In sign of tougher policy shift, Trump appoints Cuba 'hardliner' to lead Radio and TV Marti

Politico | Wednesday, 6 June 2018 | Click here for original article

President Donald Trump appointed Miami’s former mayor and self-described Cuba “hardliner” Tomás Regalado to run Radio and TV Martí, a sign that tougher U.S. policies could be in store for the island regime and its Latin American allies.

Regalado’s appointment to lead the U.S.-funded broadcast network, which counters Cuba’s state-run media, follows months of advocacy by Miami’s four Cuban-American Republican members of Congress, and it helps solidify Sen. Marco Rubio’s role as a key player in the Trump administration’s Latin America policy.

Rubio (R-Fla.), who recommended Regalado for the post and worked closely with the administration on recent Venezuela sanctions, had joined with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) in shaping Trump’s 2017 rollback of former President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba’s government, a policy announced in Miami when Regalado — a significant voice of Cuban exiles for decades — was mayor.

“This is a message to the Cuban government, it’s appointing a hardliner because I am hardliner regarding Cuba. I don’t believe in doing steps just to hope that there will be change in Cuba for the better, for democracy,” Regalado told POLITICO.

“The White House understands Cuba is a priority and that the Cuban government will see this as a reaffirmation that there is a different policy toward Cuba coming from the Trump administration,” Regalado said.

Regalado's first day leading the Office of Cuba Broadcasting was Tuesday, he said. A ceremony designating his appointment is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in Washington.

Regalado said the need for the U.S. to confront Cuba is clearer than ever because the island’s government has a close relationship with the dictatorship in Venezuela and has ties to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose country is experiencing violent unrest.

Rubio, Diaz-Balart and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Florida Republicans, “seem to be optimistic that they can advance stronger policies” concerning Cuba and its allies, Regalado said. He said the president’s focus recently has been on nuclear disarmament issues in North Korea and Iran.

“I feel very strongly that after the situation in North Korea and in Iran, there’s going to be more attention paid to Cuba because Cuba is part of the crisis in Venezuela and the crisis in Nicaragua,” Regaldo said. “I feel that there’s eventually going to be more sanctions and more implementation of the sanctions the president announced in Miami.”

In tapping Regalado for the post, Trump also signaled his support for Miami’s old-guard Cuban exile community, where support for the president is high. Regalado’s son, Tomás Regalado Jr., works for Radio and TV Martí.

Regalado’s predecessor at TV and Radio Martí, Andre Mendes, quit after he said he was accused falsely by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) of trying to take part in a “coup” against the head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting — which in turn is in charge of Radio and TV Martí. Mendes had replaced Malule González, an Obama appointee who quit after a public relations campaign from Cuban exiles who felt she was censoring them. Gonzalez said she was trying to move the network away from propaganda to be more in line with the journalistic standards at Voice of America.

Radio and TV Martí’s broadcast, which originates in the Miami-Dade County city of Doral, is jammed in Cuba by the government there, although Regalado said there are ways to get around it. Trump had recommended steep cuts to Radio and TV Martí, but Congress continued its funding.

A career broadcaster and reporter beginning in 1968, Regalado has long been a vociferous anti-Castro voice in Miami both on air and in office. One of Rubio’s first jobs in politics was volunteering on a city commission campaign for Regalado, who gave the upstart politician a crucial endorsement in his Florida House race in 2000.

Though a Cuba hardliner, Regalado broke sharply with Trump over his immigration rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign and thereafter. However, Rubio helped persuade the Trump administration to ignore those differences of opinions because Regalado was the best fit to represent Trump’s hardline on Cuba and his desire to unwind Obama’s policies on the island.

In a written statement, Rubio said he applauded the appointment.

“I have known Tomás for many years and have no doubt that TV/Radio Martí’s role in ensuring the Cuban people have access to uncensored information will grow under his leadership,” Rubio said. “I look forward to working with him to directly empower the Cuban people.”

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