CUBA BATTLES FOR SOVEREIGNTY OF THE AIRWAVES Karen Wald, Latin America Press Havana Cuba s

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CUBA BATTLES FOR SOVEREIGNTY OF THE AIRWAVES Karen Wald, Latin America Press Havana Cuba seems to have won the most recent round in the battle to keep the United States from usurping its air waves by beaming hostile television and radio messages against the island. "TV-Marti" (known as "Tele-Marti" in Spanish), is the latest weapon in a decade-long propaganda war aimed at toppling Fidel Castro's revolutionary government. But it has yet to be seen by Cuban viewers, thanks to effective jamming techniques by Cuban technicians, and the International Telecommunications Union has declared the transmissions illegal. Since 1985, the US government, through a subsidiary of its Voice of America broadcasts, has been sending similar propanda messages over an AM radio station. Although spokesmen for the US government and Voice of AMerica have insisted they simply wanted to send "objective information" to the island, the concept for the radio station was first enunciated in a 1980 right-wing Republican position paper (the Santa Fe Report) describing various ways to bring down the Castro government. If this method was not effective in spurring the Cuban people to topple the revolutionary government, the report urged, the US Administration should consider armed intervention. "If propaganda fails, a war of national liberation against Castro must be launched" (Santa Fe Report). In this context, it is not surprising that the Cuban government reacted with ire when the propanda station was launched in May 1985. To rub salt in the wound, the station was named after Jose Marti, Cuba's anti-imperialist independence leader of the 19th century. The Cuban government reacted by suspending a recently concluded immigration agreement with the US and halting visits between Cuban exiles and their families on the island. But the government did not jam Radio Marti, and eventually sat down to private talks with the US in an attempt to work out the dispute. Without ever relinquishing its contention that the transmissions were illegal under international agreements, and an infringement of Cuba's right to control airwaves in its territory, the Castro government proposed letting the transmissions continue if the US would facilitate reciprocal transmissions from Cuba to the US. To date, no agreement has been reached. With the onset of "TV-Marti", however, the Cuban government, with widespread backing among the general population, decided it had had enough. It not only prevented reception of the Miami-based programming beamed at the island off a balloon tethered above the Cudjoe Key in the Florida Straits, it began full- scale jamming of Radio Marti as well. The US government's arguments for its anti-Castro broadcasts have centered on its claim that Cuban's are denied access to information by the government- controlled press of that country. The US insists the programming of Radio Marti, set up under the auspices of Voice of America, is bound by VOA's legislative requirements for objectivity, and claim that TV Marti will do likewise. Administration spokesmen generally deny that their intention is to destabilize the revolutionary government in Cuba, and insist that such broadcasts are legal -- in fact, that they are protected by the UN Human Rights Charter, which calls for free access to the press. Cuban government officials and media representatives refute these allegations, and Cuban intellectuals have been among the first to call for a halt in the projected transmissions. In a statement calling on other writers and artists around the world to join in their condemnation against this interference in Cuba's internal affairs, members of UNEAC, the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists, rejected the US contention that the TV transmisions were necessary to fill an information gap. While self-censorship by Cuban reporters and editors has been strongly criticized internally, including by government officials, they pointed out, there is no official censorship in Cuba, no censor-board which reviews proposed articles or programs. Criticism is encouraged as long as it is construed as constructive criticism, aimed at helping develop the revolutionary socialist process, they add. "We believe that, from every point of view" they wrote in a letter to US intellectuals and to US President George Bush, "it would be more beneficial if the two countries were to establish a true informational, cultural an academic exchange baic on equality and mutual respect." But beyond that, notes Gary Gonzalez, VIce President of ICRT (the Cuban Radio and Television Broadcasting Institute), Cubans regularly listen to a wide range of foreign medium and shortwave radio stations. Miami television and radio can often be picked up, depending on weather conditions, and Cuban television itself broadcasts a large number of foreign programs, thirty percent from the US. Most films shown on Cuban television are of foreign origin, the bulk of these US. The Cubans object to the transmissions on both political and cultural grounds. They resent the "cultural imperialism" of the US in attempting to decide what Cubans should watch and listen to. But even more, they see the propaganda stations as an unacceptable infringement on Cuban sovereignty. A pamphlet put out by the government summarized its position: "By imposing such a television service on Cuba, the United States cuts off an important part from Cuba's sovereignty over its radioelectric space, preventing it from exercising its right to organize its telecommunications system...." That right of each government to control telecommunications in its territory, notes Communications Minister Manuel Castillo Rabassa, is confirmed in the 1982 Nairobi Convention of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which was signed by both Cuba and the United States. On April 2, just days after TV Marti began broadcasting last March 27, Rabassa held a press conference to read the ITU's International Frequency Regulation Board's verdict on TV Marti. In complete vindication of the Cuban position, the IFRB statement, issued from its office in Geneva, ruled "...The establishment of this broadcasting not in compliance with the intent and spirit of #2666 of the Radio Regulations [and] cannot be considered as an exception...therefore the Board concludes that the operation of this station is in contravention of...the regulations. Consequently, the Board requests [the US] Administration to modify the technical characteristics of this station....The Board has now received from the Administration of Cuba a complaint of harmful interference." That decision was particularly significant given the wording of US legislation authorizing the trial period for TV Marti. Under a