Communists in Cuba getting soft treatment from the Voice of America under past and current VOA and U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) leaders may have been noticed by Senator Menendez, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but more members of Congress and the Biden Administration need also to pay attention.
USAGM Watch Commentary
When USAGM Watch observed that the Voice of America’s (VOA) initial English newsroom report on recent anti-communist regime protests in Cuba provided long quotes from post-Castro regime officials attacking the demonstrators and Cuban-Americans without any acknowledgement by VOA news writers and editors that the Cuban rulers are communists guilty of massive human rights violations, it was not the first time that the Voice of America was soft on Cuban Communists.
The July 12, 2021 VOA report while including criticism from Cuban regime officials against U.S. sanctions did not mention the reasons for the sanctions or the fact that Cuba has a failed state socialist economy. Neither did the Voice of America report provide already known responses from the demonstrators and Cuban-Americans to the accusations leveled against them by Cuban regime officials extensively quoted by VOA. The last word in the VOA report, which also failed to note bipartisan criticism of the weak response by the Biden White House and the State Department to the latest protests in Cuba, went to a communist apparatchik.
But Cuba getting soft treatment from Voice of America over several years under past and current VOA and USAGM executives and managers is nothing new.
This kind of Voice of America reporting may have prompted Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to question recently the ability of the current USAGM leadership team to manage the $800-million agency in charge of U.S. international media outreach. USAGM has under it the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) which runs Radio and TV Marti.
Senator Menendez who was a strong critic of Trump-appointed USAGM CEO Michael Pack during his brief tenure, also seems now very much concerned that the current USAGM leadership may make decisions that may damage OCB broadcasts to Cuba.
Cuba getting soft treatment from Voice of America has continued under several past and current VOA executives and leaders in charge of the dysfunctional U.S. Agency for Global Media. At various points in their careers, they were and some still are responsible for VOA’s programming policy and selection, training, promotions and management of VOA editors and reporters.
When we looked at past Voice of America news output, we found many VOA News reports being soft on Cuba’s communist leaders going back to before and after April 18, 2016 when (now former) VOA Director Amanda Bennett was sworn in by (now former) U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO John Lansing. John Lansing served as USAGM CEO from September 2015 (he was appointed in August 2015) until September 2019 when he was named President and CEO of NPR. Amanda Bennett left VOA in June 2020. Trump’s appointee Michael Pack was in charge of USAGM for only eight months and Robert Reilly, whom Pack appointed as VOA Director, served less than two months.
Prior to April 18, 2016, the current USAGM Acting CEO Kelu Chao was the VOA Acting Director. She was appointed Acting VOA Director in June 2015. One of her many prior positions at VOA was Associate Director for Language Programming.
In January 2021, Chao, was named Acting USAGM CEO. She in turn appointed Yolanda López as Acting VOA Director on January 21, 2021. Prior to the appointment, López, who joined VOA in 2015 as Latin America Division Director, served as Director of the VOA News Center, overseeing all editorial and content production.
Cuba Getting Soft Treatment from Voice of America Under VOA and USAGM Leadership
With a few exceptions, VOA has avoided focusing on the Cuban-American criticism of the Obama and Biden administrations’ approach to Cuba. At the same time, VOA often gave Cuban regime officials a platform where their attacks on the U.S. government and on Cuban-Americans were extensively quoted by VOA News writers and editors without adequate responses from Cuban-Americans, as required by the VOA Charter.
The Voice of America VOA News English report, titled “Castro: I May Die But Communism Will Live Forever,” was posted on April 20, 2016, two days after Amanda Bennett was sworn-in as the new VOA Director. There is not a single reference in the VOA News report quoting Fidel Castro to hundreds of thousands of Cubans murdered or forced into exile by Castro’s communist regime.
By VOA News
April 20, 2016 01:40 AM[AP Photo of Fidel Castro used by VOA News is not reposted here. FILE – Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, April 19, 2015. ]
In a rare public speech Tuesday, former Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro told a crowd of party loyalists that while he is close to the end of his life, “the ideas of Cuban Communists will remain” long after he is gone.
Castro was speaking during the closing of the Cuban Communist Party congress in Havana, which had just re-appointed his brother, Raul, as head of the party for another five years. Raul is six years younger than Fidel.
“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Fidel said to the crowd of about 1,300. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us.”
While the elder Castro brother looked frail, but healthy in one of his most extensive public appearances since a serious illness ten years ago forced him to relinquish control of the communist government he helped form.
“Perhaps this will be one of the last times I speak in this room,” he said. “But the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”
Fidel’s comments came at the end of the four-day secret party congress, which coincided with the 55th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by U. S. supported counterrevolutionaries. The twice-a-decade congress ended a month after U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Havana, the first visit to Cuba by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years.
Prior to Tuesday’s appearance, Fidel had been living in relative seclusion, writing an occasional newspaper column and appearing with visiting world leaders.
END OF VOA News April 20, 2016 report.
