Telagression: TV Marti vs. the Cuban people
By Marc Frank
The man on watch flashed the long-awaited signal to his comrade waiting
below. He mounted his horse and began his famous ride shouting: "The British
are coming! The British are coming!" All patriots responded to Paul Revere's
call. No sacrifice was too great for independence.
Growing up in the Boston area, I traced Paul Revere's ride more than
once, visited the first battle site of our War for Independence, dug for war
treasures and learned from my teachers the importance of a nation's right to
self-determination. These days my first history lessons come to mind often as
I watch Cuba prepare for the latest invasion and the long series of battles to
maintain those same basic human and national rights that we all hold so dear.
But we are approaching the year 2000 not 1800. No matter! The players
may have changed, the tactics and weapons, too, but the essence of the matter
is the same. Here in Cuba there is no horseback rider nor enemy ship sailing
into Havana Bay, at least not yet. But on TV and radio, in the press and on
the street, one can hear an ever stronger refrain: "The Yankees are coming!
The Yankees are coming... again!"
The country feels threatened by an imminent invasion, though one, at
least for now, that takes a very different, more up-to-date form: television.
However, the feelings conjured up in Cubans by that knowledge are no different
than those in the old British colonies. "They have no right!" To the Cubans,
TV has become part of that new and very sophisticated U.S. weapon known as
psychological warfare, in turn part of the U.S.'s arsenal for "low intensity
"The signal will first be relayed from TV studios to a ground
transmitter, which will then shoot the signal up to a satellite," explained
engineer Carlos Martinez, Cuba's minister of TV. "The satellite will beam the
signal back down to another ground transmitter on Cudjoe Key. It will relay
the signal to the powerful 10,000-watt TV transmitter located in the gondola
of a hot-air balloon 3,000 meters above ground at a U.S. military base in the
Florida Keys. The signal will then be beamed to Cuba."
Martinez was explaining to a Cuban prime-time TV audience the
technicalities of TV Marti, a Spanish-language TV station the Bush
administration and the CIA hope will allow them to enter every Cuban's home
"to occupy one or more of our channels," says Martinez. "It's an
unprecedented and clearly illegal project," says Cuban Communist Party Central
Committee official Jorge Gomez Barata, a man deeply involved in preparing
Cuba's defense against what's termed here as "TV aggression."
No one is manning a lighthouse as a lookout. But Cuba's most
sophisticated scanners are now on alert day and night for the first signal of
TV Marti, slated to go on the air at any moment. For a number of months now
Havana has been preparing people for what Carlos Aldana, secretary of the
Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee, says will be "a conflict, a crisis,
of this you can be certain."
Aldana emphasizes that Cuba has made it crystal clear to the Bush
administration and the U.S. Congress that TV Marti is in a league by itself,
different from the dozens of U.S. sponsored subversive radio stations that
have come and gone over the last 30 years. He called TV Marti the "twin
sister" of Radio Marti, a CIA run AM radio station that has "occupied" a Cuban
frequency now for over two years.
When Radio Marti went on the air, Cuba took a series of actions but did
not, as expected, jam it or beam its own AM stations back into the United
States. Aldana says some of the most reactionary segments of the Cuban-U.S.
community and the Bush administration may have the mistaken idea that in the
case of TV Marti "we won't do anything and that we're going to grin and bear
In a recent interview with the Florida-based magazine Areito, Aldana
explained: "We've tried every means to signal the Bush administration that
such an assumption is mistaken, that it's a poor calculation. We're not
looking for a fight, and we're not provoking it. That's why we've tried to
exert all possible influence to prevent it. But, frankly, I don't see a
favorable outcome, though we will continue to insist that this project be
When the U.S. flicks the TV Marti switch to "On," most likely in early
November, it will be violating international law. Olga Miranda, head of the
legal division of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, looked through reams of
documents the other day for a prime time Cuban TV audience. "There is the
U.N. Charter," she said, "its basic principles of non-interference in the
internal affairs of member states and the right to self-determination. There
is also the 1982 International Telecommunications Agreement, signed by over
100 nations, including the United States and Cuba."
Miranda says that TV Marti "specifically violates the spirit and letter
of the Nairobi Accord, the fundamental principle of every state's right to
regulate its communications and, what's more, the increasing importance of
telecommunications in safeguarding peace and cooperation between states." She
points to clauses 158 and 175 of the Accord, which bind its signers "not to
cause prejudicial interference in the services of other countries."
