One of the top lobbying groups for U.S. broadcasters will visit Cuba next week to promote business opportunities, even as the Cuban government continues to be assailed for its control of the island’s media and abuse of journalists.
Margaret Cassilly, vice president of international programs at the National Association of Broadcasters, will travel to Havana next week to attend the Cuban Radio & Television International Conference & Exposition, Politico reported.
Cassilly said the conference "presents an extraordinary opportunity to open doors and facilitate future business opportunities for both Cuban broadcasters and U.S. suppliers in the media and entertainment industry."
The National Association of Broadcasters donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to political parties and candidates and lobbies Congress on behalf of U.S. radio and television outlets.
The Obama administration has promoted partnerships between U.S. and Cuban businesses as part of its efforts to normalize relations with President Raul Castro’s government and foster a more open economy and political system on the island.
However, critics say such collaboration will not result in more freedom for the Cuban people as the communist government continues to tighten its grip on civil society, especially the media.
"The trip to Cuba by the NAB will result in absolutely no benefits for the Cuban people," said Jose Cardenas, a former senior official in the George W. Bush administration’s National Security Council and specialist on Latin America, in an interview. "It is against the interests of the Castro regime to have better communications among the Cuban people."
"It’s why they disallow widespread Internet use, why they censor the media, why they disallow any independent media, and, in fact, persecute any Cubans who attempt to practice independent media and journalism," he added.
A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters declined to comment on the Cuba visit.
The Cuban government owns all of the major media outlets in the country and places severe restrictions on freedom of information, according to the group Reporters Without Borders. Cuban authorities only accredit foreign journalists who are not critical of the government and "continue to persecute journalists and bloggers who criticize the regime," the group says. Cuba ranks 169 out of 180 countries in the group’s World Press Freedom Index for 2015.
One recent broadcast on state-run CubaTV presented favorable coverage of a meeting this week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The outlet said the two leaders "addressed the issue of the ongoing fight against terrorism in Syria," while other news organizations have reported that Russian forces have mainly targeted U.S.-backed rebels and other opposition groups rather than Islamic State terrorists. There have also been reports that Cuban military personnel are on the ground in Syria to assist Russia and Assad.
Cuban authorities detained Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the dissident news and opinion website 14ymedio.com, last December as part of a continuing crackdown against independent journalists. Escobar is the husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sanchez.
Cuban police have also detained hundreds of dissidents in recent months as the Obama administration said it would press its new partner government to protect human rights.
Any U.S. businesses that agree to partner with Cuban broadcasters will likely be forced by the government to censor their content, Cardenas said, creating a restrictive news environment for foreign media companies that is similar to other countries such as China.
New U.S.-Cuban media initiatives would also undermine Radio Marti and TV Marti, the U.S. news services that were established 30 years ago to provide more independent reporting on the island, he said. The Castro regime officially prohibits anyone from listening to Marti’s broadcasts and has attempted to block its signal.
"Any U.S. company that would engage with the Castro regime is going to be self-censoring what information could be shared with the Cuban people," Cardenas said. "It undercuts the freedom of communications that Radio Marti and TV Marti embody."
The Cuban government gains two benefits from closer collaboration with U.S. companies, Cardenas said. The regime can promise future profits to businesses that lobby Congress to lift the longstanding U.S. embargo, and it can bring more technology to the island that will make it a more attractive hub for foreign companies.
"The Castro regime’s interest is in making it easier for foreign businesses to conduct business in Cuba," he said. "That doesn’t benefit the Cuban people. That’s for the regime’s benefit."