Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miami's Ignored Experts [Updated]

If you watch Spanish-language television and news in Miami, you won't hear a variety of opinions on U.S.-Cuba relations.

This is most apparent when one looks closely at the "experts" that appear in the news reports. One night, after the Obama administration last month moved towards the lifting of Cuban travel and remittance restrictions, two evening television news stations (Telemundo 51 and Univision 23) had already interviewed their Cuba "experts." Interestingly, all of them were from UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS). While one station spoke with research associate Jose Azel [one example], the other had interviewed ICCAS director Jaime Suchlicki and senior fellow Andy Gomez. (Both reports featured no other "expert.") And, they all spoke about how the Obama administration was engaging in "unilateral concessions" to the Cuban government.

Outside of the Spanish media bubble there are plenty of "experts" on the subject of U.S.-Cuba relations, besides the people at UM, with very different views on the matter. Very few have made it on Spanish media, like Phil Peters [video of interview here], and some are entirely ignored. Unfortunately, the local English-speaking news media also does not do well to present these ignored experts.


Daniel Erikson was in Miami in February (at the local Books and Books) to present his book "Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution," but, despite a small mention in the Miami Herald, his book presentation went ignored by the local TV news media, and, of course, the Spanish TV media. Why would the author of a book on U.S.-Cuba relations, which was later nominated as a "book of the year" by Foreward Magazine, be ignored when he is in Miami? Even before the nomination, Erikson's book had received excellent reviews by other foreign policy analysts. Go figure.


One month before Erikson appeared in Miami, Reese Erlich launched his book tour in Miami (also at Books and Books) for "Dateline Havana: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Future of Cuba." While Erlich is not an academic policy analyst, he is a life-long journalist who has received numerous awards and support from other influential journalists for his work.

So far, "Dateline Havana" has been well-received by two foreign policy analysts, Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky and Mavis Anderson of the Latin America Working Group. Having myself read some excerpts from the book at Google Books, "Dateline Havana" looks enlightening, well-researched, and highly-recommended.

You can view video of Erlich's book presentation at Books and Books here (courtesy of C-Span), and read a review and internet discussion with the author here.

Like Erikson, Erlich's appearance in Miami was ignored despite the excellent research he completed in Cuba recently. His book presentation in Miami was filled with interesting points and facts about Cuba, such as Cuba's rank on the Human Development Index, which is collected by the UNDP from various nations worldwide, and the view that change in U.S.-Cuba policy will not come from Washington, but rather "from the grassroots to the House, Senate, and eventually to the White House."

So, which Cuba "expert" shall Miami ignore next? Maybe Julia Sweig.


If you watched Comedy Central's Colbert Report last night, Sweig was on the show to briefly share some thoughts about U.S.-Cuba relations, and advertised her newest book scheduled to come out next month titled "Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know."

So far, the book is being described by the publisher as "informative, pithy, and lucidly written, it will serve as the best compact reference on Cuba's internal politics, its often fraught relationship with the United States, and its shifting relationship with the global community."

Sweig has written extensively on Cuba, Latin America, and considered "one of DC's finest Latin America policy divas" on the subject. She's also participated in numerous reports on U.S. policy towards Cuba, and it baffles we why she has not been interviewed on local television.

These expert opinions need to be shared and reported more often by the local media, otherwise everyone is just going to repeat what Jose Azel, Jaime Suchlicki, and Andy Gomez are saying. Which is the same political rhetoric that has perpetuated the Cold War mentality for nearly a half-century.


I could write a whole lot more about the subject of the local Spanish media (and sometimes English-language media) and how they fail to report on the various expert viewpoints on Cuba, so check the comments for additional thoughts. But I also wanted to highlight something else.

In 1978, UNESCO reaffirmed their commitment toward the "freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." No doubt this principles should also apply to the Cuban government, but its should apply equally (or even more strongly) to the U.S.

In the case of the local television media, and their ignoring of various expert perspectives concerning Cuba, the 1978 resolution reminds of an important right that we should consider:

"Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated

[. . .]

"Freedom of information requires as an indispensable element the willingness and capacity to employ its privileges without abuse. It requires as a basic discipline the moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent."

"Seeking facts without prejudice" when it comes to reporting about Cuba, is something that the local Spanish media is undoubtedly having trouble with.


Tracey Eaton said...

Excellent post about experts. The audience loses when journalists quote the same people over and over. A variety of sources never hurts.

Mambi_Watch said...

Thanks Tracey,

You have no idea how disappointed I become when I see and hear the SAME people appear on Spanish TV or radio repeatedly, and basically making identical arguments. And, its like that over and over again.

There should be no doubt that programs like Maria Elvira Live, A Mano Limpia, shows on Radio Mambi, or WQBA, and those on GenTV, all have a list of "experts" that they rely on and have quick access to. And, they all say the same things and agree with one another.

The news reporters quickly go to the people at UM, or Radio Mambi for their interviews, and it should shock people that individuals like Chris Simmons was able to easily smear people like he did on television last year. That's the poor state of Spanish TV in Miami.

When I began doing my research on US-Cuba relations a few years ago, I was totally blown away by the level of research, and number of researchers that have focused on Cuba and US relations. And, especially the diversity of opinions that existed. Before, all I knew was what the militants said and the the Diaz-Balart brothers, who still get immediate coverage whenever they say something about Cuba.

All this diverse information and research on Cuba is basically dismissed by the local Spanish news, especially when some think-tanks come up with policy recommendations that suggest ending the US embargo.

Telemundo and Univision seem to deny those voices. And, the victims are the people who rely on these Spanish stations to make an informed decision.

Really, it's just plain tragic.