Government-funded propaganda operation in Miami exposed
by Gloria La Riva
Coordinator, National Committee to Free the Cuban Five
In 1998, five Cuban men were arrested by the U.S. government and tried in Miami on charges of conspiring to commit espionage on the United States.
The five men’s mission was to stop terrorism, keeping watch on Miami’s ultra-right extremists to prevent their violent attacks against Cuba. “The Cuban Five,” as they are now known, were convicted after repeated denials by the judge to move the trial venue out of Miami. The U.S. government insisted that they be tried in Miami.
What the Cuban Five and their attorneys did not know during trial was that the U.S. government—through its official propaganda agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors—was covertly paying prominent Miami journalists who, at the same time as the government conducted its prosecution, saturated the Miami media with reports that were highly inflammatory and prejudicial to the Cuban Five.
The presence of Miami journalists on the U.S. government payroll, who purported to report as “independent” press, goes to the heart of the unjust conviction of the Five. The Five were not only victims of a politically-motivated prosecution, but a government-funded propaganda operation as well.
Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Colin Powell when he was Secretary State from 2001 to 2005, commented about the inability of the Cuban Five to receive a fair trial in Miami:
When the case came to trial, a change of venue was warranted and asked for because no Miami court was going to give the Cuban Five a fair trial, since the city is largely in the hands of some of the very Cuban-Americans and their supporters who’ve allegedly perpetrated these atrocities on the Cuban people and are prepared to invade the island. But the change of venue motion was denied. And of course the five were convicted.
Wilkerson has called for the release of the Cuban Five.
So, too, has former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who stated:
I believe that there is no reason to keep the Cuban Five imprisoned, there were doubts in the U.S. courts and also among human rights organizations in the world. Now, they have been in prison 12 years and I hope that in the near future they will be released to return home.
Digging up the truth
A multi-year effort by the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the civil rights legal organization the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and, most recently,Liberation newspaper, has uncovered thousands of pages of previously unreleased materials exposing this government operation.
More than 2,200 pages of contracts between Miami journalists and Radio and TV Martí—released thus far to Liberation newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) petition—expose the fallacy of an independent press in Miami.
This is the first in a series of articles about these new disclosures.
The BBG and its Office of Cuba Broadcasting have operated Radio Martí since 1985 and TV Martí since 1990. They broadcast into Cuba with the intent to destabilize the government. They also broadcast directly into Miami.
The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 regulating U.S. “public diplomacy” abroad—Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio and TV Martí, etc.—prohibits the U.S. government from funding activities to influence and propagandize domestic public opinion, see 22 U.S.C. § 1461.
The U.S. government has funneled nearly half a billion dollars into the Office of Cuba Broadcasting in Miami. With an annual budget nearing $35 million, the OCB and BBG put on their payroll domestic journalists to broadcast the same message inside and outside the United States on Cuba-related issues, effectively violating the law against domestic dissemination of U.S. propaganda.
The earliest documents obtained thus far from the BBG go back to Nov. 1, 1999. Despite the FOIA petition request for data on the journalists going back to the date of the shoot-down in 1996—which also covers the date of the Five’s 1998 arrest—the BBG has so far refused to comply, claiming that contracts and other documents have been destroyed.
These contracts evidence the U.S. government’s payments to journalists in Miami whose reports constituted a sustained effort to create an atmosphere of hysteria and bias against Cuba and the Cuban Five. Three of the Cuban Five—Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino—have filed habeas corpus appeals arguing that their constitutional rights to due process were grossly undermined by the government’s media operation in Miami and payments to the Miami reporters.
The reportage of these journalists and their contracts with the government demonstrate a close partnership between Washington and right-wing Cuban exile reporters. Prominent journalists who churn out biased anti-Cuba themes in the Miami media are richly rewarded with contracts from the BBG.
