Radio Marti probe confirms reprisals Some employees resisted outside influence of powerful Cuban exile

March 17, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Nearing the end of a lengthy inquiry into Radio Marti, the U.S.-financed radio station that broadcasts to Cuba, government investigators have documented a pattern of reprisals against employees who resisted the influence of Cuban exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa, according to agency documents and officials familiar with the inquiry.

Political pressures at the station led to unbalanced news broadcasts and improper promotions and demotions, according to the officials and documents. Several station employees have pointed to Mr. Mas Canosa as the source of that pressure.

Mr. Mas Canosa, who lives in Miami, favors stepped-up American efforts to topple the regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and he wields enormous influence over Radio Marti as the longtime head of its advisory panel.

The investigation by Marian Bennett, inspector general of the United States Information Agency, is nearing completion at a time of turmoil inside the station and in U.S. policy toward Fidel Castro and his Communist regime.

Congress is moving ahead with legislation that would move Radio Marti from Washington to South Florida, a shift that critics say would increase the control of anti-Castro Cuban-American leaders such as Mr. Mas Canosa, who heads the Cuban American National Foundation.

Critics say they fear that Radio Marti's credibility will suffer if it is perceived as being the instrument of Cuban exiles in Florida. The Miami community's considerable influence on coverage of American policy toward Cuba drew complaints last year from Joseph Duffey the head of the USIA and Joseph Sullivan, head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana.

The inspector general's investigation, which began more than 18 months ago, has been prolonged because some of the subjects, including Mr. Mas Canosa, have refused to cooperate.

Rep. David E. Skaggs, the Colorado Democrat who is one of the main congressional critics of Radio Marti, suggested that the report was being kept under wraps simply to avoid controversy.

"There was very little interest shown by the leadership at USIA in getting to the bottom of this," Mr. Skaggs said. "Something like this should have been wrapped up in five to six months."

Kimberly Marteau, a spokeswoman for USIA, said Mr. Duffey wanted to see the investigation ended, but "the director of USIA cannot force the IG [inspector general] to conclude an investigation. In all regards, the IG operates independently from USIA and is not subject to the director's authority."

Ms. Bennett has declined to discuss specifics of the inquiry. "We're still analyzing our data and determining what needs to be done to complete the investigation," she said yesterday.

Spokesmen for Mr. Mas Canosa's Cuban American National Foundation in Washington and Miami did not return phone calls seeking comments.

The investigation began in 1994 when Bruce Sherman, Radio Marti's deputy director, was stripped of much of his authority after complaining about Mr. Mas Canosa's influence over the station's news director, Augustin Alles.

The investigation expanded by looking into charges that the station's news broadcasts were distorted to favor a hard line against Mr. Castro, that Mr. Alles was promoted because of outside influence and that efforts were made to fire research analysts who refused to expound the views on Cuba put forward by Mr. Mas Canosa.

Investigators have concluded that outside influence drove numerous personnel decisions and resulted in slanted broadcasts.

In one document, the former personnel director, Bruce Boyd, said he was told by two station managers to hasten the paperwork on the promotion of Mr. Alles before the Bush administration left office because Mr. Mas Canosa wanted it done, according to people familiar with the document.

A letter to investigators from Richard Planas, an analyst on the research staff, lays out a series of instances in which, he claims, Mr. Mas Canosa interfered with the station's news coverage, in some cases misrepresenting U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The most egregious example occurred Jan. 27, 1995, when a broadcast using information provided by Mr. Mas Canosa misled a number of Cuban refugees at the U.S. base on Guantanamo to think they would be allowed into the United States.

Although those refugees were admitted months later, this wasn't U.S. policy at the time, and the broadcast raised false hopes, Mr. Planas said.

Later, technical experts who tried to reconstruct the broadcast found a gap in the tape, indicating that it had been tampered with, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The effect of the inspector general's report is unclear. Last year, when the leaks of its contents first appeared, one name floated as a replacement for Mr. Mas Canosa was that of Dante Fascell, a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

lTC But since two planes belonging to an anti-Castro Cuban-American group were shot down by Cuban MiGs over the Florida Straits last month, killing four civilians, the White House has sought to mend fences with the Cuban-American community, including Mr. Mas Canosa.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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