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Editorial columns

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Anti-Cuba effort deserves to die

– It’s difficult to find a more wasteful government program.

For the last six years, the U.S. government has spent more than $24 million to fly a plane around Cuba and beam American-sponsored TV programming to the island’s inhabitants.

But every day the plane flies, the government in Havana jams its broadcast signal. Few, if any, Cubans can see what it broadcasts.

The program is run by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, and for the last two years, it has asked Congress to scrap the program, citing its exorbitant expense and dubious cost-effectiveness.

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

But each year, hard-line anti-Castro members of Congress have rejected the recommendation and renewed funding for the program, called AeroMarti. Now, under the restrictions of government-wide belt-tightening, AeroMarti may finally die, but its fate has yet to be sealed.

“It’s hard to believe we are still wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on beaming a jammed TV signal – that fewer than 1 percent of Cubans can see – from an airplane to the island,” says Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

For Flake and fellow critics of the program, AeroMarti has called into question America’s decades-long information war against the Castro regime. But other Castro critics say the U.S. must continue to find ways to disseminate messaging onto the autocratic island.

At the moment, the AeroMarti twin-engine Gulfstream 1 plane is grounded in Georgia due to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. But the program’s ultimate fate will be determined by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Since its inception, the U.S. government has spent well over half a billion dollars to fund Marti programming, which first aired on radio in 1985 and on TV in 1990. The programming includes everything from baseball games to local news to weather reports to interviews with anti-Castro dissidents. Its staunchest supporters in the House and Senate include Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

John Hudson wrote this for Foreign Policy.

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