Headquartered in Miami, Radio and TV Martí are the only U.S. propaganda stations that operate outside of the Washington, D.C., area. Moving to Miami in 1997, they were able to recruit a stable of virulent anti-Cuba reporters.
Those contracted by the U.S. government also served as guests, hosts, regular commentators and writers of shows such as “Actualidad Mundial” (“World Update”), “Mesa Redonda” (“Roundtable”) and regular daily newscasts. In other words, they directed and shaped the message. At the same time that they are employed by the U.S. government, these journalists also hold themselves out as independent reporters covering U.S.-Cuban affairs in other media.
Such is the case with Pablo Alfonso and Ariel Remos.
Reporters condemn the Five before trial
Pablo Alfonso was a longtime reporter for El Nuevo Herald. The contracts released by the Liberation newspaper FOIA show that Alfonso received BBG payments of $58,600 during the Cuban Five’s trial during the period between Nov. 1, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2001. His total payments were $252,325 through Aug. 22, 2007.
Ariel Remos is a longtime reporter and commentator for Diario Las Américas. Remos received BBG payments of $11,750 during the Five’s trial from Nov. 1, 1999 to Dec. 12, 2001—roughly the same time span as Alfonso. His total pay was $24,350 through Nov. 20, 2006.
During the Cuban Five’s prosecution, both Alfonso and Remos wrote incendiary articles that were placed in the Miami media accusing the Cuba government of murder.
Brothers to the Rescue had repeatedly sent planes to invade Cuban airspace in 1995 and early 1996, including buzzing Havana buildings and dropping thousands of leaflets over the city. With the Brothers to the Rescue’s public announcement that they would once again fly into Cuban territory on Feb. 24, Cuba warned that it would take direct action if the planes invaded again. When the planes crossed into Cuban airspace, they were shot down.
Virtual hysteria and demand for vengeance became pervasive in the Miami media in the aftermath of the shoot-down.
Despite being in Miami, not Cuba, and playing no role whatsoever in Cuba’s action to defend its territory, Hernández became a scapegoat. Seven months after the Five were arrested, Hernández was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Although trial judge Joan Lenard later claimed that the non-sequestered jury was sufficiently shielded from the media with her instructions that they should not follow the news during the trial, the Miami community had already been inundated with inflammatory coverage on the shoot-down for almost five years before the jury was selected.
Alfonso and Remos pounded a steady drumbeat to condemn Fidel Castro for the plane shoot-down, and interviewed others who demanded his arrest for “murder.” Their articles were inflammatory and sensationalist.
In 1999, while under contract with the U.S. government, Remos interviewed Tampa attorney Ralph Fernández—the legal representative of José Basulto, the president of Brothers to the Rescue.
The article by Remos, dated Nov. 28, 1999, states:
… [I]n the case of U.S. v. Gerardo Hernández, in which Caroline Heck-Miler has been serving as the prosecutor and where the chain of command and cause for the death of the four members of Brothers to the Rescue – three of them citizens of the US and one resident – supposedly begins with Fidel Castro.
Castro, therefore, is in the referenced case accused of murder and under investigation for murder; and if he sets foot on United States territory he can be arrested and brought before the justice of this country. That is the opinion of attorney Fernández, and that is how he just told it to DIARIO LAS AMERICAS.
The harm created by the partnership between the government and its paid journalists was reinforced during the trial itself.
The trial began in November 2000 and concluded in June 2001.
Three months into the trial, an article by Ariel Remos appeared in Diario las Americas(Feb. 27, 2001) under the headline “Jeane Kirkpatrick Asks Ashcroft to Prosecute Cuban Officials for International Terrorism.” The article reveals a letter to the new Bush administration attorney general, John Ashcroft, written by Kirkpatrick, the neo-conservative U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan administration.
The article highlights the claim made in the letter to Ashcroft that “in the upcoming trial of five Cuban officials in Florida, evidence has come forward that the murders [of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots] were premeditated,” as well as the complaint that the “highest authorities who approved this act of state terrorism, have still not been charged.”
