Obama and Castro Meet Face-to-Face – Voice of America downplays U.S. congressional criticism

BBG Watch Commentary

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) posted a report on the face-to-face meeting between President Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro with only a brief mention of U.S. congressional criticism of the White House strategy for normalization of relations with the Cuban regime. Two other related VOA reports had no mention of any congressional criticism of President Obama’s Cuba policy. One VOA report on normalization of relations with Cuba had no mention of any U.S. criticism at all.

Voice of America is also downplaying in its news reports congressional and other U.S. criticism of President Obama’s rapprochement with Iran. [BBG Watch will comment separately on VOA’s one-sided reports and commentaries on the Obama Administration policy toward Iran.]

SUNDAY, April 12 UPDATE: After criticism from BBG Watch and after Cuban security officials forced TV Martí’s reporter Karen Caballero and cameraman Rudy Hernandez out of Saturdays’s press conference with the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in Panama, Voice of America made up Sunday for its one-sided, “Voice of the White House” news reporting and commentary on Cuba in recent days with this VOA report on April 12, quoting criticism of President Obama’s Cuba policy from Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush. SEE: “Obama: Talks With Castro ‘Candid and Fruitful’” | Voice of America.

But while Voice of America quoted in its Sunday report President Obama as saying that “The Cold War has been over for a long time and I’m not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born,” the VOA English News report failed to mention that reporters from its sister station, TV Martí, were forced out of the press conference in Panama by Cuban security officials.

Radio and TV Marti is, like the Voice of America, part of the federal structure of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Radio and TV Marti has provided more detailed and more realistic reporting on U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, but the station only provides news resorting in Spanish. Radio and TV Marti’s parent organization is the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which like VOA is a federal government entity. Both VOA and OCB are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

On both Cuba and Iran, there is a preponderance of Voice of America reporting and opinion columns presenting, supporting and praising White House policies, which is out of proportion to what balanced reporting would require, considering congressional and other U.S. criticism of these policies. VOA appears to have been transferred from its previous journalistic role under the VOA Charter as a news organization reflecting all of America into what is now largely, at least on policies toward these two countries, the official state broadcaster of the White House.

Only in its main report on the Obama-Castro meeting, VOA used two sentences from Associated Press (AP) news dispatch to mention, but only briefly, a sharp rebuke from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a former and perhaps future U.S. presidential candidate.

VOA: “President Obama is truly writing new chapters in American foreign policy,” Graham was quoted by AP. “Unfortunately, these latest chapters are ones of America and the values we stand for – human rights, freedom and democracy – in retreat and decline.”

Out of 37 paragraphs in that VOA report, only two were devoted to U.S. domestic criticism of the manner in which President Obama is carrying out his policy of normalizing relations with Cuba.

VOA News never reported on its English language website or in many other languages on an earlier statement by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) who said that “the Obama Administration’s sudden shift on Cuba policy raises many concerns, including how hard the United States pressed the Castro regime on its abysmal human rights record during the secret White House negotiations that cut out the State Department.”

Except for one sentence posted several days later and presenting only the State Department’s position on Cuba — but not any congressional criticism — we could not find any VOA English News reporting on the “Cuba: Assessing the Administration’s Sudden Shift,” hearing at which Roberta S. Jacobson, U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified on February 4, 2015.

We also could not find any VOA News reporting on the congressional hearing, “Human Rights in Cuba: A Squandered Opportunity.” The hearing was held on February 5, 2015.

Today’s main VOA report from Panama City quoted Castro as saying that “the terrorists are those like the C.I.A. operative who participated in the capture and interrogation of executed leftist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who died in 1967 in Bolivia in a failed attempt to lead a guerrilla uprising.”

VOA Journalistic Code states that “Whenever VOA reports a charge or accusation made by an individual or a group against another, or presents one side of a controversial issue, a response and/or balancing information will be included in the first use of a news item or feature containing that material.” VOA did not include in today’s report any mention of widely circulated accusations against “Che” Guevara that he had committed or was responsible for serious crimes against human rights.

A two and a half minute Voice of America video report had only one sentence than “many Cuban Americans oppose normalization of relations with the Castro regime,” but there was no mention of any opposition in the U.S. Congress and among many conservative U.S. opinion makers.

