By Juan O. Tamayo, jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com
WLRN radio station has apologized for canceling an interview with the author of a book that criticizes the Miami trial of five Cuban spies, and has re-invited him to appear on a news show to answer “our own hard questions about his claims.”
“We want to apologize to our South Florida listeners for the decision made this week by Joseph Cooper, the host of WLRN’s Topical Currents show, to cancel an interview” with author Stephen Kimber, said a statement issued by General Manager John Labonia.
An initial email sent by a WLRN staffer to Kimber’s publicist said Cooper had decided that the book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, was “incendiary” and canceled an interview scheduled for Tuesday.
That was “a judgment that I and the rest of WLRN’s management strongly disagree with,” Labonia said. “Mr. Cooper’s decision, in fact, was made without our knowledge, and it in no way reflects — in fact, it blatantly contradicts — who we are and what we do as South Florida’s source for public radio news and discussion.”
The case of the five spies, convicted in a Miami trial in 2001, “remains a highly sensitive matter in Miami, especially within the Cuban-American community,” said Labonia, whose station is the Miami affiliate of National Public Radio.
“But we also realize that the local conversation about Cuba has evolved and become more broad-minded over the past decade — and that it can accommodate opinions today that might have been too uncomfortable to engage a generation ago,” he added.
“WLRN has always prided itself on being South Florida’s communal roundtable — a place where the news and issues that most concern us can be discussed and debated in an intelligent and above all tolerant forum,” Labonia said. “That’s especially true when it comes to the controversial issue of Cuba.”
“We want to do more than express a mea culpa, however. We want to make this right,” he added.
WLRN’s news division plans to interview Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, on Friday on its weekly Florida Roundup show, according to the statement.
“We will accord Mr. Kimber his say, but we will also ask him our own hard questions about his claims,” Labonia said. “Just as important, joining the show will be an expert to rebut those claims — and that person will also be asked hard questions about the Cuban Five episode.
“WLRN values the trust of its listeners above all else, and we promise to work even harder after this week’s controversy to deserve it,” the general manager concluded.
Cooper told El Nuevo Herald Tuesday that Kimber “was presupposing the innocence of the Cuban Five” in his book, which was published last month.
“In my fiduciary capacity I have a responsibility to the community and [WLRN] and I made the decision after very careful consideration,” he said. “For this community, it just seemed a little too much.”
Kimber argues in his book that the legal process against the five was flawed in several ways and that the trial should have been moved out of Miami because of its heavy Cuban population.
The Cuban government has confirmed the five were spies but demanded their release, saying they were spying only on exiles who might be planning terror attacks on the island. Evidence presented at their trial showed they spied on exiles as well as U.S. military bases in the Florida Keys and Tampa and tried to infiltrate the Pentagon’s Southern Command in Doral.
Convicted spy Rene Gonzalez completed his sentence and returned to Havana in May. The others — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero — are serving longer sentences. Their appeals have been denied