MIAMI — Sen. Marco Rubio is backing former Miami mayor and Cuban exile leader Tomas Regalado to lead the troubled federal office that oversees Radio and TV Martí in its attempts to counter Cuba’s state-run media on the island.
But even with his recommendation from Rubio, Regalado, he has a mark against him in an administration that prizes loyalty: Regalado had been critical of President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric before and after the campaign.
Still, Regalado was supportive of Trump’s Cuba policy reversing Obama’s rapprochement with the island’s totalitarian regime. Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart helped shape the policy, and Regalado worked with the White House on the venue for the announcement last June at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami. Regalado sat in the front row.
“I was very critical of Obama’s policy toward Cuba,” Regalado told POLITICO in a text message, adding that “since I do agree with this president I thought I should apply and I did.”
Regalado confirmed Rubio had recommended him for the post. Rubio has known Regalado since at least 1996, when Regalado ran for Miami city commission. In 2000, Regalado gave Rubio a crucial endorsement in his first bid for a state House seat that Rubio barely won.
Rubio’s office did not want to elaborate on his support for Regalado, but sources close to him confirm he recommended Regalado due to his politics toward Cuba and his career as an accomplished radio and print reporter for decades.
Whoever gets the job will walk into a potential drama.
The previous director, Andre Mendes, quit after he said he was accused falsely by New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel 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, a President Barack 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.
The effectiveness of Radio and TV Martí area also in doubt because Cuba jams the broadcast from the station that originates in Doral, near Miami.
El Nuevo Herald reported last month that Radio and TV Martí had “sneaked in the same forbidden technology that landed Alan Gross in Cuban jail.” Also, Trump had recommended steep cuts to the program, but Congress continued its funding this year, totaling about $29 million.
“The mission of TV and Radio Martí as mandated by Congress is to inform the people in Cuba about what is happening on the island and about the island in the world and also to inform and explain to them U.S. policy towards Cuba,” Regalado said. “I know the mission of Radio and TV Martí and I agree and support the president and this administration’s Cuba policy.”