Incessant Static

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

Lew and his supporters dispute that, and have released the impressive results of two listener surveys to prove Radio Martí is regaining its old vigor. In one survey, members of a Cuban independent journalists' association (the Foundation of Associated Independent Journalists) claimed to have interviewed 1000 people on the streets of Havana. The responses indicated 92.5 percent of them listened to Radio Martí every day and 62.3 percent listen all day, every day. A much smaller sampling at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana also reported that a high percentage of the types of Cubans likely to be found at the Interests Section (professionals and dissidents) listened to Radio Martí.

These results were surprising in light of the U.S. government survey of August 2001, which reported a rock-bottom five-percent listenership. When the two highly favorable surveys were made public, the reaction in Washington and Miami was generally skeptical, with some knowledgeable observers labeling the independent journalists' appraisal fraudulent; they doubted that so many Cubans, normally reluctant to admit doing something for which they could be punished, had answered the extensive list of questions the journalists claim to have posed.

Sassy Alfaro discusses Santería four hours each week on Radio Martí
Steve Satterwhite
Sassy Alfaro discusses Santería four hours each week on Radio Martí

If the surveys raise questions about the integrity of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting's external affairs, the recent raft of employee complaints does the same for its internal affairs. These complaints to federal oversight offices add to the ugly mess left by Lew's predecessor, Miami attorney Herminio San Roman. When San Roman resigned as OCB director last July, at least four lawsuits against him and his top managers were pending. The complaints alleged unfair demotion or dismissal, discrimination, even blackmail. The plaintiff in one suit who alleged discrimination based on national origin won her case a year ago and was awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages. Now the new complaints are piled on the pending cases.

The four women alleging sexual discrimination against Lew referred questions to their Miami attorney, Robert Weisberg. Two of the women, Christina Sansón and Martha Yedra, were removed from positions of authority (acting news director and program director, respectively), replaced by men, and given jobs they believe were designed to force them to resign. The other women, Michelle Sagué and Carmen Steegers, allegedly were diverted to inferior assignments and denied promotions that were given to men. All four claim they complained several times last summer to the Broadcasting Board of Governors' Office of Civil Rights but received no response until January or February 2002.

Other employees say they're consulting attorneys after contractors, some of whom allegedly had been rejected for employment in the past, took over all or part of their former duties. Several employees and freelancers say they have spoken with representatives from the U.S. state department's Office of the Inspector General or the Office of Civil Rights at the BBG. Enrique Patterson vows to "go to court" if he doesn't receive equal pay for equal work.

The Martí stations' history is marked by regular investigations of bias, favoritism, journalistic incompetence, and mistreatment of employees. Several scathing reports have been issued, the most recent by the State Department's Office of the Inspector General in early 1999, which called for closer supervision of the Martí stations by federal administrators. But the political unrest -- fueled by internecine conflicts among exile interests and Washington's willingness to relinquish the Martí stations to these interests -- dooms the OCB to a future of endless, debilitating power struggles. Lost amid the turmoil is the mandate to speak with the voice of America, to provide credible, uncensored information to Cuba.

"Maybe the situation at Radio Martí has become so dysfunctional they could appoint Sir Lancelot to run the station and there'd be complaints," muses a Washington source familiar with OCB operations. "I think the place no longer knows what its mission is. The move to Miami has given many dedicated people nowhere to go. They've lost their moorings, and there's no professional supervision that would fix this."

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