On its face, the “arrangement” between the government and the journalists covering Cuba and the Cuban Five prosecution clearly impacts—or rather negates—the possibility of a fair trial in Miami. But the government, in its April 25, 2011, “Response in Opposition” to a motion filed by Gerardo Hernández that appeals his double life sentence, puts forth a simple “you can’t ever catch me” defense.
The government’s recent response, filed by the Obama administration’s Justice Department attorneys, argues that the articles written by the government’s paid journalists could have no possible impact either because A) they were published before the trial started; or B) they were published after the trial started and the jury was empanelled and admonished by the judge not to be influenced by the media.
Thus, hostile and inflammatory media coverage could never be harmful to the defendants. According to the government, its pumping millions of dollars into the so-called “independent” media in Miami is of no significance or impropriety.
However, the U.S. prosecutors knew that the judge’s instructions were insufficient to protect the trial process from undue media influence, as demonstrated by the government’s motion filed by prosecutor Caroline Heck-Miller in December 2000 seeking a gag order to prohibit the press from quoting potential witnesses – out of concern that those witnesses would help the defense.
The motion was filed after one potential witness, Richard Nuccio, had expressed disgust at learning that the FBI was aware that the shoot-down might occur before it had taken place.
The government’s motion stated: “…the jury in this trial has been strictly instructed not to read press accounts of the case, and there is no reason to believe that they have disregarded their instruction. Nonetheless, unbridled comment by persons who are designated witnesses in this matter, contrary to the Court’s clear directives, poses risks to the process that none of the parties should have to endure.” (emphasis added)
The government knew and admitted the media could influence the jury. And it continued to pay reporters who were doing just that. It continued to simultaneously prosecute the Cuban Five in Miami in the midst of press-generated anti-Cuba hysteria that it generously funded.
Creating a climate of hysteria
Some of the journalists on the government payroll as of the date of the earliest 1999 documents released by the FOIA request were writing prejudicial articles about the Five immediately after their arrest.
The coverage went far beyond regular news reporting on a breaking story of the arrests to create the specter of a supposed threat that the just-arrested defendants and Cuba held for the United States.
On Sept. 16, 1998, four days after the arrest of the Five, Pablo Alfonso published a highly-inflammatory and unsubstantiated charge of a link of Cuba and its agents with terrorism. It appeared in El Nuevo Herald, titled “Possible Alliance with Terrorism.”
As evidenced by documents released to the National Committee, Alfonso received over $250,000 in BBG contracts between 1999 and 2007.
The surprising offensive against an alleged network of Cuban spies in Miami, may be an action aimed at preventing a possible collaboration between the Cuban government and countries involved in terrorist actions against the United States, according to military and intelligence experts who expressed this to El Nuevo Herald.
In his article, Alfonso quotes Orestes Lorenzo, an ex-major of the Cuban Air Force who deserted to the United States in 1991:
“It’s ridiculous to assume that the Cuban army can do something serious to the powerful US military”, Lorenzo indicated. “However, if we think in terms of services provided to terrorist groups or nations like Libya, Iran or the like, things change.”
Lorenzo said that he isn’t surprised Fidel Castro’s regime is “lending or selling its intelligence services” to Islamic terrorist groups or powerful nations that are interested in carrying out terrorist acts on U.S. territory.
Alfonso’s unsubstantiated story ends by turning the speculation of Cuba’s link to “Islamic” terrorists into a fact.
This type of reporting contributed the political context and climate facing the Cuban Five following their arrest and all the way through their trial, jury deliberations and ultimate conviction. Cuba was painted as a terrorist entity by the Miami media, including by the inflammatory reports of anti-Castro journalists who wrote during the same period that the U.S. government was prosecuting the Cuban Five in Miami and who have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. government.
