Members of Congress ask about ‘drastic’ plans to cut staff at Radio and TV Martí

Three Florida members of Congress sent a letter to the federal agency that oversees the Radio and TV Martí stations, asking about alleged “drastic” plans to cut staff and even move the stations from Miami to Washington, D.C.

“We write to express our profound concern regarding information that we have received regarding plans to drastically reduce personnel at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB),“ which oversees the Martí stations, said U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart and Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott in a letter sent Monday to the United States Agency for Global Media.

“We are also concerned about indications that there may be additional considerations underway to greatly alter OCB’s structure, or possibly its location,” the three Republicans said in the letter obtained by el Nuevo Herald.

The U.S Agency for Global Media is the federal agency in charge of the Martí stations in Miami and other government media, such as the Voice of America. The agency did not deny the plans outlined in the letter and released a statement.

“We share their commitment to ensuring that the Office of Cuba Broadcasting is fully equipped and capable of fulfilling its mission to serve as a trusted and authoritative source of accurate, balanced and complete information for the Cuban people,” the agency said. “This mission has never been more vital to Cubans or the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and we look forward to continuing our close coordination with OCB leadership and Congressional stakeholders in ensuring OCB’s success.”

Every year, the Martí stations are allocated a budget of around $29 million, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate have proposed cuts for 2020. The House approved $13 million and the Senate $21 million, but both chambers could negotiate a compromise figure or keep the current level of funding.

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It is not clear if the plans to reduce staff are related to the proposed budget cuts; if so, that would be “premature,” said a source in Congress. “It’s too early to know what would be the level of funding, and the agency has other ways to save money without making layoffs,” the source added.

The three members of Congress asked the agency to reconsider the layoff plans and “at a minimum” to keep them informed of any possible changes.

The letter has caused a commotion among station workers, who were not aware of the plans. “Martí’s employees feel betrayed,” said an employee who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Emilio Vázquez, acting director of the stations, did not respond to a request for comment.

Radio Martí was created in 1985 and later followed by the television station and a digital site. It has received to date $911 million from the federal budget to bring uncensored information to Cuba. But the Cuban government has regularly interfered with the radio signal, and the TV Martí can barely be watched on the island. More recently, the OCB has tried to introduce technology on the island to expand access to the internet and the stations’ contents without much success.

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Three Martí directors, including former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, have resigned from the stations in the last three years amid controversies.

Regalado, who left in September, had to manage the ensuing scandal after a controversial report about George Soros — written before Regalado’s tenure at the stations — grabbed the attention of members of Congress and national media. Under his watch, his son, reporter Tomás Regalado Jr., was suspended and investigated for allegedly manipulating images in a report about the protests in Nicaragua.

During his watch, Regalado, himself a radio journalist, also strengthened radio programming but let go of contractors working on the Martinoticias webpage and canceled the contracts of Cuban independent journalists, which generated strong criticism.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

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Nora Gámez Torres estudió periodismo y comunicación en La Habana y Londres. Tiene un doctorado en sociología y desde el 2014 cubre temas cubanos para el Nuevo Herald y el Miami Herald. También reporta sobre la política de Estados Unidos hacia América Latina. Su trabajo ha sido reconocido con premios de Florida Society of News Editors y Society for Profesional Journalists.