WASHINGTON -- In a move that could lessen hostility between the United States and Cuba, the Clinton administration is considering a move to oust a powerful Cuban-American exile from atop the board that oversees U.S. broadcasts to the island.
The White House is expected to decide this fall whether to loosen the grip of Jorge Mas Canosa over Radio Marti and Television Marti by restructuring the board and naming new members, a senior administration official said.
Mr. Mas, who heads the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation, an influential lobbying organization, was a driving force behind the creation of both Radio Marti and TV Marti, and has been a key figure in their turbulent operations ever since. Among those being considered for the board of the broadcast service, the administration official said, is former Rep. Dante Fascell of Miami, a Democrat who was the longtime chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If the reorganization takes place, Mr. Fascell is expected to replace Mr. Mas as chairman.
"A process has started to move to find a slate to recommend to the president," the official said.
While not shifting basic U.S. policy toward Cuba, the shake-up would almost certainly reduce the prominence the broadcast service gives to views promoted by Mr. Mas, one of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's fiercest opponents in the United States and a figure said to view himself as Mr. Castro's most suitable successor.
Appointed chairman of the advisory panel by President Ronald Reagan and never replaced, Mr. Mas has used his position to exert control over Radio and TV Marti personnel and programming, according to agency officials and current and former staff members.
Recently, he has been a focus of an investigation by the United States Information Agency's inspector general, an inquiry triggered by allegations of reprisals by Radio Marti managers against station analysts who complained that his influence had led to distorted news coverage.
By replacing him as board chairman, President Clinton would defy Mr. Mas' many congressional allies, especially members who represent Cuban-American strongholds in Florida and New Jersey. Mr. Fascell nurtured close ties to Cuban-Americans while in Congress but no longer depends on that community for political support.
Mr. Mas' congressional supporters showed their influence earlier this month in beating back efforts by liberal Democrats in the House to abolish the Mas-led advisory board and to cut off funds for TV Marti,which has been jammed by the Castro regime since the broadcasts began in 1990.
Mr. Clinton's ties with conservative Cuban-Americans have steadily worsened since spring, when, without consulting Mr. Mas, the administration reversed three decades of U.S. policy and refused automatic asylum to Cuban refugees.
Other changes now contemplated by administration officials include exchanges of news bureaus and easing restrictions on money sent by Cuban-Americans to families on the island. Mr. Clinton remains opposed to lifting the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.
Joseph D. Duffey, chairman of the USIA, the Marti stations' parent organization, declined to comment on the proposed changes except to say, "We have a decision to make" about a new advisory panel. "A number of people have served for a considerable period of time."
But in an interview Friday, Mr. Duffey left no doubt that he expected the influence of conservative exiles to diminish in administration policy-making and in the coverage offered by Radio and TV Marti. The exiles' views and the larger national interest are "not always the same," he said.
Noting the political and generational divisions within the Cuban-American community itself, Mr. Duffey said, "Intensive coverage of the Cuban-American community today would be a coverage of debate and controversy over the future of our relations with Cuba."
Mr. Mas, he said, "is one voice, and probably not as dominant a voice as he has been in the past. I think he himself would recognize that."
Mr. Mas could not be reached for comment last week. But in a recent interview with a Spanish-language television station and in a column published in the Miami Herald, he condemned the expected changes in the stations.
"The Clinton administration wants to turn Radio Marti into an instrument for its policy of negotiation with the Castro regime," he told Univision in a report broadcast July 27.
In his column in the Herald on Aug. 1, he wrote: "In a highly volatile atmosphere of political changes in Washington relating to U.S. policy toward Cuba, it has become essential for the promoters of that change -- left-wing Clinton administration policy-makers -- to take over Radio and TV Marti, the main source of free and objective news and information for the Cuban people."
Created by Congress in 1983 to give Cubans an alternative to the Castro regime's controlled and fiercely anti-American media, Radio Marti was a hybrid among U.S. international broadcast services.