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US wasted $24 million on flawed mission to jam Cuban TV

US wasted $24 million on flawed mission to jam Cuban TV
The US government has spent more than $24 million to fly a plane over Cuba and forcibly broadcast American propaganda on television. The plot was neutralized by the Cubans, who have consistently blocked the transmissions with their own signal.

Dubbed AeroMarti, the initiative has attempted to give Cubans an alternative to the government-controlled media for several years running. It first debuted nearly two decades ago and has cost taxpayers close to $25 million over the past six years alone.

But the broadcasts, everything from baseball to featured interviews with enemies of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, are disrupted by Havana and amount to little more than wasted spending in Washington.

The US Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees AeroMarti and, according to Foreign Policy magazine, has asked Congress to discontinue the program two years in a row, admitting it has been a failure.

“The signal is heavily jammed by the Cuban government, significantly limiting this platform’s reach and impact on the island,” reads the 2014 budget request, as quoted by Foreign Policy.

The plan relies on a blimp on a cable floating above the Florida Keys and a C-130 military plane, which was first introduced in 1956, to broadcast its signal.

“Proponents of the program say we can’t stop doing it because it would send a bad message to the Cuban government,” said John Nichols, a communications professor at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. “That’s bogus: It’s ineffective, it wastes a huge amount of money and the compromise we make to keep it on air, knowing it violates international law, is not at all worth it.”

AeroMarti has cost American taxpayers more than a billion dollars since debuting in the mid-1980s under President Ronald Reagan. US-sponsored broadcasts aired on Cuban radio in 1985 and later on Cuban television in 1990.

“It’s hard to believe we are still wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on beaming a jammed TV signal – that fewer than one per cent of Cubans see – from an airplane to the island,” Senator Jeff Flake, (Republican-Arizona) told Foreign Policy.

The plane is currently suspended because of government sequestration – federally mandated spending cuts that put many government duties on pause because of the ongoing fiscal crisis –  but its ultimate fate lies with the House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations Committees. No indication of their intentions regarding the program have been forthcoming, but several prominent lawmakers are on record as supporting the initiative.  

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who serves as Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has been one of the most vocal proponents.

“I will continue to stand behind the mission of Radio and TV Marti until the Cuban government ceases to deprive its citizens of objective and uncensored media sources,” he said. “The Martis play a critical role in providing information to the Cuban people about the events in and outside of Cuba connecting with nearly a million Cubans every week. In this day and age, there are numerous platforms, new media tools, and technologies available to the Martis to fulfill and continue this integral mission, and I believe we should use every possible medium to break through the Castro regime’s censorship barriers.”

While the broadcasts have reached a relatively small number of Cubans, it is likely those images have been some of the only exposure they have had to Americans over the past half-century. A US embargo cut off travel between the countries in 1959, when Fidel Castro ascended to power.

US President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions when he assumed office in 2009, pushing for the “free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people “and increased “people-to-people contact.”