CUBA BATTLES FOR SOVEREIGNTY OF THE AIRWAVES Karen Wald, Latin America Press Havana Cuba s
CUBA BATTLES FOR SOVEREIGNTY OF THE AIRWAVES
Karen Wald, Latin America Press
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
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 station...is 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
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
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
Source: PeaceNet - cdp:carnet.cubanews
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank