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USAGM Pick to Lead Cuba Broadcasting Draws Criticism from Senator

FILE -- The U.S. Agency for Global Media logo at Voice of America, in Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 2019. (VOA)

The appointment of an award-winning journalist to lead the Office of Cuba Broadcasting was criticized this week by a U.S. lawmaker who suggested she does not have a strong enough track record of promoting liberty for Cuban citizens.

The U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the OCB and other independent networks including Voice of America, announced Wednesday that veteran media and communications executive Sylvia Rosabal will be the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

Rosabal is the latest network head to be hired by Kelu Chao, a former VOA executive who took over as acting chief executive when former CEO and Trump nominee Michael Pack resigned hours after President Joe Biden took office.

Chao was a whistleblower named in a court case brought against Pack and his aides that claimed editorial interference at the news network.

Rosabal, a former senior vice president of the news division at Telemundo Network, has won numerous awards during her 30-year career at Spanish-language networks in the U.S., including an Edward R. Murrow award for journalistic excellence. She also worked on media logistics for the 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee.

The longtime South Florida resident was born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents.

Rosabal will fill the director position at the Office for Cuba Broadcasting that has been vacant since Jeffrey Scott Shapiro resigned in late January, shortly before Chao fired the other USAGM network heads who were installed by Pack in his last weeks as CEO.

Pack’s leadership drew bipartisan criticism from members of Congress, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez and others who said his moves undermined the agency’s editorial independence.

FILE - Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 12, 2018.
FILE - Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 12, 2018.

In a statement Wednesday, Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said he did not believe Rosabal “is the right person to lead the OCB.” Menendez said the office should be led by someone “with a track record of staunchly promoting liberty for all Cuban citizens.”

The USAGM’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting is headquartered in Miami, Florida, where it oversees Radio and Television Marti,, and its social media platforms.

Radio and Television Marti provides unbiased news and information via satellite television and radio to people in Cuba, who have limited access to independent news. This week a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers wrote to the Biden administration asking it to increase the Office of Cuba Broadcasting’s budget to $30 million next year. OCB’s budget in 2020 was $12.9 million.

Cuba ranks 171st out of 180 countries, where 1 is the most free, in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Menendez, whose Cuban parents immigrated to the United States before he was born, said he respected Rosabal’s journalistic credentials but that he planned to seek information on how the new director plans to promote “the principles of a free press and of free speech in Cuba.”

“I am concerned that she is of the view of accommodation with the Cuban regime rather than of challenging its human rights violations and denial of democratic freedoms to its people,” Menendez said.

USAGM has not responded to VOA’s questions about Menendez’s criticisms.

Rosabal is the final network director to be named by Chao during a 90-day window Congress included in the December COVID-19 relief bill that gave the head of USAGM power to make hiring and firing decisions.

New provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act will now come into effect that contain more restrictions on the appointments of network heads.