When Radio Martí went on the air on May 20, 1985, Ronald Reagan was president. The release of nude pictures of Madonna and her performance at the global Live Aid that summer fueled her rise to superstardom. And USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” was the year’s pop anthem.
“We Are the World” was, in part, a mindset behind the Miami-based, federally funded station’s formation. Radio Martí beamed Spanish-language news and entertainment into communist Cuba as a tropical version of Radio Free Europe — disseminating world and local information beyond the control of the Castro regime.
That’s the year 26-year-old Havana-born Oscar Barcelo started a 13-year career with the station in Washington, a role that would include serving as its director of programs for eight years. He followed with another 18 years in the Miami bureau of Voice of America until his death from cancer on March 4. Barcelo was 58.
“He had an unwavering commitment to the mission of Radio Martí to provide information denied to the people of Cuba by their government,” said Rolando Bonachea, former director of Radio Martí. “Oscar and his colleagues were responsible for developing programs to enhance the establishment of civil democratic society that contained, at its core, respect for human rights and the promise of democracy.”
After he left Radio Martí in 1998, Barcelo joined Washington-based Voice of America. He was its director of marketing and program placement for the Latin America Marketing Bureau in Miami, which provided services to VOA affiliates in 16 Spanish-speaking countries and in Haiti.
Obviously fraught with politics of the international and interpersonal kind, these positions could be challenging and lead to conflict with colleagues or listeners. Barcelo, a 1980 Loyola University graduate, never let the pressures detract from his mission or temperament.
“He was a person of high moral fiber, extremely generous and giving,” said niece Tatiana Azizi. “I always thought he was the most intelligent and cultured person I ever met — a real intellectual, though he would hate me using that term. He would never call himself an intellectual but he was an avid reader of everything: mythology, and he loved history and philosophy. He led by example and never had anything bad to say about anyone.”
A real role model for me growing up and, even as an adult, he remains a role model for the way I would like to be.
Tatiana Azizi, niece of Oscar Barcelo.
Azizi believes his values were inherent but also a reflection of his mother, the late Maria Luisa Loynaz del Castillo. The two shared similar personalities and a close bond. Both, Azizi said, were “able to step back and look at the big picture and weigh things appropriately.”
Barcelo’s love for Cuba was “core to Oscar’s essence,” Bonachea said. “That he did well in the area of marketing does not surprise me, because anything assigned to him, he did with excellence. During the eight years that he served as program director, the audience research studies reported skyrocketing listeners on the island.
“Oscar’s critics never gave him credit, although those of us who worked within Radio Martí knew that he was the spark that was responsible for the success in attracting an ever increasing audience,” Bonachea continued. “He was a gifted writer, a creative and talented professional in the area of broadcasting, but more importantly, a sensitive, kind man and loyal friend who was always committed to the truth.”
Barcelo is also survived by his sister Maria Luisa Barcelo. Services were held.