Simpler ways to talk to Cuba

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THE newest radio station on Cuban dials was established by the US government to beam accurate, objective, and comprehensive news in Spanish to the island of Cuba. It is a worthy goal for Radio Mart'i, which began broadcasting this past Monday. Whether establishing Radio Mart'i as a new radio station was necessary, however, and whether it was done in the least expensive way are different questions.

All mankind hungers for truth, for the free flow of information that emanates from open societies, like the United States. Few cherish independent news so much, or remember it so long, as those who live in totalitarian societies, where ``news'' is generally restricted to what governments decide to divulge.

The Voice of America, under which Radio Mart'i will operate, has a solid tradition of broadcasting impartial news reports throughout the world. It is to be hoped that Radio Mart'i will continue in that path.

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But was the new station needed? Radio listeners in Havana already receive many commercial stations that transmit from Florida, only 90 miles from Cuba at the closest point. A clear view of news and life in the United States can be gained from listening to these commercial stations.

In any case, there had been talk in Washington during the 1970s of beaming special US government programming to Cuba. Such a step could have been taken more quickly in the 1970s or early '80s by changing the programming of existing Voice of America broadcasts that were beamed to Cuba. And it would have been less expensive than setting up a new radio station.

But for US internal political reasons, the way the message is packaged seems to be the issue. Apparently there were two driving forces behind the establishment of Radio Mart'i as a separate programming unit. For one: Hispanics are an increasingly powerful political factor in sections of the US, with Cuban-Americans particularly important to Florida politics. Establishing a separate radio station aimed solely at Marxist Cuba is especially appealing to hard-line anticommunists in the US.

In addition, proponents of Radio Mart'i may have concluded that founding it as a separate unit, under the Voice of America, would make it more difficult for any future administration to dismantle it.

Cuba's Marxist leader, Fidel Castro, is an extremely difficult man to come to the defense of, given his close Soviet ties, his past history of exporting subversion throughout Latin America, and his current campaign to gain influence in the hemisphere by building relationships with other Latin American governments. He is beginning to record successes, obtaining loans from Argentina and moving toward reestablishing formal diplomatic relations with several nations.

Yet there should be no overreaction to Castro's retaliatory actions and threats, taken the day Radio Mart'i went on the air. The US response was correct, with a State Department spokesman expressing the hope that Castro would reconsider his action of suspending an agreement with the US by which Cubans could emigrate to the United States, and which would return some 3,000 Cubans with a history of crime or mental illness who came to the US in the Mariel boatlift of 1980.

Castro is hardly one to complain about government-owned radio programs, anyway. His government beams Radio Havana to the United States, with programming that includes not only music and other entertainment but also news programs from the less-than-impartial Castro perspective. ----30--{et

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