BBG Watch Commentary

In its superficial and substandard coverage of President Trump’s major foreign policy speech on Cuba, which he delivered in Miami Friday, U.S. taxpayer-funded ($221 million FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) Spanish Service failed to carry the presidential address live, while VOA English News ignored and failed to report on the introductory remarks at the Miami event delivered by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Senator Rubio’s speech was significant because it explained the rationale for the U.S. policy change toward Cuba initiated by President Trump and the role of Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants, has played in shaping the new policy. His presence in Miami with president Trump was barely mentioned in the main VOA English news report.

“But more than anything else, this change empowers the people of Cuba,” Senator Rubio said. “Not the government, not the regime, but the people,” he added. Voice of America ignored Senator Rubio, who was President Trump’s rival for the Republican presidential candidacy nomination in 2016, but later extended his support and played a key role in crafting the new White House policy toward Cuba.

VOA Spanish Service, which failed to carry Trump’s speech live on its website and Facebook page despite a vague promise that it might, also barely mentioned Senator Rubio who delivered part of his speech in Miami in Spanish.

The Voice of America remains scandal-ridden under the leadership of director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara, and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing. The BBG is VOA’s parent federal agency. All of these top executives had been selected for their positions during the Obama administration and their possible replacements have not yet been announced by the new administration. Under their watch, VOA sent scores of reporters to Cuba during President Obama’s visit to the island and covered his trip extensively. During President Obama’s visit, VOA Russian Service even found a Cuban, most likely a Cuban secret police member assigned to one of the hotels for foreigners in Havana, who told VOA that Cubans love Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. This comment was prominently aired in VOA and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) program to Russia, “Current Time,” which critics say sometimes includes Kremlin propaganda while RFE/RL censors independent Russian commentators believed to be too critical of supporters of President Putin. The BBG insists that “Current Time” counters Kremlin propaganda.

Senator Rubio may have a key role in determining how the dysfunctional mangement of the Voice of America can be reformed. It has become a bipartisan issue with both Republicans and Democratic calling for changes. In 2013, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Broadcasting Board of Governors “practically defunct.” In a rare comment from America’s top diplomat about increasing programming and management controversies at the Voice of America, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this in response to a question from Senator Marco Rubio the June 13, 2017 hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would support an investigation by the the Office of Inspector General of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (OIG) of the VOA director’s decision to shorten an interview with a Chinese whistleblower, Guo Wengui, “if it would seem there has been anything improperly done.”

The Chinese government tried to influence VOA to cancel the entire interview, which was ultimately shortened on orders from VOA director Amanda Bennett. This led to a major drop in VOA’s reputation in China and produced thousands of angry and sarcastic comments from Chinese social media users. Bennett categorically denies that pressure from China or anything other than her concerns about journalistic ethics had influenced her decision.

Chinese Americans have organized protest demonstrations in front of the VOA headquarters in Washington, DC, including staging a mock funeral for VOA. Director Bennett made the situation worse by putting five VOA Mandarin Service frontline journalists (some of whom had opposed her decision to shorten the interview) on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation into the Guo Wengui interview incident. None of the senior VOA executives and managers was suspended.

Chinese Americans and other supporters of media freedom protest against censorship in front of the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C. in May 2017.

VOA’s management has allowed also thousands of anti-gay comments to be posted on VOA websites and VOA social media pages, some of them calling for killing gays and other violent actions against the LGBT community worldwide.




VIDEO: Rubio: America Extends its Hand to the People of Cuba, but We Will Not Empower their Oppressors


JUN 16 2017

Miami, FL – Speaking ahead of President Trump’s announcement regarding changes to Cuba policy, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) praised the new terms, saying they will empower the Cuban people instead of their oppressors in the Castro regime.

“A year and a half ago, a president, an American president, landed in Havana, to outstretch his hand to a regime,” said Rubio. “Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba.”

The full speech can be watched here and a downloadable broadcast quality version is available for TV stations here. A full transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Manuel Artime Theater
Miami, Florida
June 16, 2017
YouTube | Twitter | Facebook

RUBIO: The Sunday after the presidential election, I was at Dadeland Mall, I was in the parking lot of Dadeland Mall, and I called President-elect Trump on his cell phone to congratulate him on his victory.