Then, specifically referring to TV, she points to #2666 of the rules
governing radio communications, "that establishes that a TV station can not
pass the borders of the country it is based in. Television is a domestic
signal," she concludes, "and therefore its projection outside a state's
borders must be an expressed accord between the states."
Party leader Aldana and many other Cuban officials with whom World
Magazine talked are concerned that the U.S. people either do not know about TV
Marti and the crisis it surely will provoke, or do not understand its
aggressive, even warlike, nature. Gomez Barata point out the funding process
for the station, amounting to tens of millions of dollars to date, has been
questionable at best. He says initial seed money amounting to $7.5 million
came from a U.S. Information Agency plan to set up a Taiwan transmitter to
beam Voice of America broadcasts into China. With the recent events in China,
the VoA decide to go ahead with the project and got another $7.5 million.
Thus, points out Barata, the Congress gave money twice for the same purpose.
Last year, Congress approved another $32 million for operation costs in
1990 and 1991, and the purchase of programming, says Barata, will amount to at
least another $30 million. Then there are the non-public expenses of the CIA.
"This project has military components, legal components and those having to do
with foreign affairs, yet it has never been examined by the respective
subcommittees of the U.S. Congress, for example the Armed Services Committee
or the Legal Affairs Committee."
If the U.S. people have heard at all about TV Marti it has been in the
context of "the free flow of ideas" or the need of the Cuban viewer to have
access to objective news, information and entertainment. The Cubans get riled
when they hear this argument. For one thing, as UNESCO researcher Jean Ting
points out, "the U.S. (really U.S.-based mulitnational corporations) manages
65 percent of the international television traffic, 50 percent of the movies,
90 percent of the circulation of video cassettes and it inundates the world
with its model of society." A bit one-sided, point out the Cubans.
Inside the United States, the situation is even worse. Citing various
congressional and other studies, the Cuban daily Granma reports that in 1983,
of 1,700 dailies in the United States, only 531, about 30 percent, were
"independent." The rest, with an even larger percentage of the circulation,
were controlled by banks and other financial groups. Since then, many of the
independents have been bought out and giant communication companies, like Time
and Warner, have merged. These same monopolies control magazines, TV
stations, movie and video production.
Cuban officials, such as Deputy Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcon, point
out that the U.S. people are not happy with the news and information they
receive. In particular, he cites reports that show that the average U.S.
child sees 32 violent scenes and more than 6 murders on the screen each and
every day! No thanks, says Alarcon and almost every Cuban to whom I've
Nor is U.S. reporting objective, say the Cubans. It's a key argument
for TV Marti's backers. Analyst of the U.S. media Noam Chomsky points out
that when Polish priest Jerzy Topieluska disappeared in 1984, the New York
Times used more than 89 column inches in the first weeks of the story, and
more later. In sharp contrast, when Catholic missionary Felipe Balan was
assassinated in 1985 while saying mass in Guatemala, the New York Times
blocked out the story altogether.
Numerous studies have proven there is extreme class bias in U.S.
reporting, say the Cubans.
"In the case of the TV station, there is no room for flexibility, just
as there is no precedent or legal backing whatsoever. It's a clear violation
of the rules," says Carlos Aldana. "We've thought a lot about this. We've
sought technical advice and we have been preparing out answers. Obviously, I
won't go into details but I can indeed say that we won't take this lying
Aldana, Gomez Barata and other officials say Cuba has developed the
means to seriously interfere with the TV Marti signal -- rendering the U.S.
investment of tens of millions of taxpayers dollars a complete waste. In
addition, they strongly hint that Cuba will respond by broadcasting radio, if
not TV programs, into the states. Other measures, both political and
diplomatic, are clearly in the cards.
"Our country, the Revolution, our people in no way can tolerate this
invasion, this occupation of our telecommunication space. We cannot tolerate
this limit to our sovereignty," says Gomez Barata. "In our relations with the
United States, we have always taken measures geared to the nature of the
aggression: technical measures, political and diplomatic measures. naturally,
we have prepared a series of responses in all these areas. Our country has
designed measures for every one of the possible situations that could develop
and for every step in the project. These measures include counter-responses
to every possible U.S. reaction to out initial response."