US to Beam TV Marti Programming to Viewers in Cuba
WASHINGTON — EVERY night, TV newscasts show graphic shots of the crumbling East bloc, or illustrate the demise of the Communist Party within the Soviet Union. To date, however, little of this footage has made it onto television sets in Havana. But starting the middle of next month, the United States government hopes to begin testing equipment designed to give Cubans the picture they are missing.
TV Marti, the sister of Radio Marti, is getting set to beam TV signals to a potential audience of 2.5 million people in the Havana area. The aim of the show, say administration officials, is to give Cuban viewers a different eye on the world.
``The best way to think of the programming is that it will be the type you would expect from a major American network with sports, entertainment, news,'' says Antonio Navarro, the acting director of TV Marti, a service of the Voice of America. ``There will be no diatribe or politically loaded programs,'' he says.
Jacqueline Tillman, executive director of the Cuban American Foundation, says the programs have political importance to Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. She says the TV show will further show the Cuban people the isolation of the regime. ``It will contribute to the understanding of why Castro is very vulnerable,'' Ms. Tillman says.
Mr. Castro has already purchased equipment to interfere with TV Marti's signal. (Cuba does not have an official embassy in Washington but the press attach'e at the Cuban Interests Section would not comment.)
This would not be the first time Castro has threatened to interfere with broadcasts into Cuba. When Radio Marti first started broadcasting in May 1985, Castro sent out an interference signal so strong it disrupted radio shows in the Midwest. Last year the US spent $5 million to compensate some Miami radio stations whose signals were disrupted by the Cubans.
For the most part, however, US officials maintain Radio Marti signals get through. A spokesman for the Voice of America says polls indicate that about 86 percent of the potential audience listen to the show on a regular basis.
It may take some time, however, for the US to get the technical bugs worked out. To beam a signal 90 to 100 miles to Cuba, the US plans to use an ``aerostat'' balloon, tethered over Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles north of Key West, Fla. Last year, Congress approved $7.5 million to test the feasibility of such broadcasts.
As a congressional aide to Rep. Dante Fascell (D) of Florida notes, ``The Customs Service is using the balloons for drug purposes and they are down as much as they are up.'' The first balloon that was to be used by TV Marti developed a tear and the Air Force is now working on a replacement. If the concept works, Congress authorized TV Marti to have an annual operating budget of $16 million.
The new director, Mr. Navarro, is no stranger to Castro. He initially supported Castro and the revolution. Later, a disillusioned Navarro joined the underground but was later thrown in jail by Castro.
In a book called ``Tocayo'', Navarro recounts how he waited all night on a bench to ask Castro not to confiscate his wife's family's textile mill. As Castro emerged from his all-night meeting, he said to Navarro, ``Tony, I have to hand it to you. Whatever else you might be, you've got perseverance and the guts to go after what you want,'' said Castro who later nationalized the mills. Castro is about to experience Navarro's perseverance again.