Another Voice of America video report focused on criticism of President Obama’s policy by Cuban dissidents, but the report did not mention any congressional or other U.S. criticism. The report posted online with two videos only quoted Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, who expressed support for removing Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism. No Republican member of Congress was quoted in that VOA report.

The 1976 U.S. law (Public Law 94-350), VOA Charter, says that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”

An earlier VOA News report, “Obama Administration Launches Cuba Charm Offensive” | Voice of America, did not mention any U.S. criticism of President Obama over his Cuba policy.

VOA also posted online a news report by Associated Press, “At Summit of Americas, US Faces Charged Environment” | Associated Press, which did not mention any opposition in the U.S. Congress to President Obama’s Cuba policy.

Another VOA report, “Obama, Castro Shake Hands at Summit of Americas” | Voice of America, while quoting Obama administration officials in support of the Cuba policy failed to quote a single U.S. critic, although it mentioned criticism from Cuban human rights activists.

Only one recent VOA report included what could be called substantive U.S. criticism of the White House policy toward Cuba, “US-Cuba Relations to Be Focal Point at Americas Summit” | Voice of America, but the report quoted only criticism from Cuban Americans. It did not mention any political opposition to President Obama’s new policy toward Cuba among many Republicans and a few Democrats in the U.S. Congress. It also did not mention considerable criticism of the White House on Cuba among many conservative U.S. media outlets and opinion makers.

On both Cuba and Iran, foreign audiences are definitely not getting an accurate and balanced picture of U.S. public opinion from Voice of America news. With the exception of a brief mention of Senator Lindsey Graham today, VOA news reporting in recent days left a distinct impression that that only group objecting to President Obama’s rapprochement with the Castro regime are Cuban Americans and nobody else. Foreign audiences were not being told how long term U.S. foreign policy is being shaped. Such one-sided or mostly one-sided reporting and editorializing on U.S. policies by the Voice of America could actually harm the negotiating position of the Obama Administration along with U.S. national security and other interests. It is dangerous for the United States.

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Voice of America News

 

Obama Administration Launches Cuba Charm Offensive

 
State Department Photo Bruno Rodríguez and John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, April 10, 2015. U.S. State Department Courtesy Photo.
 
VOA News
 
April 10, 2015 8:51 AM
 
A photo of the former adversaries shows U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shaking hands with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, slight smiles playing across their faces.
 
The image of this highest-level encounter between governments of the United States and communist Cuba in decades – taken late Thursday on the eve of a regional summit and tweeted by the State Department – captures a moment in the U.S. charm offensive to speed normalized relations with the island nation and to placate critics of the deal.
 
Kerry and his boss, U.S. President Barack Obama, are joining other international leaders for the two-day Summit of the Americas, which opens Friday.
 
A senior State Department official said Kerry’s historic talk with Rodriguez was “very constructive,” adding both sides “agreed they made progress.”
 
The official did not specify any advances, but stressed that both sides would “continue to work to resolve outstanding issues.”
 
It’s possible Obama, who arrived late Thursday, could meet Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of the gathering, according to administration officials. 

 
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Voice of America News

 

Obama, Castro Shake Hands at Summit of Americas

 

 
Luis Ramirez
 
Last updated on: April 11, 2015 6:10 AM
 
PANAMA CITY—U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro greeted each other Friday evening and shook hands at the Summit of the Americas here.
 
Obama administration officials said the interaction between the two leaders was informal, without substantive conversation.
 
But Obama and Castro are expected to meet on Saturday.
 
Obama said earlier Friday he is pleased that Cuba is being represented for the first time at the summit.
 
He said in a speech to civil society leaders at the summit that he hopes efforts to restore U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba will improve the lives of the Cuban people.
 
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Obama and Castro at the summit’s opening ceremony.
 
“I would like to once again commend the leadership of President Obama of the United States and President Castro for initiating normalization of bilateral relations,” he said.
 
Courting change
 
Obama, in his address, called civil society “the conscience of our countries. It’s the catalyst of change.” He added, “Strong nations don’t fear active citizens. Strong nations embrace and support and empower active citizens.”
 
