Why The Sale Of A Miami Radio Station Has Set Off A National Alarm For Democrats
Radio Caracol is one of Miami's rare moderate Spanish-language stations. Democrats fear a new owner will use it to broadcast more right-wing disinformation.
Radio Caracol, 1260 on the AM dial, has long been a staple of Spanish-language radio in Miami. This month, Caracol is being sold to a Hialeah-based media company called América CV, which also owns a Spanish-language TV station in Hialeah, América TeVé, Channel 41.
In years past, that radio sale might not have turned heads. But as it’s being finalized, Caracol has booted former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez — and his popular, four-hour daily talk show "La Hora del Regreso" (Afternoon Rush Hour) — from the airwaves.
Martinez is a Democrat — and Radio Caracol is one of Miami’s only Spanish-language radio stations that doesn’t lean to the political right. The new owner, América CV, insists it’s nonpartisan; but the media in its stable, like América TeVé, are widely considered to steer firmly conservative.
And that has raised red flags for many moderate and liberal-leaning listeners — because they remember how much far-right disinformation they heard on just about every other Spanish-language radio station in South Florida during last year’s presidential election — such as, Joe Biden is a communist and Donald Trump won the election.
“I stepped on too many conservative toes,” Martinez said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Caracol. But the way they shut me off like that? That indicates they don’t want the truth in our community.”
Martinez acknowledges his show could be politically combative. (Republican Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo was a favorite target.) But he claims Caracol canceled him at the behest of América CV because of his political affiliation and because he’d begun warning his audience that América CV could turn Caracol into another far-right radio outlet.
“They’re part of this conspiracy of lies,” Martinez said.
América CV’s co-founder and legal spokesman, Miami attorney Marcell Felipe, acknowledges he and Martinez are longtime political foes; but he denies the company had anything to do with Martinez’s Caracol cancellation and calls it “a crisis fabricated by Raul Martinez.”
Caracol’s general manager, Luis Gutierrez, also insists América CV did not pressure him to drop Martinez’s show. Rather, he argues, he had no choice but to nix it because Martinez’s swipes at América CV were jeopardizing the station's sale, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake.
“We can’t risk him on the air telling our audience, ‘This station has become the alt-right, so shut it off and abandon the station,’” Gutierrez said.
Still, given what happened during the presidential election — and afterward with the violent right-wing riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. in January — the cancellation of Martinez’s radio show has also alarmed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington D.C., which asserts it does smack of censorship.
The caucus, made up of Democratic U.S congress members, is calling on the Federal Communications Commission, which approves public-airwaves radio deals like this, to delay the Caracol sale and scrutinize América CV.
“We are concerned that this sale is against the public good,” said Darren Soto, an Orlando congressman and caucus member who fears Caracol may now start airing far-right disinformation in South Florida.
“We saw many in the South Florida Hispanic Republican community be part of inciting violence in the Capitol. And so these are things that are worthy of an FCC review," he said.
FIRST AMENDMENT FLAG
Some South Florida Hispanic GOP figures did take part in the Capitol violence — including former state representative candidate Gabriel Garcia, who has been indicted on federal civil disorder charges for his role in the riot as a member of the alt-right Proud Boys group. (Felipe, who is Cuban-American, supported Garcia's failed Republican primary candidacy last year because he felt Garcia's opponent, state Rep. Daniel Perez, was weak on the cause of democracy for Cuba and that Garcia was a stronger advocate. But he says he was unaware of Garcia's Proud Boy ties — which admittedly were not publicly known until the January riot occurred.)
But media law experts tell WLRN there’s little if any chance the FCC will step into the Caracol dispute. Halting the station’s sale just because there’s a fear the new owner will air politically extreme rhetoric, they say, would be a First Amendment violation.
For its part, América CV says it’s not true it’s going to morph Radio Caracol into a right-wing antenna.
“That is a false narrative,” said Felipe. “We’ve always believed that it’s in our best interest as a company to present all points of view, and we will in this case.”
Felipe is a leader of the Cuban exile faction that favors a hardline U.S. policy toward Cuba’s communist regime. He acknowledges América CV and the media it owns follow that line — and so will Caracol. But, he says, that doesn’t mean América CV told Caracol to cancel Raul Martinez’s show — and he objects to labeling South Florida Spanish-language radio as far right just because its stations are known for opposing communism.
“I think it’s very discriminatory against Cubans and Venezuelans and Latin Americans from all over,” Felipe said. “The people creating this controversy, they’re saying: if you believe in the freedom of Cuba, then you are a right-wing conservative.”
In the meantime, América CV critics promise to watch closely what happens to Caracol programming moving ahead — with the help of a new $22 million effort, funded by liberal advocacy groups and led by the nonprofit watchdog Media Matters, along with the voter registration group Voto Latino, to monitor disinformation aimed at Hispanics.
But as some point out, $22 million can also buy a lot of Radio Caracols. So a just as important question getting louder in South Florida is: why isn’t that kind of money being steered toward the creation of more moderate and liberal radio and other media to compete with the right’s hold on the Latino community here?
“There does have to be more investment in that,” said Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a Democrat and a Colombian-American media strategist who heads the firm We Are Más in Weston.
“Philanthropists who support Democrats should be creating more programs, more credible media and focused messaging for Latinos to understand who Democrats are.”
At least one Democrat, Martinez, agrees.
Whether or not political censorship was involved in his exit from Caracol this month, he said, “I am not going to accept that anybody put a gag on me.”
So he’s already started a new talk show on YouTube called “Sin Mordaza” — No Gag.
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