In hopes of salvaging the funding, proponents of Radio and TV Marti are using high-minded rhetoric about bringing the truth to the Cuban people and hastening the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro. But, in reality, the stations are ineffective in achieving those goals and are primarily payoffs to right-wing Cuban exiles, who lavish campaign contributions on friendly politicians.
Whether pork barrel projects are in the best interests of the taxpayers who foot the bill is usually irrelevant in the decision-making process. That's why the budget fight over Radio and TV Marti is of symbolic importance. While cutting the approximately $30 million in annual funding for Radio and TV Marti would be only a tiny reduction in the federal deficit, it would be a clear victory for the American taxpayer over a powerful political faction that gobbles up federal funds to further its own narrow agenda rather than the national interest.
In return for President Reagan's strong support for the establishment of Radio Marti, conservative Cuban exiles donated generously to his re-election campaign and voted in droves to return him to the White House. President Bush added TV Marti and also benefited from Cuban-American support. And, President Clinton, who received critical donations from Cuban exile groups during the early days of his 1992 campaign, supports continued funding for both stations.
So, it is not surprising that Radio and TV Marti largely serve the political and emotional needs of Cuban exiles in Miami rather than the news and information needs of Cubans in Cuba. The former head of Radio Marti and many former and current staff members have publicly and privately charged that the stations have become a federally funded forum for the political ambitions of exile leaders who are positioning themselves to replace the Castro government. As a result, an independent academic evaluation recently concluded, "Radio Marti has lost credibility among its most important constituency - the people of Cuba."
A 1992 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office raised similar concerns about political bias in the programming of TV Marti, but that is of little consequence because the TV signal cannot be seen on the island due to Cuban government jamming.
Not only can't Cubans see TV Marti, listenership to Radio Marti is declining. Prior to Radio Marti, most Cubans - including Castro and his inner circle - listened frequently to the Voice of America, the U.S. government's well-respected overseas broadcast service. But today, listening to Radio
Marti's highly politicized programming, which replaced the more-responsible VOA broadcasts to Cuba, is seen as a symbol of opposition to the Cuban government at a time when there is no tolerance for dissent.
Many Cubans - even some who oppose the Castro regime - are tuning in to safer, more trustworthy stations, such as commercial radio from other Caribbean islands and the United States, easily heard elsewhere on their radio dial. In other words, the result of millions of dollars in funding for Radio and TV Marti is that the Cuban people have less information and entertainment
from the U.S. government than they did before the stations were started.
Not only are Radio and TV Marti ineffective and wasteful of tax dollars, they are counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy interests in the Caribbean. Their politically strident broadcasts have badly complicated efforts to successfully negotiate a resolution to the many disagreements between the two countries and to foster peaceful reform of Cuba's communist system. And, of course, if the result is a violent political eruption on the island only 90 miles from the U.S. coast, the U.S. taxpayers also will be asked to pay for the clean-up operation.
If a free flow of information between the two countries - rather than political pork barrel - is really the goal, why doesn't the U.S. government end its prohibitions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba? And, why not allow modern direct telephone service to the island and end restrictions on commercial radio and television companies in the United States wishing to sell programming to Cuba?
Permitting U.S. citizens and companies to communicate more freely with the Cuban people ultimately is more effective than government propaganda - with no cost to the taxpayer.