Referring to a telephone conversation between the two leaders on Wednesday, Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes said they reviewed efforts to fully restore U.S- Cuban diplomatic relations, but “differences” still remain between them.
 
Those differences were evident ahead of Obama’s arrival late Thursday in Panama City, when Castro supporters attacked Cuban dissidents who were laying a wreath to a bust of Cuban hero Jose Marti outside the Cuban Embassy, kicking, shoving and insulting them.
 
Dissident speaks out
 
Among those attacked was Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, a dissident who traveled to Panama from Cuba. Speaking to VOA from a wheelchair, she said the assailants came out of the Cuban Embassy. The dissident said she wants the world to see what the Cuban government is doing to its people, and she questions Obama’s efforts.
 
She said Obama wants to soften his position toward the Havana government, but she wondered what other proof he needs that the Castros are, in her words, “murderers and dictators.”
 
Obama administration officials said they have expressed serious concerns about the incident and said they made it known the attacks were “grossly inconsistent” with the spirit of dialogue at the summit.
 
The incident did not appear to derail Obama’s plans for normalizing ties with the Castro government. At Friday’s Civil Society Forum, Obama said he accepts there are differences.
 
“As we move toward the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences government-to-government with Cuba on many issues, just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas, just as we differ with our closest allies. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Obama.
 
Positive engagement
 
Upon his arrival, Obama was welcomed by President Juan Carlos Varela. Panama’s leader congratulated him “on all the effort he’s doing to unite our continent.” The two leaders held bilateral talks on Friday and Obama also made an unannounced tour of the Panama Canal.
 
Apart from a couple of brief, informal encounters, the leaders of the United States and Cuba have not had any significant meetings since Castro’s older brother Fidel Castro toppled U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in a 1959 revolution.
 
Earlier in Jamaica, Obama stopped short of announcing a U.S. government decision to take Cuba off Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
 
“As you know, there’s a process involved in reviewing whether or not a country should be on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. That review has been completed at the State Department. It is now forwarded to the White House,” Obama said.
 
But the U.S. leader said he had not yet made a decision.
 
“The one thing I will say is that throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts. So we want to make sure that, given that this is a powerful tool to isolate those countries that genuinely do support terrorism, that when we make those designations we’ve got strong evidence that, in fact, that’s the case,” he said.
 
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations panel, confirmed the agency has recommended removing Cuba from the list. “The United States has a unique opportunity to begin a fresh chapter with Cuba,” he said.
 
Normalized relations
 
Obama has long signaled he is willing to remove the island nation from the list as part of the normalization in diplomatic relations between the two countries he announced late last year after a five-decade split. Three other countries are on the U.S. list, accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism: Syria, Iran and Sudan.
 
This week’s U.S. overtures to Cuban leaders play against a backdrop of questions about Cuba and human rights – as well as protests.
 
WATCH: Related video report by Zlatica Hoke
 

Sam Verma contributed to this report from Washington  

 

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Voice of America News

 

Obama and Castro Meet Face to Face

 

‘A Path Toward the Future’ for US, Cuba
 
Luis Ramirez
 
Last updated on: April 11, 2015 6:20 PM
 
PANAMA CITY—U.S. President Barack Obama, after a highly anticipated meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, said the two countries “are now in a position to move on a path toward the future.”
 
“This is obviously an historic meeting” between the United States and Cuba, Obama said at the face-to-face meeting, referencing the countries’ complicated history. After 50 years of policy that had not worked, “it was time for us to try something new.”
 
‎That would include opening embassies in Washington and Havana, the president said.
 
Obama said that while most Americans and Cubans have responded positively to the policy change, deep and significant differences remain between the two countries. He said the U.S. will speak out for democracy and human rights, and Cuba will lift up concerns about U.S. policy as well.
 
“Over time it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries,” the U.S. president said.
 
As for Castro, he told Obama he agrees with all the points he’d made and said he is open to discussion, but “we need to be patient, very patient.
 
“We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.”
 
After Castro spoke, the men stood and shook hands.
 
