Exulting after four days of success, the man who orchestrated Cuba’s electronic barricade against the United States government’s TV Marti broadcasts from Florida called for serious negotiations to beam American commercial network broadcasts to the island country instead.
“My question is, how long will the U.S. keep acting this way? What’s happened to the imagination and wisdom of the American people? Must everything be done by force?” asked Jorge Gomez Barata, an adviser to President Fidel Castro.
“I can tell you that we would be very happy and appreciative if the U.S. would give us a TV channel. Why doesn’t the U.S. send CBS to Cuba? Why don’t they transmit CNN? Why don’t they send ABC?”
Asked if such programming could include free debates and interviews concerning Cuba, he said that it could.
But Barata, who said in an interview this week that he has been working for almost two years to interfere with TV Marti, said the early morning U.S. government broadcasts that began on a test basis Tuesday must be ended before any discussions can begin.
Barata insisted that his proposal is a serious one and not merely a jibe at the U.S. government, which has been ridiculed here this week for spending millions of dollars to beam transmissions that the Cubans easily jam at a cost of only thousands of dollars.
The American broadcasts began at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday with a test pattern that was overridden within a half-hour by a powerful transmitter atop Havana’s Cuba Libre Hotel and at least one other transmitter. Each day since then TV Marti has begun transmitting three hours of innocuous programs such as the sitcom “Kate & Allie” at about 3 a.m. and has been almost totally jammed within minutes.
Cuban officials have derided U.S. planners for even attempting transmissions when few Cubans are awake to watch. But a U.S. official here explained that the experimental broadcasts were deliberately scheduled for a time when they would not interrupt regular Cuban broadcasts, which cease at 12:30 a.m. daily.
Cuba has claimed that the broadcasts are illegal under the International Telecommunications Convention of 1982, which regulates broadcasting among neighboring states to prevent interference. But U.S. officials say the test broadcasts are permissible. Apparently in order to bolster that claim, they are being run on Cuba’s unused Channel 13 at hours when no other Cuban TV channels are operating.
Acting under pressure from anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the United States, and against the advice of the State Department, Congress authorized TV Marti to transmit on a test basis for 90 days, at a cost of about $30 million, after which it would decide whether to continue funding the government-owned and -operated station. The transmitting antenna operates from a tethered helium balloon 10,000 to 14,000 feet above Cudjoe Key north of Key West.
Foreign diplomats here are bemused by the apparent pointlessness of sending Cuba transmissions that no one sees at a time when Castro needs just such an anti-Yankee scrap to bolster his prestige at home.
“You turn it on, Castro jams it and eventually you will turn it off,” said one Western diplomat. “You will have spent $30 million and he will have spent $5,000, and he puts another notch in his musket.”
Barata agreed. “If the Americans hadn’t invented TV Marti, we would have had to do it,” he laughed. “The U.S. has done us a favor. This increases national unity. It raises the pride of Cubans. It strengthens anti-Yankee feelings. This way the U.S. is solving a great many problems for us.”
Barata said that for the time being Cuba will continue with its relatively low-key electronic defense against the broadcasts while attempting to marshal world public opinion against them. Other Cuban officials have warned that the electronic defense could be stepped up to disrupt civilian and military radio broadcasting throughout the eastern United States.