And one of the first things he said to me is, “what are we going to do to help the Cuban people?”

A few weeks later, I had the honor of flying with him to Central Florida on Air Force One, and he again, in the midst of that conversation, asked, “what are we going to do to help the Cuban people?”

My wife and I had the opportunity to dine with him and the First Lady in the White House, and in the middle of that conversation he asked, “what are we going to do to help the Cuban people, and the people of Venezuela who are also living under a dictatorship?”

Six weeks ago in the Oval Office, the president of the United States, gathered with the members of his cabinet, made a very clear decision: we are going to do whatever it takes to empower the Cuban people, so that they can be free and live in a democracy and have economic and political liberties that they deserve, like everyone else in this hemisphere deserves. And he has not faltered in that commitment.

The cooperation, the hard work, the commitment that this White House and that President Trump has shown to this cause, I believe has no precedent, certainly in the modern history of this great cause.

We have been helped by many who have aligned with us, some who could not be here today. I do want to recognize Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González‏ of Puerto Rico, nuestra hermana de la isla de Puerto Rico que está junto con nosotros, that’s who’s with us on this issue.

But what I want you to know, is that in every single one of those instances in which the president spoke about Cuba, he also spoke about Brigade 2506.

Because a few weeks before the election, first the first time in decades, he went to visit their museum, where they endorsed him – meaning the first time in decades that they had endorsed a presidential candidate.

And there isn’t a single time that I have spoken to the president about Cuba that he has not mentioned the brigade.

And that strikes me because it reminds us that, almost 60 years ago, when they were young men willing to fight and to die for the freedom of their homeland, they made an extraordinary sacrifice. And perhaps some of them felt that the time to make a difference for them had passed. But I want them to know that almost 60 years later, they have made a difference. That meeting, and their efforts, I believe as much as anything else, has brought us to this day.

And we just landed at the airport, I had the honor of flying on Air Force One. They have the best M&Ms on the planet. And you can take red lights when you’re part of the motorcade that comes in, legally. Without those crazy cameras. Nevermind, I don’t want to talk about that. [Laughter] Get rid of the cameras, yeah.

And it struck me as the plane landed and we were getting into the cars that brought us here, and we look at the president coming down the steps, he was greeted by dissidents, by freedom fighters, by people, some of whom and on the island of Cuba have suffered greatly in the hands of this repressive regime. And less than a year and a half ago, an American president landed in Havana, greeted by a regime.

A year and a half ago, a president, an American president, landed in Havana, to outstretch his hand to a regime. Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba.

And I close with this. I close with this. Many will characterize this as an effort to punish the Cuban regime. And it will punish the Cuban military that oppresses its people and helps Maduro oppress their people in Venezuela. But more than anything else, this change empowers the people of Cuba. Not the government, not the regime, but the people. So that they can enjoy the freedom and the liberty, with a very clear message: America is prepared to outstretch its hand and work with the people of Cuba, but we will not, we will not empower their oppressors.

And you mark my words. And you mark my words. Whether it’s in six months, or six years, Cuba will be free. And when it is, and when it is, and when it is, I believe that the people on the island and history will say, that perhaps the key moment in that transition began on this day, here in this theater, with each of you, and with a president that was willing to do what needed to be done so that freedom and liberty returns to the enslaved island of Cuba.

Voy a ser bien breve, voy a ser bien breve que es muy difícil para un Cubano y para un senador ser breve pero lo voy hacer porque quiero mandarle un mensaje al pueblo de Cuba. Y este es el mensaje: que antes teníamos un presidente que le daba la mano al régimen que lo oprime. Pero ahora tenemos un presidente Americano que le da la mano a ustedes, el pueblo Cubano. Que los días en cual la politica exterior de este pais ayuda al régimen se están terminando y los días en que la política norteamericana ayuda al pueblo Cubano para que ellos puedan tener la libertad, la democracia y los derechos que se merecen que Dios le ha dado. Y cuando ese día llegue, que Cuba será libre por fin yo les aseguro que este día que estamos aquí hoy, la historia va decir hoy que es el principio del fin de este régimen. Gracias a un presidente llamado Donald Trump que hizo lo que tenía que hacer para que la democracia y la libertad regresa a la isla de Cuba.

Muchísimas gracias. God bless you. Thank you.