Using information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Miami Herald on Sept. 8 named 10 journalists as having received U.S. government money for work with Radio and TV Marti, the U.S. outlet for propaganda to Cuba. The Herald said three of them who write for its Spanish-language subsidiary, El Nuevo Herald, were fired.
Total payments since 2001 from the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting ranged from $1,550 to $174,753 per journalist. The top amount went to Pablo Alfonso, a regular columnist on Cuba issues for El Nuevo Herald. Olga Connor, a freelance writer on Cuban culture, received $71,000, and Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who covered the Cuban exile community, took in $15,000 over five years.
Jesus Diaz Jr., the Miami Herald’s publisher, said, “I personally don’t believe that integrity and objectivity can be assured if any of our reporters receive monetary compensation from any entity that he or she may cover or have covered, but particularly if it’s a government agency.”
Cuban government spokespersons have repeatedly claimed that many so-called independent journalists within Cuba and elsewhere take U.S. government money. Addressing journalists last June, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon reiterated the charge that many of the dissidents jailed in April 2003 were “mercenaries.” Commentators say the recent disclosures support these charges.
Juan Manuel Cao, a reporter for Miami’s Spanish-language Channel 41, took in an extra $11,400 this year from his Washington employers. What Washington gets for its money was exemplified in Cao’s interview with Orlando Bosch last April. The pediatrician-terrorist responded this way to a question about his part in the bombing of a Cuban airliner off Barbados in 1976: “No, chico, in a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant, you have to down planes, you have to sink ships.”
In July, at the Mercosur Summit in Buenos Aires, Cao questioned Fidel Castro about a dissident supposedly unable to leave Cuba. Castro, in reply, asked Cao who was paying him.
Cao’s conscience is apparently clear. “There is nothing suspect in this,” he declared to reporters. “I would do it for free. But the regulations don’t allow it. I charge symbolically, below market prices.”
The Miami Herald has not yet indicated its decision on Carlos Alberto Montaner, another U.S. government payee. Montaner illustrates the use of Washington money to fuel media-driven anti-Cuba prejudices in the Miami area. The Miami Herald columnist has reliably defended right-wing, anti-Cuba paramilitary operations in South Florida. Analysts see Montaner’s hand in helping create the atmosphere of community bias that infected the trial of the five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters arrested in 1998.