to the Clandestine
By Nick Grace C.,
February 23, 1998
with thanks to Ulis Fleming
and the Anti-Castro
Radio Caiman disappeared
from the airwaves in December 1994 just as mysteriously as it appeared.
Nearly four years after its death only one shortwave listener has ever
been known to "stuff" a QSL from the station into his collection of verifications,
just like the picture of the caiman above is stuffed. And its transmitting
location remains unknown and heavily debated.
The station was first heard in 1985 on 9960 kHz
shortwave playing music. Since it always signed on with Nat King Cole's
"Ojos Negros," people dubbed it "Radio Ojos Negros." After
a period of weeks, however, identifications as Radio
Caiman began to be heard as the operators were making their presence
known. Programming continued through the years while its huge signal
covered North America and Europe, prompting more questions than answers.
Its frequency changed to 9965 kHz at one point, however, prerecorded identifications
on the station continued to announce the old 9960 kHz (Zeller, p.18).
A "Comite Pro Libertad de Cuba" claimed responsibility
for Radio Caiman but it never hinted about
who it represented or was funded by. Tensions between Cuba and the
United States were boiling during the Eightees, and the Reagan administration
had already built up the CIA's Directorate of Operations (covert arm.)
Clandestine activities in Central America, especially in El Salvador, Nicaragua
and Honduras, were jumping. Cuba was also sponsoring the Salvadorean
Communist rebels (FMLN) with arms and technical support, further distancing
itself from US policy, and many CIA-sponsored stations were already blanketing
the airwaves. Radio Miskut and then
Radio 15 de Septiembre (Nicaragua) were known
to be recipients of US cash, as was Radio Impacto
(Nicaragua and Panama) and La Voz del CID
(Cuba.) In fact, President Reagan let it be known that he wished
to infiltrate Cuba through radio by pushing legislation for Radio
Marti through US Congress.
Radio Caiman left
the airwaves suddenly in 1994 around the time when the US was suffering
from an overload of Cuban refugees who were making their way to the US
military base in Guantanamo Bay. Many analysts speculated that the
flood of refugees was part of a plan by Castro to pressure the US into
easing the economic sanctions that had been in place since the 1960's,
and the American public wasn't keen on permitting the Cubans into the States.
Therefore, Radio Caiman's closure could have
been part of a covert diplomatic package presented to the leadership in
Havana to end the crisis.
Nonetheless, the question then, as is now, was:
How did Radio Caiman fit in the picture?
History and common sense provides some context
as to the significance of "caiman" in the name of the station. Caiman
means "alligator" in Spanish, however, the particular species of alligators
called "caiman" are native to the Amazon - not Cuba. Nonetheless,
it's conceivable that whoever named Radio Caiman
wanted to present an aggressive image for the operation. During the
1960's, a Radio Caiman clandestine station
also broadcast anti-Castro programming (Soley, p.189), but little is known
about that operation today. Could the contemporary Radio
Caiman have been counting on the 60's station's reputation?
Another interesting fact that may or may not be
relevant is the name of the Cayman Islands in Spanish. This island
group, just a few hundred miles south of Cuba, is called "Islas Caiman"
in Spanish. It can be argued, therefore, that the purpose of the
name was to unsettle Castro and make him believe that an invasion would
be arranged from the Caymans. Castro surely hadn't forgotten about
Radio Swan and the Bay of Pigs invasion of
The Comite Pro Libertad de Cuba that claimed responsibility
is just as mysterious and inconcrete. This group maintains either
no presence on the Internet or an extremely discrete one at that.
Nearly everyone within the academic and shortwave listening hobby believed
that this "committee" was either a front for the US government or had been
hastily organized by CIA officers. History does show that this tactic
has been used, for example, a declassified CIA document about Radio
Swan reveals the agency developed a coalition group called Frente
Revolucionario Democratico to stand behind certain programs the station
broadcast (See The
Taylor Report as cited on the Anti-Castro
Clandestine Page.) Covert operations against Saddam Hussein in
Iraq have also implemented this strategy, although to greater levels (See
"No Comfort in the House of
Glass.") Unlike, the situation in Iraq, it can be argued the
US government preferred to set up a "committe" which transcended inter-group
rivalries among the Cuban exile associations rather than set up a new group
La Voz del CID, which
was funded during most - if not all - of its life by the CIA, left its
covert transmitting facilities in late 1997 in what may have been either
diplomatic conciliatory efforts towards Cuba by the US (because of domestic
pressures) and El Salvador (which was blamed for a series of 1997 bombings
in Havana) or from a simple cut of covert funding. (Note: La
Voz del CID had already become intermittent in its transmissions
before the bombing so this argument is rather weak.) The same thing
may have happened to Radio Caiman since American
businesses are itching to trade with Cuba and have been heavily lobbying
the Clinton administration to open the flood gates. Furthermore,
the Cuban refugee problem presented diplomatic challenges for Washington
that could have been partly solved by shutting the station down.
Maybe Radio Caiman
was covertly connected with Radio Marti, which
itself was victim to heavy personnel and cost cuts in 1993 and 1994.
Radio Marti by that time had already proven
to the US government and Cuban analysts that its unique broadcasting tactic
is more effective than mysterious covert transmissions, therefore, the
US may have decided to axe Radio Caiman.
Just as debatable is the station's location.
Most people agreed that Radio Caiman broadcast from Central America, but
there was never any concensus on a single country. Nonetheless, Guatemala,
Costa Rica, and El Salvador are often brought up as potential sites with
Guatemala leading as the most probable.
Nothing will be known, of course, until interested
parties reveal the true nature of Radio Caiman.
The State Department and CIA probably aren't going to declassify relevant
documents for many years to come, and the Reagan Library has only begun
to sort through its holdings. But that assumes there are any documents
at all stored in Washington about this station.
Whatever the answers are, Radio
Caiman will forever be remembered as one of the most fascinating
shortwave clandestine radio stations to operate from the Western Hemisphere.
One day it was there, and then it was gone. And just as exciting
is that the legacy of Radio Caiman doesn't
excite the radio listening community alone, but also the academic and historical
communities as well.
See also: Radio
Marti and La Voz del CID.
Soley, Lawrence C. and John S. Nichols. Clandestine
Radio Broadcasting. Praeger. New York: 1987.
Zeller, George. "Clandestine Profile."
The ACE, November 1994.