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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Miami Flip-Flop over Cuba

By Circles Robinson

A breath of fresh air whipped through Miami in early September when three journalists were fired by the Miami Herald Publishing Co. for flagrant conflict of interest violations in doubling as paid US government propagandists in the information war against Cuba.

Syndicated columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner was among those on the long list of “objective” reporters and commentators also disrobed and their motives questioned.

Montaner and Helen Aguirre Ferre were quick to protest. They claimed that the Florida dailies, the Miami Herald and the Spanish language Nuevo Herald, had known for years that they were moonlighting. Downplaying the money involved, they both said they would have done their anti-Cuba work for the US government’s Radio and TV Marti for free.

Others like Pablo Alfonso and Olga Connner didn’t offer a freebee, but maintained that being a US government contractor doesn’t present a conflict of interest problem for them when they write stories about Cuba. Paul Crespo, another unrepentant journalist on the take, said he was proud of his anti-Cuba work.

It wasn’t long until a dark cloud crept back over Dade Country as pressure from Miami’s Little Havana succeeded in getting the Herald to reverse its refreshingly ethical stance and force the resignation of publisher Jesus Diaz, who dared to question the idea of reporters doing overtime slandering Cuba for the US government.

The BBC reported: “Those events included very public pressure from prominent Cuban exiles, who led a campaign in favor of the sacked journalists, which included a petition signed by hundreds of exiles.”

The Miami Herald Publishing Co. reversal came on October 3 and gave an amnesty to the journalists and ended Diaz tenure.

On the day of his forced resignation Diaz said: “While I still believe that the acceptance of such payments by the ten journalists was a breach of widely accepted principles of journalistic ethics that violated the trust of our readers,” but he conceded, “our policies prohibiting such behavior may have been ambiguously communicated, inconsistently applied and widely misunderstood over many years in the El Nuevo Herald newsroom.”

Howard Weaver, vice president of the McClatchy Co. which owns the Florida papers, said: “We felt ourselves very fortunate to have David Landsberg available to step in as publisher,” He is an extremely talented executive with a deep affection for and knowledge of Miami and South Florida.”

What the VP was really trying to say was that Landsberg would know how to walk on pins and needles when it comes to reporting on anything that might offend the rightwing Cuban-American organizations.

Money talks, and receiving funds to attack Cuba, be it for blowing up planes, biological warfare, invasions, assassination attempts, hotel bombings or a reporter’s pen is a huge industry involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Congressional support for the program crosses party lines and dates back to the time of the Kennedy administration.

By helping George W. Bush “win” the election in 2000 and reelection in 2004, the relatively small but powerful anti-Cuba lobby gained new clout in Washington. US government overt and covert budgets for what’s known in Cuba as the Miami Mafia, has grown considerably.

Guided by its 450-page Plan for Assistance to a Free Cuba released in 2004, and subsequent addendums, the Bush administration implements its strategy to bring down the Cuban revolution and put the island under Washington’s tutelage as in the first half of the 20th century. The Plan admittedly includes a secret annex where support for terrorist acts against Cuba are suspected to be included with lavish covert funding.

As the Miami press rooms returned to business as usual, the Bush administration announced on October 10 the forming of a new task force to tighten enforcement of its nearly half century blockade against Cuba and crack down on US citizens that violate its travel and trade sanctions. The administration says it wants to hurt the Cuban economy but also hopes to cut down on first hand accounts of life on the island to avoid contradictions with the fiction disseminated by US government journalists.

If the “talented” new publisher, David Landsberg, had been in his post at the McClatchy Company when the conflict of interest violations were revealed, the scandal would never have made it to first base. Nevertheless, with the Miami newspapers U-turn, it never made it to second.


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