More Examples of Cuba Getting Soft Treatment from Voice of America
VOA News reporting on Fidel Castro and Cuban Communists was essentially the same before Amanda Bennett took over. Here is a VOA report, “Cuba’s Fidel Castro Makes Rare Public Appearance” dated April 8, 2016 when Kelu Chao was the Acting VOA Director. Again, there was not a single reference in the VOA News report quoting Fidel Castro to hundreds of thousands of Cubans murdered or forced into exile by Castro’s communist regime.
By VOA News
April 08, 2016 03:16 AM[AP Photo of Fidel Castro used by VOA News is not reposted here. FILE – Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba, April 19, 2015. ]
Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance Thursday to discuss a Cuban revolutionary leader with schoolchildren, his first such appearance in nine months.
State television aired video of Castro, who is 89, discussing revolutionary leader Vilma Espin with schoolchildren and teachers.
He praised Espin’s contributions at a school named for her. Until her death in 2007, Espin was married to Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, took over the presidency from Fidel a year later, in 2008.
Fidel Castro’s appearance Thursday came a week after he published a letter critical of U.S. President Barack Obama in Cuba’s official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, after Obama’s historic visit to Cuba – the first such visit by a U.S. president in nearly nine decades.
Castro said Cuba does not need anything from “the empire,” meaning the United States. His position is at odds with that of President Raul Castro who welcomed Obama’s visit and agreed to the restoration of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States last year.
Fidel Castro’s appearance comes as Cuba’s Communist Party prepares for a convention April 16 in which it is expected to lay out its economic and political plans for the next five years. The meeting could include discussion of who will take over the presidency after Raul Castro retires in the next few years.
END OF VOA News April 20, 2016 report.
Communist Symbols and Cuba Getting Soft Treatment from Voice of America
When Fidel Castro died, the Voice of America Spanish Service honored him with a special graphic used as the VOA Spanish Service Facebook Cover image. Few distinguished Americans or any foreign anti-communist figures who have died in recent years had such a special graphic produced by the Voice of America at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. The VOA English News service produced a special photo gallery, “Fidel Castro: Through the Years,” posted on November 16, 2016. The photographs have since been removed or disappeared, but the page can still be seen.
A report from Reuters posted on the VOANews.com website on September 18, 2018 glorified communist leader Che Guevara and did not mention his victims. The report was initially presented as an original VOA News Voice of America report.
READ: Che Guevara Poster Artist Looks Back on 50 Revolutionary Years. VOANews.com, September 18, 2018.
All of these reports and graphics on the Voice of America English and Spanish websites reports were posted when some of the current executives in charge of VOA and USAGM were in key management positions. Public displays of Fascist and Communist symbols is illegal in some countries. VOA would never glorify Nazi figures and show their symbols with approval. It should have the same policy about Communist figures and symbols of Communism unless it is part of legitimate, objective and balanced news reporting.
Back to July 2021. The initial VOA News report about the recent massive anti-regime protests in Cuba was not only late; it was also devoid of responses from the anti-regime Cuban demonstrators and from Cuban-Americans who were slandered by Cuban officials extensively quoted in the VOA report. The report quoted Biden Administration officials, but bipartisan criticism of the administration’s initial response to the protests, already reported by other U.S. and international media, was not mentioned in the initial VOA report even after it was updated.
By VOA News
Updated July 12, 2021 11:52 AM
HAVANA, CUBA – Thousands of Cubans protested Sunday in the largest anti-government demonstrations in decades as people expressed frustrations with an economic crisis and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters chanted slogans calling for freedom, liberty and unity as they marched in the capital, Havana, until police eventually broke up the march while making some arrests.
Demonstrators turned out in other parts of the country, including in San Antonio de los Banos, near Havana, voicing their anger about long lines for food, cuts in electricity and trouble with the supply of medicine.
Cuba is also experiencing its worst phase of the coronavirus pandemic, with health officials reporting a record 6,923 new infections and 47 deaths on Sunday.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited San Antonio de los Banos on Sunday and acknowledged that people had turned out to express their frustration but blamed the unrest on what he called “a Cuban-American mafia” social media campaign.
He also blamed the United States, which under former President Donald Trump reimposed a trade embargo on Cuba, saying that sanctions were responsible for medicine shortages in the country. Diaz-Canel called for his supporters to confront “provocations,” and there were smaller pro-government demonstrations.
U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support for the Cuban people in a statement Monday, underscoring their right to peaceful protest.
“The United States calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves,” the president said.
A day earlier, officials from the U.S. State Department tweeted their support for peaceful protests against medicine shortages and other issues.
“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages,” said Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Sharing Chung’s tweet, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan added in his own tweet that the United States “supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights.”
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the top Cuban official in charge of relations with the United States, accused the U.S. State Department and its officials of “promoting social and political instability in Cuba,” and said they should “avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on.”
“Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the U.S.,” he tweeted Sunday.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, AFP and Reuters.
END OF VOA News July 12, 2021 report.
If the Cubans are to have a chance of peacefully regaining their freedom and human dignity and free themselves from the rule of a Marxist dictatorship, the communist regime in Cuba getting soft treatment from Voice of America must stop.This requires a bipartisan action by the Biden Administration and Congress to restructure the U.S. Agency for Global Media, to reform VOA, and to place both under a new leadership.