Wilfredo Cancio Isla, according to contracts published by Liberation newspaper, received $4,725 from Sept. 30, 2000, to Dec. 3, 2001—dates within the period of the Five’s prosecution. His contract P109-1036 with Radio Martí committed him to weekly “debate” participation on the station through Sept. 30, 2001. His total pay was $21,800 through Nov. 20, 2006.
During this same period, Cancio published the unsubstantiated U.S. government accusations in El Nuevo Herald that the jury was not permitted to hear in the courtroom. Yet those charges would appear in the press for all to read, including the unsequestered jury.
On June 4, 2001, the day the jury was to begin deliberations, a Cancio article appeared inEl Nuevo Herald with the headline “Cuba Used Hallucinogens to Train its Spies.”
This inflammatory article—supposedly based on information from an anonymous “Cuban spy defector”—claimed that Cuba gave LSD and other hallucinogens for “behavior modification” for the purposes of “intelligence and counter-intelligence.”
The supposed “anonymous” ex-spy defector given two pseudonyms—Alex and José—conveniently links the drug accusation with the Cuban Five. Cancio writes:
Cuba experimented with hypnosis techniques and hallucinogens to “modify the behavior” of numerous agents who were sent abroad … “Among these hallucinogens were psilocybin and LSD. …” [as described by his source, Alex]
“I can assure you that the Wasp Network (broken up in September 1998) is just a part of the espionage work that was conceived to infiltrate the United States on a long-term basis,” said Alex, who now lives in southern Florida. [The Wasp Network is a reference to the Cuban Five.]
It is clear that the Cuban Five political prisoners were victims of vicious anti-Cuba propaganda by reporters on the payroll of their very accusers, the U.S. government.
The Reporters for Hire website will soon be publishing other articles and releasing additional documents obtained from the BBG exposing this illegal government propaganda operation and manipulation of the justice system.
Contributing to this article was Ben Becker, editor of Liberation newspaper.
More than 2,000 pages of contracts obtained by Liberation newspaper — between U.S. propaganda stations Radio and TV Martí and Miami journalists posing as independent press — reveal a close partnership between the U.S. government and extreme rightwing Cuban-exile reporters in Miami.
The Cuban Five are Cuban nationals who were on a mission in Miami to stop U.S.-based terrorism aimed at Cuba. They were arrested by the FBI in 1998 and imprisoned for trying to expose a new wave of violent acts against Cuba emanating from Miami. In seeking a trial outside that city, the Five cited the pervasive anti-Cuba prejudice in Miami. But the judge refused their numerous requests.
With the discovery — after the trial — of the U.S.-paid Miami journalists, the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, Liberation newspaper, and the legal civil-rights organization Partnership for Civil Justice Fund began an investigation into how the anti-Cuba climate in Miami is financed and fostered by the U.S. government, even though it is barred by law from engaging in domestic propaganda.
The organizations have documented extensive media coverage by the government-paid reporters.
MIAMI JOURNALISTS WITH A TERRORIST RECORD
Some of the Miami journalists on the government payroll have a history of supporting armed attacks against Cuba. Others gave highly favorable coverage to Miami terrorist organizations that advocate violent overthrow of the Cuban government.
Miami has the unique distinction within the United States of harboring terrorist organizations and individuals with the full knowledge, and often support, of Washington. These groups have carried out numerous violent attacks against the Cuban people with complete impunity. More than 3,400 Cubans have been murdered by terrorist attacks.
Washington, through several government agencies, has a long history of arming and training anti-Cuba terrorists in Miami. It also, as it turns out, has a developed pattern of putting on the payroll of Radio and TV Martí individuals who have advocated and supported violent actions against Cuba.. The stations’ headquarters are in Miami, under the influence and direction of the Cuban extreme right living in Miami.
Enrique Encinosa, who advocates the bombing of Cuban hotels, was employed by the U.S. government while he was working as an “independent” news director on the powerful right-wing Spanish-language radio station in Miami.
