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Political sparring over Miami’s airwaves

A Spanish conservative station is going on sale concurrently as Democrats and Republicans vie for Latino voters.

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Irina Vilario, a 46-year-old restaurateur originally from Cuba, grew up in South Florida listening to Radio Mamb, a popular talk radio station.

Ms. Vilario, who was only four years old when her family fled Fidel Castro’s regime, says, “I get chills thinking about it.” “Thanks to Radio Mamb, we were finally heard. A voice was silenced in Cuba. It brought us all closer together.”

Radio Mamb was established in 1985 by Cuban refugees living in Miami. It was given the name “mambises” in honor of the Cuban guerrillas who fought for independence from Spain. The radio broadcast the exiles’ strident criticism of the Cuban government.

Even now, many people associate it with the Spanish-speaking culture of Florida: On a recent Friday, there was discussion of modern Cuba, followed by calls from listeners offering their thoughts on the upcoming state primary elections on August 23 and complaining about Democratic Vice President Joe Biden’s “socialist agenda.”

Its impact on the heavily Republican diaspora can be seen in the fact that prominent Republicans like George W. Bush and Mike Pence have visited its studios. One of the station’s most popular and outspokenly conservative radio show hosts, Ninoska Pérez Castellón, even got an exclusive interview with then-President Donald Trump in 2018.

The station’s unexpected sale to a media startup with ties to veteran Democrats has sent shockwaves as far as the halls of power in Washington, DC, and, some say, provided a glimpse into a heated competition for the attention of Latino audiences and, by extension, politically crucial Latino voters in a key electoral swing state.

Many people are wondering if this election will be the last time Radio Mambi and similar stations have an impact on Republican politics.

There are now 62.1 million Latinos in the United States, and Spanish is the most widely spoken non-English language, according to the most recent census data.

Research from City University of New York indicates that roughly 78% of Latino-focused media is solely in Spanish, while only 15% is bilingual.

Most people listen to radio. According to the ratings service Nielsen, 97% of the Latino population in the United States receives the medium on a monthly basis. That figure jumps to 99.9% among Latinxs over the age of 50. About a third of the people in Miami are over the age of 55, and Latinos make up about 70% of the city’s population.

Since 2002, the largest Spanish-language media company in the United States, TelevisaUnivision, has owned and operated Radio Mambi.

In June, however, a new company called Latino Media Network announced an agreement to purchase this and 17 other Univision stations across the United States for a total of $60 million (about £50 million).

The new company was founded by two Latinas who are heavily involved in the Democratic Party.

Jess Morales Rocketto was a campaign aide for Hillary Clinton, and Stephanie Valencia worked in the White House during the Obama administration.

Miami’s conservative Latinos and conservative politicians were both alarmed by the sale because of their respective ideologies.

Concerned about the “silencing and marginalization” of stations that had “been the voices of support for Cuba’s freedom,” the Assembly of Cuban Resistance (an umbrella group of 35 exile organizations) voiced its dismay at the sale days after it was announced.

Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers led by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote an impassioned letter to the Federal Communications Commission, urging the government body to “thoroughly scrutinise” the deal and calling it an attempt by “far-left ideologues” to “silence effective conservative voices who challenge their progressive propaganda.”

Following the sale, at least three hosts from Radio Mambi have defected to conservative-backed startup Americano Media.

The two founders of Latino Media Network did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment or grant an interview, but they did make statements to the Miami Herald in which they promised not to “change the spirit or character” of Radio Mamb and to welcome all viewpoints.

However, not everyone who hears it believes it.

On a recent afternoon, a dozen or so Cuban-American customers sat chatting and sipping dark Cuban coffee at one of Ms. Vilario’s restaurants in Doral, a suburb of Miami. “It’s a way of stifling our values, our concerns, and our information,” she said.

Influence on politics?

Approval of the transaction is anticipated by the end of 2022, and the transfer of stations is scheduled for no earlier than the third quarter of 2023.

Since the ownership change won’t happen until after the 2022 midterm elections, analysts predict fierce competition for Spanish-language media outlets as the United States approaches the 2024 presidential election.

For Democrats in Florida, South Texas, and Arizona, who are seeing support for their party dwindle among Latino communities, the battle to reach Latinos over the airwaves is seen as crucial.

It is hard to measure the influence of the media on politics, but polls show that “people generally believe what is said on the radio,” according to Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University.

Mr. Gamarra suggested it might sway people’s decisions at the polls.

The more pressing issue is whether or not Latinos in the United States are being influenced in their views on the truth by media presented in their native language of Spanish.

There have been numerous allegations against Spanish-language media outlets, including Radio Mamb, alleging that they have spread false information about everything from the upcoming 2020 election to the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccines, prompting the sale of the station.

“It’s constant,” said Evelyn Pérez-Verda, chief strategy officer at We Are Mas, a company that aims to combat disinformation in diaspora communities. We’re talking about a major issue here.

She went on to say that there is “a pot of gold in using fear mongering by saying that our country is going to become the next Venezuela,” with the goal of getting people to either not vote or vote in a certain way.

Former hosts of Radio Mamb say that accusations of spreading false information are nothing more than attempts to silence dissenting opinions.

Talk show host Lourdes Ubieta, originally from Venezuela but now working for Americano Media, made the claim that “liberal media want to censor one’s opinion” earlier this year after leaving Radio Mamb. The goal is to “silence and cancel out.”

And, “If you don’t like it, change the channel and don’t listen to me,” she pleaded.

Future uncertainty

Despite their assurances that they will not alter Radio Mamb’s character, both they and the research community know full well the station’s persuasive potential.

Democratic-aligned polling firm Equis, also founded by Ms. Valencia, found that fears of “socialism” spread by the media and online helped “create space for defection” from the Democrats to the Republican Party among Latinos in its post-election analysis of the 2020 election.

One in every eight eligible voters in the United States is Latino, so reaching out to them through the media is likely to be crucial.

Meanwhile, residents of Little Havana in Miami are concerned about the future of Radio Mamb after a recent management shakeup.

“It has always been vital that…

For those of us living abroad, it serves as a touchstone “Manuel Gonzalez, a local coffee drinker, summed up the restaurant’s association with anti-communist politics in one sentence.

“The sale may be detrimental to Cubans’ access to information.

I appreciate their editorial stance and the fact that they address issues plaguing Cuba.

in addition to being moderates, “A statement he made. What happens, well, that’s up in the air.