The two sat down shortly after their back-to-back speeches to summit leaders. In his address, Castro delved into a long, impassioned history of Cuban grievances against the United States, but stopped to apologize to the U.S. leader, calling him an “honest man” and absolving him of responsibility for the longstanding U.S. embargo on Cuba and other actions taken under previous administrations.
 
“I have told President Obama myself that I am very emotional when I talk about the revolution,” he said. “I apologize because President Obama had no responsibility for this.”
 
The two leaders’ informal meeting is the first since Obama announced in December his intention to normalize relations with Havana. There has been no face-to-face discussion between the two countries’ top leaders in more than five decades.
 
In their speeches earlier Saturday, the U.S. and Cuban presidents both indicated a willingness to open a new chapter to end more than 50 years of icy relations.
 
Obama said he is focused on the future and is not, in his words, caught up in ideology.
 
“The Cold War has been over for a long time and I’m not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born,” he said.
 
Obama said he has called on the U.S. Congress to begin work to end the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, a move Castro welcomed.
 
The Cuban president spoke for 48 minutes, much of that time delivering a stinging indictment of what he said was U.S. intervention in the island nation and the rest of Latin America.
 
But he praised Obama’s efforts to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which he said should have never included his country.
 
The terrorists, Castro said, are those like the C.I.A. operative who participated in the capture and interrogation of executed leftist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who died in 1967 in Bolivia in a failed attempt to lead a guerrilla uprising.
 
Regional benefits touted
 
Addressing the regional gathering of leaders just before Castro, Obama said re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba would enhance opportunities for the island nation, the United States and beyond.
 
“This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region,” he said.
 
Appealing to other Latin American leaders, Castro said “we have to continue striving and supporting President Obama in his intentions to remove the blockade.”
 
The Cuban leader said he welcomes as “a positive step” Obama’s announcement that he soon will decide whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which also includes Iran, Sudan and Syria.
 
There is speculation that move could come within hours, when the two leaders meet. Cuba’s demand to be taken off the list has been an obstacle in negotiations on restoring diplomatic ties.
 
As the two-day summit opened Friday evening, Obama and Castro shook hands, a gesture widely seen as symbolic of their effort to bury decades of animosity.
 
It has been two years since their first handshake at the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela.
 
Cuba’s status revisited
 
Obama announced Thursday in Jamaica that a State Department review of Cuba’s status has been completed and said he was awaiting a final recommendation.
 
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations panel, said the State Department had recommended removing Cuba from the terrorism list. “The United States has a unique opportunity to begin a fresh chapter with Cuba,” he said.
 
The president previously signaled he would be willing to drop the “state terrorism” label as part of normalizing relations with Cuba. The three other countries on the list are Iran, Sudan and Syria.
 
The administration’s recent overtures to Cuba have drawn sharp rebuke from critics such as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a former and perhaps future presidential candidate. He objected to Obama’s likely meeting with Castro, calling the Cuban leader an “entrenched dictator,” the Associated Press reported.
 
“President Obama is truly writing new chapters in American foreign policy,” Graham was quoted by AP. “Unfortunately, these latest chapters are ones of America and the values we stand for – human rights, freedom and democracy – in retreat and decline.”
 


 
Kerry and counterpart meet
 
The summit already has provided impetus for a meeting late Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cuban counterpart – the highest-level direct meeting in decades between the two governments
 
A senior State Department official said that Kerry’s talk with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez was “very constructive” and that both sides “agreed they made progress.”
 
Obama said Friday he’s pleased that Cuba is being represented for the first time at the Summit of the Americas. The event, which takes place every three years, began in 1994.
 
In a speech Friday to a civil society group, Obama said, he expected normalized relations would benefit the people of Cuba, the United States and beyond.
 
“As we move towards the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences government to government with Cuba, on many issues, just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas, just like we differ with our closest allies, there is nothing wrong with that,” Obama said. “But I am here to say when we do speak out we’re going to do so, because the United States of America does believe, and will always stand for, a certain set of universal values.”
 
Obama also reassured regional leaders the U.S. was no longer interested in imposing its will on Latin America: “The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed the United States could meddle with impunity — those days are past.”
 
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press and Reuters.
 

 

 
 

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