USAGM Watch Commentary

Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee whose parents came to the United States from Cuba, is right to be concerned about the leadership at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and the Voice of America (VOA).

READ: Voice of America Delayed for Five Days Posting Story on Senator Menendez Criticism of USAGM CEO OCB Appointment, USAGM Watch, April 12, 2021

We found this on the internet on April 22, 2021, but not on the VOA English news website:

Explained: Why a viral rap song has left Cuba’s communist regime fuming – The song ‘Patria y Vida’ has raked up 2.8 million views on YouTube since its release on February 17. The Indian Express, March 4, 2021.

No, this news never made it to the VOANews.com English-language website nor can any information about the song be found in English on the VOA website as of midnight April 23, 2021.

Search results for “Patria y Vida” on Voice of America VOANews.com website, April 23, 2021.

But many U.S. and international news outlets have been reporting about the Cuban freedom song for weeks. The song was recorded in the United States, in Miami, Florida, so why wouldn’t the main VOA news website have anything on it. On March 4, 2021 Indian reporter Om Marathe wrote this for the Indian Express in New Delhi:

The song “Patria y Vida” is a joint work of Black Cuban artists – exiled singer-songwriters Yotuel Romero and Descemer Bueno from the group Oreshas, the Gente de Zona pair Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcom, and the island-based performers Maykel Osorbo and El Funky. Recorded in Miami, a city home to a massive exiled Cuban population, and capital Havana, the song rebukes the iconic slogan “Patria o Muerte” coined by Fidel Castro in 1960 after the success of Cuba’s communist revolution a year prior. Patria y Vida, meaning ‘Country and Life’, puts a positive spin on Patria o Muerte, meaning ‘Country or Death’.

A line from the song reads, “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout “Homeland or Death” but “Homeland and Life”.”

Om Marathe, who reported this is described as “a sub-editor at the Indian Express, with interests in foreign policy, law, and engineering.” The Indian Express added that “he is a qualified Spanish speaker and keenly observes the Latin American region.” You would think that there are some Spanish-speaking reporters and editors in the VOA English newsroom in Washington.

The Miami Herald had a report on the song in February: A song asks Cubans to drop Castro’s chant ‘Homeland or Death.’ The government is on edge by Nora Gámes Torres.

BBC English also had a video report on the song: “Patria y Vida: Cuba’s rap battle with dissidents.” It was posted on April 4. BBC reported that the “Patria y Vida” song, “which has been viewed more than four million times on YouTube, blasts the dire economic situation on the island.”

BBC Spanish had a report on February 20.

Washington, where VOA has its headquarters, is far closer to Havana than London. The video uses images of Cuban independence movement leader José Martí and American Revolution leader George Washington. Even that was not enough to persuade VOA newsroom reporters and editors to post a story, which has strong ties to the United States and to Voice of America’s U.S. taxpayer-supported mission.

VOA Spanish Service website had a report on the Cuban song on April 15, but we could not find through our search web reports on the song by any other VOA language services.

It seems that there is no one like the Indian reporter or the BBC reporter at the VOA English newsroom in Washington, D.C. But that’s not exactly the full story. Some VOA Newsroom reporters and editors are interested in communism and Cuba, although apparently not in the way other journalists are.

VOA reports praised Angela Davis without mentioning her communist past and her Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union. VOA English News also posted a long video with Angela Davis, again without identifying her as a Marxist who became an icon of Soviet propaganda.

A  report on the VOANews.com website in 2018 glorified communist leader Che Guevara and did not mention his victims. All of these reports were posted when some of the current executives in charge of VOA and USAGM were in key management positions.

READ: Che Guevara Poster Artist Looks Back on 50 Revolutionary Years. VOANews.com, September 18, 2018.

VOA also produced a special graphic to mark the death of Fidel Castro.

Voice of America (VOA) produced graphic to illustrate reports on Fidel Castro’s death.
Voice of America (VOA) produced graphic to illustrate reports on Fidel Castro’s death.

But no none in the VOA Newsroom thought it was important to report on the “Patria y Vida” song.

The question is why? Some think it’s “good enough for government work” attitude. But some critics also think that it’s primarily the problem of leadership at the $800 million federal agency.

Senator Bob Menendez did not like Trump-appointed USAGM CEO, but he may be discovering that the familiar set of longtime managers who were in charge before him, and some of whom are again in charge, may be the real problem that keeps the agency dysfunctional. It is good that he and his staff are paying attention.

ALSO READ: Biden’s USAGM Transition Leader Richard Stengel Pushed Normalization with Castro’s Cuba for OCB and VOA EXCLUSIVE. USAGM Watch, November 16, 2020.