The front page of Wednesday's New York Times featured Lizette Alvarez's "Out of Cold War Past, Broadcasts to Cuba Face an Uneasy Future." For conservative fans of hypocritical liberal media irony, the text box is a keeper: "Accusations of a lack of balance, fairness and objectivity." This from the liberal fortress known as the Times.
Of course, those very traits apply to the Times own coverage of political and cultural issues, including its traditionally soft coverage of Communist Cuba. Witness this pathetic Randal Archibold report from Havana in February obsessing over nascent income inequality in a Cuba finally opening up a little bit to free markets. The Times ignored the fact that in a dictatorship, the inequality gap (of money, freedom, and influence) between the privileged politically connected elite and the common citizenry is far more vast than any mere income gap in a free-market society.
Alzarez's target on Wednesday's front page was Radio and Television Marti, a modestly priced anti-communist federally funded advocacy program that since the Reagan administration has been piping in forbidden news into Cuba, to the ire of the Castro brothers.
The rat-a-tat Cuban-inflected Spanish of the two Radio Martí hosts ricocheted back and forth during “Revoltillo,” a show laced with humor that airs classified ads posted in Cuba on a Craigslist-style website called Revolico.
Recorded here but aimed at an audience in Cuba, where Internet access is severely limited and the local news media is tightly controlled, the show presents news unfiltered by Cuban censors and snippets of life on the island, like examples of the recently unleashed zeal for private enterprise. So one of the hosts, as part of an effort to bolster Cuba’s fledgling independent businesses, recently promoted “Hilda in Havana,” who is offering desserts and decorations for events and restaurants.
But three decades after becoming a Cold War staple -- regularly criticized for anti-Castro, one-dimensional slant and advocacy -- Radio and TV Martí are at a crossroads, scrambling to stay relevant as the relationship between Cuba and the United States inches toward a thaw.
At their headquarters in Miami, the Martís try to keep pace with changing technology and habits on the island, greater competition and the longstanding concerns of federal watchdogs.
No one disputes the success of the Martís in one respect: angering the Castro brothers, who have long viewed the transmissions as violations of international norms. In January, President Raúl Castro called for an end to the Martís as a condition for normalizing relations with the United States.
Alvarez reliably labeled supporters as "conservative" and Cuban exiles in Florida as "monolithic" -- but liberal sources who oppose the Martís programs were not burdened with such unflattering descriptors.
“The one thing that has kept it alive with policy makers is the absolute antagonism of the Cuban regime for this broadcasting venture,” said Helle C. Dale, who has studied the Martís for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
But the Martís, with a budget of $27 million, have critics that include former American diplomats in Cuba. Opponents have long considered them taxpayer-funded relics controlled by Cuban exiles that too often slide into propaganda, which has damaged their credibility in the past.
The Cuban American National Foundation, a once-monolithic lobbying group of Cuban exiles, helped persuade the Reagan administration to establish Radio Martí in 1983. It started broadcasting in 1985, and TV Martí began in 1990. The foundation’s influence over the Martís remains strong, experts said.
Through the years, reports by congressional staff members and federal agencies, like the Inspector General for the State Department, have delivered stinging assessments; the most recent report came last summer. They have accused the Martís of “a lack of balance, fairness and objectivity,” of cronyism, malfeasance and, most recently, low employee morale. A frequent source of displeasure was the millions spent until recently on an aerostat balloon and a plane to try to transmit TV signals to Cuba. The project was a failure.
Alvarez co-wrote a story in December 2014 that portrayed liberalized relations with Cuba as a welcome inevitability, finding in Florida an "aging generation of Cuban-American traditionalists who take a hard line on Cuba policy..."