Director of U.S. office that oversees Radio, TV Martí resigns

Maria Malule Gonzalez, director of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami which oversees TV, Radio Martí, last week resigned.
Maria Malule Gonzalez, director of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami which oversees TV, Radio Martí, last week resigned. El Nuevo Herald File

The director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, the U.S. federal body that oversees Radio and TV Martí as well as the Martí Noticias website, resigned last week amid complaints by some dissidents and exiles about OCB’s editorial line.

“Every pressure cooker needs an escape valve. With my resignation, I am only trying to put an end to the speculations and false accusations by some sectors that are interested in taking over this job,” OCB Director Maria “Malule” Gonzalez told el Nuevo Herald.

“The campaign is not the only reason for my resignation,” she added. “It’s [also] a matter of making way for whoever the [Trump] administration wants to put in this job.”

Gonzalez, who will remain at the head of the OCB until a new director is appointed, added that her resignation had been voluntary.

Her statement referred to a campaign of criticisms against her in social media and on the Hialeah Gardens-based television channel América TeVé. Facebook users published her personal contacts, and she said she received multiple calls with complaints.

A video broadcast by América TeVé after President Donald Trump’s election showed Cuban opposition activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, urging Radio and TV Martí to “rethink the reasons why they were created and again give some space to those of us who call Raúl Castro a dictator.”

On the same program, Marcell Felipe, who founded Inspire America, an organization that promotes the work of dissidents like Antunez, accused the broadcasters of having “become practically a propaganda tool for the Castro regime.” Felipe, a lawyer who also represents América TeVé, said he was not speaking for the TV channel.

During the Obama administration, the Martí stations — first under the direction of Carlos Garcia and since 2015 under Gonzalez — began making a series of changes designed to bring their coverage in line with the journalism standards of the Voice of America, another U.S. government broadcaster, and expand their audience on the island through the internet and the distribution of DVDs.

“In the last year we completed analysis and studies by third parties that show the impact of the Martí stations on the island, and that our decision to use the internet as an additional distribution channel was right,” Gonzalez said. “On Sept. 26 and 27 we will hold the second Cuban Internet Freedom conference that was so successful last year.”

But the shift of funds from the TV broadcasts — seldom seen on the island because the Cuban government blocks them — to the digital content and the decision to move away from propaganda and toward a more balanced journalism have been criticized by some Cuban exiles as well as opposition activists on the island.

“Those of us who called Fidel a tyrant rather than president, who were totally opposed to the Obama policy [of engagement with Cuba], we had no space there,” Antunez told el Nuevo Herald.

A quick search of the Martínoticias website turned up 347 reports that mentioned Antunez. But the coverage has been “too favorable” to the Obama policies on Cuba, he replied, and there has been supposedly “little follow-up” to news developments on the island.

“That broadcaster went from being a weapon at the service of freedom to a weapon for agreeableness,” he added. “I don’t criticize the institution. Radio and TV Martí are very important. I criticize the last two managements, which served the Cuban American National Foundation and Barack Hussein Obama by falsifying and sabotaging its editorial line.”

The Cuban American National Foundation did not respond to a request for comments.

The dispute over the Martí stations reflects the profound frustration sparked by President Barack Obama’s decision to warm relations with Cuba among some dissidents on the island as well as exiles abroad and renews an old argument about the goals and efficacy of the broadcasters.

Felipe said he believes the stations should work clearly for “regime change” in Cuba, and complained that there has been a lack of “political will” at the OCB to implement new technologies that would make TV Martí’s signal available in Cuba.

The lawyer added that Cuban exiles will be “very happy” when the name of the next OCB director becomes known. It will not be him, he added.

Regulations issued by the Obama administration require the OCB director to be appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Government, the agency that supervises all U.S. government broadcasts, rather than the White House. The BBG did not respond to a request for comments.

Gonzalez said she will be leaving behind “a more agile and efficient organization that now has new distribution channels, one of the biggest challenges of this institution. The three platforms are working as one … with one voice.”

The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under Obama raised many questions about the future of Radio and TV Martí, whose operations have long been questioned by members of Congress and other agencies.

One bill that would have totally eliminated the Martí broadcasters was submitted to Congress in 2015. And the Obama administration floated one proposal to turn the OCB into a federal contractor, like the other broadcasters under BBG supervision. That generated fears among its employees that they would lose their federal benefits. The proposal has not yet been adopted.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2018 includes cuts of $4 million to $5 million in OCB financing.

“I continued meanwhile to work strongly in OCB,” Gonzalez said. “Last week, I announced the appointment of Wilfredo Cancio as news director … and we are just weeks away from completing the revitalization plan that we started at the beginning of the year.”