section titled "Compliance with International Law", the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act stipulated: "Broadcasting by the Service shall be conducted in accordance with the International Telecommunications Convention promulgated by the International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations....If on the basis of [monitoring by the Federal Communications Commission] the FCC determines the broadcasting by the Service is in violation of the International Telecommunications Convention...or any other applicable international laws and treaties, the FCC shall direct the Service to cease broadcasting." When the White House was apprised of the ITU-IFRB decision, however, it chose to disregard the decision, saying it was not binding. President Bush stated categorically he would continue supporting the station. US diplomats in Washington and Havana ridiculed the Cuban government's outraged response to the transmissions, downplaying the sovereignty issue and claiming Cuba was "overreacting". The Miami Herald quoted TV Marti producers as stating they were planning to broadcast music, sitcoms and game shows, and that the primary aim of the station was to "entertain" Cubans on the island with programs they could not otherwise see. Cubans on the street as well as in the government scoffed at this idea. "If they want us to see US programs, why don't they end their economic embargo?" asked Gary Gonzalez of Cuba's ICRT. "We'd be happy to buy and exchange programs." There has been no official US response to this offer. People questioned randomly in different parts of Havana had similar reactions. Although some expressed curiosity about the TV Marti programming, all vehemently rejected being bombarded with programs they hadn't requested. It was the fact that TV Marti was being imposed on them, rather than any question of its content, that upset most. But many also questioned the content. "What does US television have to offer us?" asked one woman, who said she was a lab technician and the mother of two teenagers. "Their drugs, their violence, their pornography? What makes them think we want or need that here?" Her words echoed those of Fidel Castro and other government leaders, who have expressed similar opinions. A young black man who identified himself as a high school teacher said he took offense at the idea that US culture was somehow superior to Cuba's African- Latin-Caribbean culture. He said he was particularly irked by the assumption that Cuban journalists regularly lie to and misinform the Cuban people, and that "we are too stupid to know the difference unless the North Americans tell us." A taxi-driver said he would be interested in watching the TV-Marti programs, "or at least see what they have to offer. But only if it were an open exchange. Only if we chose it. No one likes to have things forced on them." Many said they wouldn't watch TV Marti even if the government didn't jam it. "I think we have too many American films on our television already," said one middle-aged man. "I don't like my kids picking up all the values of a consumerist society. We have better values here to teach them." A number of university students referred to the TV Marti project as "tele- aggression", and repeated the government's claim that this was an "electronic Platt Amendment" -- a reference to the clause in the 1901 Cuban Constitution that gave the US the right to intervene at will in the Republic set up from 1898 until the 1959 revolution. "Don't fool yourself into believing the US is interested in freedom of the press or anything else having to do with freedom for the Cuban people. We ARE free, and that's exactly what the US doesn't like. Have you ever seen them worry about free speech or press in any of the dictatorships that do their bidding?" challenged one of the students. Another added, "This is qualitatively different from the radio and tv programs we pick up because we're so close to FLorida. We might have a lot of disagreements with some, especially the Spanish stations run by Cuban exiles who really hate the Revolution -- but they are just voicing their opinions, and we sometimes hear them. But THIS" -- she emphasized the word, making a wry face--"isn't private media --it's the US government intentionally trying to beam subversive messages into our country, in an attempt to get us to change our way of government. And I think that's wrong. It's not their decision to make." Members of the militant Young Communists Union (UJC) had a boisterous contingent in Cuba's May Day Parade with posters, banners and floats gloating over Cuba's ability to "neutralize" the hostile trasnmissions. (The "neutralization" has been carried out primarily by young technicians working round-the-clock shifts.) One float depicted the transmission balloon with an imitation of the TV MArti logo altered to read "NO SE TV NADA" (a play on words meaning "You can't see anything"). The Cuban Churches have spoken out against the transmissions.The Cuban Ecumenical Council, which groups 57 religious denominations, has come out strongly against TV-Marti, and has asked churchpeople in other parts of the world to voice their protests. Baptist Minister Raul Suarez, president of the CEC, said a main concern of the religious groups is that the beaming of hostile programs into CUba by the US tends to heighten tensions between the two countries instead of decreasing them. The Catholic Bishops issued a statement in March which was distributed in the United States, expressing their concern over the heightened level of tensions produced by the new transmissions. The National Assembly of People's Power, Cuba's elected parliament, contends that the transmission of TV Marti violates the UN Charter sections on the sovereign equality of states and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, along with the 1966 UN pact on political and civil rights, the 1967 UN treaty on outer space (use of satellites), the 1978 UNESCO declaration on the mass media, UN Resolution 37/82 on television via satellite, and the OAS Charter, as well as the ITU Nairobi Convention. The legislators charged that "The Congress of the United States acts as if it had the right to decide the fate of the world, and it seeks to legitimize actrs of piracy and brutal aggression by that government not just against Cuba but against other Latin American and Third World Nations." Support for this position has come from most Third World countries, the Non- Aligned Movement, and a wide array of individuals and organizations, in addition to the UN bodies. Ultimately, however, it may be none of these political pressures, but rather Cuba's ability to effectively jam the broadcasts, that may make the US Congress reconsider the continued funding of TV Marti. Source: PeaceNet - cdp:carnet.cubanews


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