During the Cuban Five prosecution, Encinosa broadcast news regularly on Miami’s 50,000-watt WAQI Radio (“Radio Mambí”), and was a frequent commentator on their arrest and prosecution. He received $5,200 to host a weekly Radio Martí show from Oct.1, 2000, to Sept. 30, 2001, for a total of $10,400. The Cuban Five’s trial was within that time span, running from Nov. 27, 2000, to June 8, 2001.
Encinosa boasted in an Internet radio interview: “I arrived in the United States in 1961. I became involved in the anti-Castro paramilitary organizations when I was 16. I participated in a number of military and covert operations into Cuba as a very young man. I worked cloak and dagger in covert operations …” The interview was in 2010.
Earlier, in 2005, in an interview for the documentary, “638 Ways to Kill Castro,” Encinosa openly supported the bombings that shook Havana hotels in 1997, one of which killed Italian tourist Fabio Di Celmo. In the film, Encinosa says: “I personally think it’s an acceptable method. It’s a way of damaging the tourist economy. The message that you, one, tries to get across is that Cuba is not a healthy place for tourists. So, if Cuba is not a healthy place for tourists because there’s a few windows being blown out of hotels, that’s fine.”
While the Five were monitoring the Miami terrorists’ plots in the late 1990s, Encinosa was co-hosting a clandestine shortwave radio station in Miami called “La Voz de la Resistencia.” It was beamed into Cuba on a weekly basis, and Encinosa would call for listeners to wage violent attacks on economic targets, as well as advocating assassinations of Cuban individuals.
The Five were engaged in an anti-terrorist mission and never possessed a weapon in Miami. But they were often falsely portrayed as supporting terrorism by the Miami journalists.
In an interview several days after the Cuban Five’s arrest, published Sept. 21, 1998, in El Nuevo Herald, Encinosa, who was cited as an intelligence expert, stated that the arrests occurred because U.S. intelligence “has detected or has indications that the information [supposedly gathered by the Five] is passing through terrorist organizations outside the United States.”
Julio Estorino’s history includes membership in Junta Patriótica Cubana, which was formed in the early 1980s. It advocated the violent overthrow of the Cuban government.
Estorino’s resumé — from the BBG documents obtained by Liberation newspaper — shows his U.S. government employment by the BBG goes back to at least March 1998, several months before the Cuban Five’s arrest.
His resumé states clearly: “Employer: U.S. Government, Office of Cuba Broadcasting … Miami Florida.” It is not possible yet to know the total amount that Estorino received from the BBG because the agency has not yet produced documents from before November 1999. But the material obtained by Liberation newspaper shows he was paid $14,950 from Oct. 16, 2002 to Jan. 31, 2004.
During the same period that Estorino was employed by the U.S. government he was also 1) Executive director of the morning news show of a right-wing Miami radio station WACC; 2) Host of that station’s daily evening drive-time interview show, “El Portal,” and 3) Co-host of “Al Día,” a daily news and opinion show.
Since 1997, he has been a regular columnist for the Miami newspaper Diario las Américas. Within days of the Cuban Five’s arrest, Estorino wrote several articles for Diario las Américas on their case.
In an article on Sept. 18, 1998, headlined, “The spies of Havana and Washington’s intentions,” Estorino writes:
Throughout [Fidel Castro’s] lengthy reign of terror, many have known and almost all have assumed that certainly in this country and in Miami, amongst us, there are Castro agents moving about and performing different missions, none of which we can say are any good.”
When the Cuban Five were arrested on Sept. 12, 1998, a clamor began immediately by several of the most prominent U.S.-paid journalists for the Five to be indicted for the deaths of four pilots of Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR), who were shot down by Cuba when they invaded Cuban airspace. Cuba had warned the Clinton administration that further BTTR invasions into Cuban territory would no longer be tolerated.
From the time of the Feb. 24, 1996, shoot-down until the indictment of one of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, on May 8, 1999, on false charges of “conspiracy to commit murder,” the Miami coverage was virulent, beyond any semblance of objective reporting.
