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Radio Marti
By Nick Grace C., February 8, 1998.
U.S. broadcasts to Cuba since Castro's revolution in 1959 has followed a winding path, beginning with Radio Swan (see QSL image and summary), leading to Radio Marti, and encompassing dozens of independent and CIA-sponsored stations and programs.  Oddly enough, Radio Marti can be tied to both Radio Swan and the still-active La Voz de Fundacion.  Jorge Mas Canosa, former broadcaster with Radio Swan and president of the Cuban American National Foundation (which runs La Voz de Fundacion), was the head of the presidential advisory board for Radio Marti during the mid-1980's (Soley).  As a tool of public diplomacy, Radio Marti has been the most effective in affecting Cuban domestic politics thanks to the lessons US policymakers learned from Radio Swan.
Radio Marti's beginnings can be traced back to a speech in 1981 when US President Reagan declared that it was his administration's intention to establish a Radio Free Cuba that would operate like Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.  In order to see the station begin, however, its budget had to be passed through the US Congress, and in 1982 the Senate voted down the proposal.  A year later legislation did indeed pass through and on October 4, 1983, Ronald Reagan signed the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act Public Law 98-111.)  Unlike Radio Free Europe and Reagan's original vision, Radio Marti was to be placed under the authority of the Voice of America and "subject to the same limitations of U.S. government controls as is the VOA" (Hansen, p.120).
Fidel Castro, along with Liberal members of U.S. Congress, complained.  He immediately threatened to broadcast Cuban stations on the same frequencies as commercial U.S. stations on medium wave, and after Radio Marti's inaugural broadcast he cut an immigration agreement with the U.S. government (ibid, p.121).
Radio Marti signed on the air on May 20, 1985 on 1160 kHz with 14 1/2 hours of programming from VOA's transmitters in Marathon Key, Florida.  Staff of the Radio Marti Office of Research monitors Cuban broadcasts, reviews Cuban publications, talks with Cuban immigrants, defectors and visitors in order to gauge what domestic broadcasts in Cuba lack.  "We had to find out what the Cubans were telling their population," Director Ernesto Betancourt explains, "and then determine what information should be made available to them to compensate for the omissions" (ibid, p.120).  Over time, programming hours increased and included such items as news, entertainment, soap operas and messages for Cuban-Americans to their relatives back on the island.
Even the liberal New York Times capitulated on its initial criticism of Radio Marti after printing an editorial that states "Contrary to our statement, the station appears to have found a responsive audience and filled a void in Cubans' information... It has avoided propaganda and supplemented, not duplicated, commercial Spanish-language broadcasts from Florida" (March 22, 1986 as quoted in Hansen, p.121).
Reports from exiles, defectors, and even journalists within Cuba also support the station and give credence to the fact that Radio Marti is the most-listened to radio station on the island.  One human rights activist says it provides the "ability to respond to the monologue Fidel Castro has been sustaining with the Cuban people" for decades (Hansen, p.122).  A journalist in 1996 said that the Cuban government continues to slander the station "in spite of the fact that its ratings always beats that of the stations which broadcast in the island" (Martinez).
The US government had tried its hands at broadcasting propaganda to Cuba with dismal results.  Radio Swan was unveiled to support the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1960 but after a few years it became Radio Americas and finally fizzled from the air.  These stations lacked an audience effective enough to justify their expenditure, and many people point to their hostile programming and lack of credibility as the cause.  Radio Marti, on the other hand, with its Office of Research presents itself as a legitimate international broadcaster that competes with Cuban domestic stations.  In fact, Jorge Riopedre argues in an unpublished paper that Radio Marti was a major influence in many political initiatives undertaken in Cuba regarding AIDS and housing (Riopedre).
Thanks to its success, Radio Marti's activities were doubled in 1990 when TV Marti began broadcasting television programs from Florida to Cuba.  Incidentally, authority for the activities of both stations was relegated to the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) that year while remaining under the auspices of the VOA.
Oddly, in 1993 critics of Radio Marti charged the station with not following the VOA's standards of objectivity, accuracy and balance, and in pure Washington fashion, the OCB's budget was cut while money was appropriated to a series of review panels to monitor its broadcasts (GAO/NSIAD-96-110 Letter: 2).  On top of this, the USIA's Office of Inspector General began an investigation into Radio Marti's management and President Clinton signed an executive order to "reinvent government" and Radio Marti's Office of Research was dissolved as the OCB downsized.
Radio Marti employed 122 people and had an annual budget of approximately US$13.1 million in 1995 (GAO/NSIAD-96-110).  It continues to broadcast 24 hours a day for 7 days a week on various shortwave and mediumwave frequencies.
The USIA maintains a webpage with information on Radio Marti at:
Recent activity reports can be found here.
Hansen, Allen C.  USIA: Public Diplomacy in the Computer Age.  Praeger.  New York: 1989.
Martinez, Martin Fernandez.  "Awaiting the News from Radio Marti."  CubaNet News, July 1996.
Riopedre, Jorge.  "Radio Marti: an Intercultural Communication System."  Unpublished 1995.
Soley, Lawrence C. and John S. Nichols.  Clandestine Radio Broadcasting.  Praeger.  New York: 1987.
---------.  Issues Related to Reinvention Planning in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.  GAO/NSIAD-96-110.
QSL courtesy of Ulis Fleming.