A diplomatic battle fought on the air

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By Thomas Scott

The U.S. and Cuba have been at a diplomatic impasse for more than 50 years since the island nation’s Marxist revolution and ensuing alignment with the Soviet Union. But the governments of the United States and Cuba have been involved in a battle for the hearts and minds of each others citizenry for decades.

On the American side there is Radio Martí, funded by the U.S. government and named after Cuban writer Jose Martí, which began airing in 1985 at the behest of Cuban expatriates who had been displaced by the regime of Fidel Castro. Radio Martí provides political commentary to contrast that of Cuba’s state run media as well as Spanish translations of President Obama’s weekly addresses.

The station’s signals are blocked in Cuba through the use of electronic jamming. But Radio Martí’s woes don’t end there. On August 21, lawyers representing Gerardo Hernandez, a member of the Cuban Five, the spy ring convicted of attempting to spy on U.S Southern Command and Cuban exile groups, filed an affidavit alleging that journalists were paid by “various governmental agencies… including… TV Marti, and others.” The document states that “millions of dollars of illegal payments… were all for propaganda pieces to help convict [Hernandez ].”

On August 1, the Radio Martí interviewed Cuban porn star Angelina Castro, irking many listeners in both Miami and Cuba. The station has also been repeatedly criticized, particularly by the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations which oversees international broadcasting.

In 2010, a Government Accountability Office report, covered by the Global Post, elucidated the fact that Radio Martí and its television service are viewed by fewer than one percent of the island’s population. To curb the Cubans’ jamming efforts however, Radio and Television Martí have taken to the sky with aircraft that direct the station’s signals toward the island nation.

On the Cuban side there is Radio Havana Cuba, which first began airing in 1961. It is a radio station located in the Cuban capital of Havana, which can be heard in English and Spanish and broadcasts at 6000 kilohertz. It is government-run and often features opinions which are highly critical of the United States and the Organization of American States. Yet aside from the political content, the station also features aspects of Cuba’s rich culture, such as music and snippets of historical trivia about the island nation.

What’s more, the station can be heard throughout the Western Hemisphere and Europe. The Cuban government also runs a free satellite news service, similar to that of Radio Martí, CNN and the BBC. The aforementioned channels make use of Hispasat, a set of telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit owned by a Spanish company based out of Madrid.

Radio Havana Cuba has also shown outright bias towards the current Syrian regime, releasing a press-release on Monday “urging the international community to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria” and “calling on Western media to stop their smear campaign against the government of Bashar al-Assad.”

Cuba whose signals are not jammed by the United States, is also responsible for airing bootlegged TV programs such as Gilmore Girls, Friends, Desperate Housewives, Six Feet Under and CSI according to the Global Post. U.S media outlets are banned from selling content to Cuba due to the half-century old embargo on the island nation. The National Foreign Trade Council has noted that the lack of dialogue between the two nations has not aided the situation of piracy.

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