Some of the reporting also cast a guilty net over all the Cuban Five.
Estorino wrote in an article published in the Diario Las Américas on May 14, 1999, titled “With Malice Aforethought”:
The United States government has formally indicted a number of agents from Castro’s dictatorship who were operating in South Florida, with conspiracy to commit murder, in relation to the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes and their tragic toll of four deaths on February 24, 1996.
All this should be proven and it shouldn’t be very hard to do it. …
The Cuban exiles have waited forty years for the beginning of a recognition, even an implicit one, that their denunciations about the vile and wicked nature of Fidel Castro and the system of government he has imposed on our people, have not been exaggerations, mistakes, or lies. This vileness and wickedness has already reached U.S. territory and its citizens and it’s time for the consequent actions to be taken: that Fidel Castro be indicted as well, along with everyone who participated in this infamous crime.
It’s time for justice to be done.
Alberto Müller left Cuba for the United States in 1960 and formed a group called Revolutionary Students Directorate (DRE), which carried out terrorist attacks inside Cuba, including bombings in Havana. With training by the CIA, he infiltrated Cuba in 1961 to try to organize paramilitary actions in the Escambray mountains, just before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Müller was caught and convicted of terrorist attacks. After serving 20 years in prison and being exiled to the United States, Müller became a Miami reporter.
The BBG contracts obtained by Liberation newspaper show government payments to Müller of $38,571 from Oct. 1, 2004, to March 31, 2010. Earlier, during the Five’s trial, he wrote incendiary articles about the Cuban Five and the BTTR plane shoot-down.
The BBG has so far failed to release information relating to its employment of Miami reporters before Nov. 1999.
On Feb. 20, 2001, Müller wrote a particularly venomous article titled “Assassins” in Diario Las Américas:
The last minutes in the life of four pilots downed in international waters by Castro’s MiG planes were filmed and recorded for posterity.
What we needed to hear … live … shamelessly uninhibited, accented with bloody premeditated calculation … the subordinates asking the commander in chief for the go-ahead to pulverize the defenseless airplanes of Brothers to the Rescue with a Soviet missile … Five years have passed since the horrendous crime committed over international waters. That’s why the matter should be put to the legal and humanitarian powers of every organization of human justice, from the International Criminal Court at the Hague to the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations.
The Criminal Confession … in the very voice of the underling executioner … we have finally heard it with absolute clarity … during the trial of Castro’s spies who infiltrated Miami. What more is needed now to make the decision to try Fidel Castro? What more is needed now to make the decision to seat Fidel Castro in the dock at an international legal trial? Well, nothing. All the elements of the inquiry are at hand.
No crime should remain unpunished … but one that is executed in the open skies … against defenseless human beings who were flying over international waters in search of Cuban rafters on the high seas deserves the strictest and unmistakable repudiation by all of humanity … due to its filthy genocidal character. [Editor's note: Ellipses included in the original]
The act is so despicable by its nature as a crime against humanity that it suggests the accused should be in the dock, whether they are subordinate executioners or executioners among the maximum leadership.
NEWLY DISCLOSED DOCUMENTS AVAILABLE FOR PUBLIC REVIEW
Because of the strong interest in the thousands of pages of contract material for the Miami media that Liberation Newspaper obtained and is the basis for this analysis and series of reports, we are making the underlying documents available for public review and comment at www.ReportersforHire.org. We have scanned the materials and made them text searchable with optical character recognition.
These materials contain information on the BBG’s contracts with the Miami media, including, for example, the revelation that Enrique Patterson, a prominent Miami journalist, received $135,350 from the U.S. government between November 2002 and June 2007.
We are inviting you to comment on sections or facts that you find noteworthy and we may use what you observe or uncover in the documents as part of these reports, or as an annotation to the documents. Please include page numbers of the documents and direct excerpts in your comments.