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Drama at Office of Cuba Broadcasting

Changes again at the top of OCB

The revolving door for leaders at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting doesn’t show any sign of slowing. Reports flared last week that André Mendes stepped aside after possibly losing a power struggle with higher ups at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Mendes had been interim OCB chief since Malule Gonzalez resigned last September. If you’re keeping score, Gonzalez replaced Carlos Garcia-Perez as CEO in 2015.

Mendes, who once served as interim BBG CEO prior to John Lansing’s arrival, stepped aside for a role in the U.S. Commerce Department, according to various media reports. A BBG press officer did not respond to calls and e-mails for comment on Mendes’ departure. Meanwhile, Emilio Vazquez has been named OCB acting director.

Some of the turnover at the top of OCB can be attributed to the change in White House administrations, experts say, but there are also media reports that Mendes lost out in an internal battle with BBG chief Lansing on the direction of OCB. Mendes, who also served as BBG’s Director of Global Operations, had applied for the BBG CEO job when it was vacant in 2015.

OCB is the U.S. federal body that oversees Radio and TV Martí with an annual budget of $28.1 million. It’s headquartered in Miami and also operates the online platform,

BBG Watch, an independent website managed by former and current BBG employees, has noted the Trump administration’s supposed interest in dispatching current BBG leadership. The watchdog group reposted a story from reporter Susan Crabtree that ran in the Washington Free Beacon last month that stated the longtime chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), a longtime critic of the BBG, is “looking forward to the next step in reforming” the BBG and is signaling that the Trump administration should nominate a new BBG director and CEO.

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reported last week that Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), a ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, allegedly implicated Mendes in an alleged “coup” plot against BBG chief Lansing and board members. RW could not verify the allegation. An email sent to Engel’s Washington office was not returned.

“Engel alleged that whistle-blowers at the BBG told him the Trump administration planned to dismiss Lansing and replace him temporarily with Mendes, who would then dissolve the board presumably with the aim of pushing the BBG’s journalism toward a viewpoint favorable of the Trump administration,” the Herald reported.

A BBG Watch commentary labeled that story as “largely fake news” in an online post published last month.

The White House under Pres. Obama at one time moved to de-federalize OCB. The Obama administration revealed in its FY2016 budget request plans to begin the process of creating a new grantee that would have combined the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the Voice of America’s Latin American division. Plans for the new grantee organization, which would have been called Spanish Language International Media, were eventually scrapped.

The BBG is the federal entity that sets funding and gives direction to its broadcast organizations, including OCB, VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the Middle East Broadcast Networks and Radio Free Asia.