Incessant Static

Every year millions of your dollars are pumped into Radio and TV Martí. What do you get in return?

This arrangement isn't new; Lew's predecessor at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Herminio San Roman, originally asked Perez-Roura to appear on Radio Martí. Lew, however, has more than doubled Perez-Roura's airtime. Perez-Roura himself takes a modest measure of his influence and sees nothing wrong with Radio Martí airing his programs. "A good station presents a cocktail of programs," he offers. "It informs, analyzes, orients, entertains." Lew explains Perez-Roura's presence on Radio Martí this way: "It's inconceivable that the most popular commentator in Miami is not heard in Cuba." (This despite the fact that Radio Mambí carries his voice to Cuba every day.)

Perez-Roura is hardly the only Mambí voice heard on Radio Martí. Lew's friend Santiago Aranegui hosts programs on both stations, and Rafael Diaz-Balart is a regular guest and commentator on both. Diaz-Balart, who recently proclaimed on Radio Mambí that the Castro government is "worse than the Taliban" in its treatment of women, is Fidel Castro's former brother-in-law, a former minister in the Batista government, and father of politicians Lincoln and Mario and TV personality José.

When the elder Diaz-Balart and historian Enrique Ros, father of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, were first contracted to appear on Radio Martí in 1997, protests erupted over the wisdom of giving taxpayer-sponsored airtime to the fathers of Florida's two Cuban-American members of Congress, who also happened to be the most vocal champions of the Martí stations in the House. Ros subsequently ceased his Radio Martí appearances.

Lazaro Asencio (above) has fought with sword and pen against his old friend Fidel Castro, but as director of Radio Martí's newsroom (at top) he's armed with millions of U.S. dollars
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Lazaro Asencio (above) has fought with sword and pen against his old friend Fidel Castro, but as director of Radio Martí's newsroom (at top) he's armed with millions of U.S. dollars
Nancy Perez-Crespo makes sure the people of Cuba know just how rotten their lives are
Steve Satterwhite
Nancy Perez-Crespo makes sure the people of Cuba know just how rotten their lives are

Lew's friend Nancy Perez-Crespo, a regular contributor to Radio Mambí's Mesa Revuelta program, is under contract to host a show five evenings per week on Radio Martí, for which she is paid more than $45,000 annually. One of Perez-Crespo's frequent guests is Ninoska Perez Castellon of WQBA-AM (1140), former spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation before leading an exodus of influential members last summer. Perez Castellon is already famous both here and in Cuba for her crank calls to the island that fluster and embarrass top communist party officials.

Recently on Radio Martí, Perez-Crespo interviewed two men who "investigate the activities of Cubans in the United States who work for the Castro regime." The Cubans working for Castro turned out to be those who advocated normalization of relations with Cuba and who helped bring Cuban musicians (such as Los Van Van) to perform in the United States. The entire half-hour was dedicated to trashing, by name, prominent organizations and individuals, including Democratic Party activist and Bay of Pigs veteran Alfredo Duran and University of Miami scholar Max Castro, a regular contributor to the Miami Herald. "They call themselves Cubans, they talk about intolerance here, when they're intolerant," Perez-Crespo protested. "Maybe they've been sent directly from the [Castro] regime." Max Castro, she added, was "Fidel Castro's columnist in the Miami Herald."

Daily listening to Radio Martí (accessible via the Internet; see sidebar) leaves the distinct impression that many of these Miami Cubans reaching out to those on the island are talking to the Cuba of the Forties and Fifties, or to a land they have reconstructed secondhand from contacts with dissidents and newly arrived immigrants. The majority of those now calling the shots at the Martí stations (as at all the other exile stations) are white, middle-class men who departed Cuba soon after the revolution.

When he took office, Lew said that Radio Martí programs would emphasize that most Cubans were better off economically under dictator Fulgencio Batista than they are under Castro. And sure enough, in show after show, a plentiful supply of dissidents on the island and activists in exile recount, discuss, and protest the terrible conditions on the island. But the very monotony of this complaining tends to dull the impact of hearing about Cuba's pressing economic and human-rights depredations. "[Martí management] is clueless as to what Cubans really want to hear," scoffs one longtime OCB employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. "[Cubans on the island] know how bad they're doing. They don't need to hear about it all the time, and they don't care how great the economy was under Batista. [The Martí stations] always had a quality newscast in Washington, where they would cover world events. Now we're covering somebody's friend's stuff in Miami."

Lew counters that he's gradually making the station more relevant to contemporary Cubans. He touts Sassy Alfaro's Santería show as an outreach to "Afro-Cubans," and he's proud of an upcoming program about the Cuban military, to be produced in Washington by Radio Martí's respected first news director, Jay Mallin. The Miami-Dade Housing Authority director, Rene Rodriguez, has agreed to present (free of charge) a weekly program about the kinds of housing available to low-income immigrants.

None of these or the other new shows have been screened or approved by anyone except Lew. When the Martí stations were in Washington, each proposed show was evaluated by a professional review board and often revised before it went on the air. By the time the OCB had settled in Miami, the review board had been reduced to a panel of politically placed employees. Then Lew did away with even that. He promises to reinstate a review committee when he can find the right people to be on it. Enrique Patterson, for one, isn't encouraged. "My program passed for quality when I started," Patterson relates. "But Dr. Lew canceled the board, and after that they make programs like Mambí: people talking and not presenting any basis [for their statements]. This is government money and you have to follow certain procedures. If they still had the [review] board, just about all the programs at present would have been rejected."

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