Mambí Mess: What does the sale of two emblematic radio stations in Miami tell us?

This month, a new Democratic-run media company announced it was buying 18 Spanish-language radio stations across the United States for $60 million. Two of them are iconic Miami stations: WQBA and WAQI, known as Radio Mambí.

And many Cuban exiles are angry: they fear the buyers – Latino Media Network – are abandoning the stations’ conservative hardline against Cuba’s communist dictatorship. At a press conference in Little Havana last week, exiled community leaders like Sylvia Iriondo warned of a backlash if that happened.

“We will resist any attempt to censor the voices of this community represented by these radio stations with all legal and legitimate means,” such as boycotts and protests, Iriondo said, reading a statement from the coalition in exile, l Assembly of the Cuban Resistance.

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Other Cuban-American Republicans also called the sale of the stations a left-wing plot to censor conservative voices. In Doral, Miami Congressman Carlos Gimenez made this inflammatory charge:

“It’s a well-thought-out plan of how, in their minds, to win the hearts and souls of Americans — to fundamentally destroy America.”

Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also Cuban-American, echoed Gimenez. Just like Republican Senator from Florida Rick Scott:

“That’s what socialism, communism does,” Scott said. “They want to silence people.”

READ MORE: A new group of Latino media buys – and shakes up – a Spanish-speaking radio station

Florida GOP communications director Julia Friedland said the Democratic founders of the Latino Media Network had “expressed strong support” for late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. WLRN asked Friedland for proof of this charge; she couldn’t offer any.

One of the founders of Latino Media Network, Democratic activist Jess Morales Rocketto, is from the left wing of the party. One funder is liberal philanthropist George Soros. But the investment and advisory group is also bipartisan, including former Florida Republican President and Cuban exile Al Cardenas, and California law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which has represented prominent Republicans such as the former President George W. Bush and Senator Scott.

“The mission of this company is to help Latinos make sense of the world and their place in it,” Stephanie Valencia, the other founder of Latino Media Network, told WLRN.

Valencia was a Latino outreach aide to former President Barack Obama — and, like just about any Democrat today, she knows her party is losing Latino voters in South Florida. But she said her group did not plan to create liberal stations WQBA or Radio Mambí.

“There are elements of Radio Mambí that are really important to preserve,” Valencia said.

“It’s obviously been an important part of the Cuban community in exile and their experience in Miami. But we also believe in balanced journalism.”

Valencia’s latest point refers to the criticism Radio Mambí and other Spanish-language stations in Miami are receiving for spreading right-wing disinformation – like former President Donald Trump’s lie about fraud in the 2020 election. ; the lie that President Biden and the Democrats are”socialists“in the style of Latin American left-wing authoritarians; or the claim that the Black Lives Matter racial justice movement is a communist ploy.

When these stations were Republican bullhorns, no one ever worried about balance or fairness. Now the Democrats are buying them – and the Republicans are suddenly worried?

Carlos Saladrigas

This week, Cuban leaders in exile sent the Federal Communications Commission – which has yet to approve the purchase – a “letter of concern”. He urges an investigation into the sale of the Miami stations by the current owner, TelevisaUnivision, to Latino Media Network, and the impact this might have on the community. But, because of the buyers’ First Amendment rights, media pundits say the FCC won’t block the transfer based on political objections.

This is, in fact, the very point Republicans made to Democrats last year when the latter opposed the sale of Radio Caracol – one of Miami’s only moderate Spanish radio stations – to a group of media co-directed by the conservative Cuban lawyer in exile Marcell Felipe. (That purchase was voluntarily pulled earlier this year when, after Democrats filed a complaint about potential legal issues with the property and the FCC requested additional information, the owner pulled out due to the delay and chose instead to have the Caracol programming handled by Felipe’s group.)

REPUBLICAN MEGAPHONE

As a result, says Cuban exile Carlos Saladrigas, the fury of Republican and conservative exiles over the sales of WQBA and Radio Mambí “is hypocritical”.

Saladrigas is a millionaire entrepreneur and former Republican from Miami who chairs the nonprofit Cuba Study Group. He supports engagement with Cuba, so he is often attacked as “Communist” by stations like Mambi.

“[They’ve] has been using these stations, especially Mambí, as a megaphone for Republican causes for years,” Saladrigas said.

Latino Media Network founders Stephanie Valencia (left) and Jess Morales Rocketto

“Nobody ever worried about balance or fairness. So now the Democrats have found the money to buy them – and now [the Republicans] care? Leave me alone.”

But the controversy raises another question: if Spanish-language radio stations like Mambí are so iconic and beloved by Miami’s Cuban community, why has no investor of is this community about to buy the stations themselves?

“Radio Mambí may be iconic, but that doesn’t mean it’s so important,” says Guillermo Grenier, a Cuban-American sociologist at Florida International University.

“And I think the fact that nobody [in the Cuban community] Forking out money to make a counter offer is probably the most empirical measure of this – because there are a lot of rich Cubans here.

Grenier directs the FIU’s Cuba Poll, a regular survey of Cuban-Americans in Miami. He said that even though most of the Cuban community has shifted to the right on Cuban and U.S. political issues during Trump’s presidency, demographic trends still suggest Mambí’s listener base is aging and shrinking. Younger and more recently arrived Cubans tend to be more moderate – and turn to social media like YouTube for news and information instead of the radio.

“So investing in Radio Mambí’s long-term prospects?” Grenier said. “I think Cuban investors probably looked and said, ‘No.’ ”

But if so, that means Radio Mambí’s new owners actually have a bigger problem than losing Miami’s former Cuban and Latino audience.

To remain viable, they will have to find a new Cuban and Latino audience in Miami.

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