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An Island In More Ways Than One

We've heard about the many ways in which information is controlled within Cuba, so the government's condemnation of a recent move by the U.S. to increase the frequency of its TV Marti broadcasts in the country isn't terribly surprising. TV Marti is a U.S.-funded radio and television station based in Miami and run mostly by Cuban exiles. According to the Associated Press, "Congress has approved roughly $500 million for both broadcasts since Radio Marti opened 21 years ago, and TV Marti five years later, in an effort to promote the free flow of ideas within Cuba."

On Saturday, the U.S. "unveiled a G-1 twin turbo propeller plane that is increasing [TV Marti] transmissions from one afternoon a week to six. The privately owned plane was set to go up in mid-August, but TV Marti pushed the date forward after Castro's surgery," according to another AP story. The problem with TV Marti, however, is that the signals are frequently jammed by the government – apparently, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in Cuba who actually has seen the station. Wayne Smith, head of the U.S. interests sections in Cuba from 1979 to 1985 told AP: "'They were told 16 years ago that to transmit a TV signal that far, it would be child's play to block it out at the other end. It was child's play, and it's been blocked out.'"

The headline of a January Los Angeles Times article about TV Marti indicated as much: "Broadcasting a Vision of Democracy Into a Void; The U.S. has sunk nearly $200 million into TV Marti's programming aimed at Cuba. But one scholar estimates it has 'nearly zero viewership.'" The article noted TV Marti executives' argument -- "that the broadcast is a good investment because it will be a vital means of communicating with Cubans when Castro dies and the country needs guidance on how to reinvent itself after the failed experiment with communism." CBS producer Portia Siegelbaum told us she's never seen TV Marti, and has never found anyone who's seen it because it's always jammed. The AP did speak with "one man in western Havana" who said he caught "some of the Monday night broadcast before it was jammed by the government."

It should be interesting to see whether the U.S.'s most recent investment in the station proves useful in deterring the Cuban government from jamming the signal. While there are clearly challenges in getting information out of Cuba, getting information in seems just as complicated.

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