mismanagement and lack of program monitoring.

Since then there has been at least one fact-finding visit by Washington officials to the OCB headquarters near the Miami airport, and, about ten months ago, the federal agency that administers government broadcast operations completed a highly critical report on Radio Martí's coverage of last year's Elian Gonzalez saga. In any case, neither the station's programming nor personnel has changed essentially since 1998, except for the recent addition to the schedule of an audio version of Cristina, the wildly popular Univision Spanish-language television network show. Cristina also is a favorite of the growing number of Cubans with satellite reception or who patronize Cuba's burgeoning black-market video-rental industry, so perhaps the show will attract more Cuban listeners to Radio Martí.

Washington bureaucrats and OCB employees alike, however, question whether the U.S. government should sponsor a Spanish-language version of Jerry Springer (to be fair, sometimes a better version). And as for the Martís, providing "absolutely reliable" news to an island where all sources of information are state-controlled -- a year ago Radio Martí ignored for four hours one of the biggest breaking stories of the decade, the seizure of Elian Gonzalez in Little Havana. (As a result Radio Martí director Rodriguez-Tejera was suspended for two weeks; there is still dispute over whether Rodriguez-Tejera has ever complied with the sanction.)

The White House recently began preparing to fill appointments to the myriad advisory boards and commissions in Washington. Many of the vacancies are on broadcasting-related bodies; still, Republican sources in Tallahassee and Washington expect the Bush administration to take its time getting to Cuba broadcasting appointments -- perhaps not until May or later. Diaz-Balart and San Roman have time and the labyrinth of exile politics on their side.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Miami Concert Tickets
Loading...