Radio & TV Martí: Democratic Inefficiency at its Best

January 5th, 2011 · 17 Comments

By Matthew Stieglitz

As the new Congress gets to work, they’re faced with a daunting task that to date has defined the Obama Administration: repairing the economy. The 2008 economic crisis and its aftermath constituted a perfect storm, highlighting everything that is financially flawed with this country: consumer debt, materialistic tendencies, lax government accountability, corporate greed, and wasteful spending in Washington. The latter is my favorite, mostly because bills are often passed with fiscal notes that no one reads, yet we always hear politicians claim they’re going to take office and remove wasteful spending. Since the solution of slicing a defense budget (which is more than the combined defense budget expenditures of the next twenty-seven countries with the highest defense budgets after America) is not politically sexy, I propose the following: abolish Radio & TV Martí.

I imagine the majority of my readers are now pausing and asking, “what the hell is that?” This is a legitimate question, because Radio and TV Martí are not well known outside of Miami, peripheral members of the Cuban-American community, and US-Cuba embargo academics, which means: US-Cuba history lesson time! Briefly, Radio and TV Martí were designed to counter the “Cuban” media perspective by providing alternative broadcasts to Cuban TV and radio. Their studios are based out of Miami, and they largely employ Cuban-Americans. Initially, different mediums such as news broadcasts and talk shows were employed by the radio version, with the TV version transitioning to soap operas and entertainment programming as well. Unfortunately, the significance of these programs rests in their continued existence despite the Cuban government blocking their signals, rendering them ineffective.

To put this into perspective financially, consider the following: In 1990, TV Martí was launched with a $16 million appropriation from Congress. By 2007, American taxpayers contributed over $500 million in taxes to Radio and TV Martí’s broadcasts, which barely anyone can hear or see. Thus, these two taxpayer-funded initiatives are a) not meeting their mission statements b) wasting American dollars and c) shiny tools in the Castro “blame el bloqueo for all of our ills” toolbox.  So, we’re asking people to retire later, social security will probably not be around by the time my generation is eligible for it, and unemployment is still high, but we must fund the anti-Castro movement! Even though it doesn’t reach Cuban soil. Ladies and gentlemen, that is American democracy at its finest.

For those wondering how this happened in the first place, the simple answer is Ronald Reagan. After his election, he tapped into the anti-communist element of the Cuban-American community in Miami by tightening restrictions against Cuba and establishing a financial and political partnership with the Cuban-American elite. This laid the groundwork for the Cuban-American electorate to rise to prominence, with Radio Martí being one of their first projects. Eventually, the electorate lobbied for and got its television counterpart, with both existing to this day via federal dollars. While the value of Radio and TV Martí was arguable during the Cold War, its existence holds no merit today.  Simply stated, we’re funding a program to reach the island and counter the Cuban media that does not even reach the island to counter the Cuban media. Such waste has come to define our perception of Washington, Wall Street, and everything financial in this country. If Radio and TV Martí are any indication of Washington’s true fiscal landscape, we’re in more trouble than we thought.

Now, abolishing these programs will result in a backlash from the Cuban-American electorate, especially if only one party pushes for it. But removing wasteful spending given these circumstances (a federal program that truly is ineffective) should be able to garner bi-partisan support and should be popular among Americans. Further, abolishing the programs would represent a step in the right direction in terms of normalizing relations with Cuba. Nevertheless, the utter ridiculousness and stupidity of these programs represents more fiscal mismanagement that probably should not surprise anyone, meaning we need to start demanding the accountability that we clearly lack. In closing, if it makes anyone feel better, the Castro government continues to refuse to cash our  $4,085 rent checks for Guantanamo (the lease rate during 1959 on the property) solely because they hate us. This gives the US a whopping $2,451,000 in savings over the lifetime of the Cuban revolution (not counting 1959 when Cuba “accidentally” cashed one of our rent checks). I guess we’re not the only ones flushing money down the toilet.

Matthew Stieglitz received his BA in Communication from the University of Delaware. He is currently a 2011 Master of Public Administration candidate at Cornell University concentrating in Government, Politics, & Policy Studies. After receiving his MPA, Matthew will attend law school in order to merge his public affairs background with a legal education to most effectively advocate for Latinos.

Tags: Cuba · Economics · Fidel Castro · Foreign Policy · Government Accountability · Media

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Elisa Batista // Jan 6, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Outrageous. Clearly this is government spending that DOESN’T work. Let’s cut the fat people!

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  • 3 Smirnoff // Jan 6, 2011 at 10:30 am

    How about cutting all the military bases we have all over Europe also? I understand we still spend billions on European military bases years after the Cold War has ended, when our own European allies have already taken the intelligent move of slashing their military budget?

  • 4 Smirnoff // Jan 6, 2011 at 10:30 am

    and yes, Radio Marti is an example of stupid US government stuff left over from the Cold War that hasn’t worked ever.

  • 5 Luis Zuñiga // Jan 6, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Your article is so absurd that it is very easy to get stripped. You try to disguise your goal by pointing out that your concern is “wasteful spending in Washington” and then you propose to eliminate Radio and TV Marti which has a scanty budget of $29 million. Did you know that in the US budget of $2,650 billion, the 29 million figure does not even show up? You could have chosen any other argument or be straight an tell that you want to the defend the Castro dictatorship, but to use the poor alibi that you want to cut the budget deficit by eliminating $29 million? Tha’s ridiculous!!! If you were well meant you would, for instance, point to the “special projects” of many senators, projects popularly known as “pork” because of their waste meaning.
    Your intention with this article is clearly stated in your suggestion: “Abolishing Radio & TV Marti would represent a step in the right direction in terms of normalizing relations with Cuba” In fact, it is your right to sympathize with a communist dictatorship, there were some Americans in love with Stalin, too. But, be honest, you don’t care a pin about arbitrary executions in Cuba, you can turn your head sideways and avoid seeing the abuses and tortures against political prisoners or the crush of all basic human rights in the island, cannot you?
    And for your information, surveys of recent arrivals from Cuba show that 9% of them watched TV Marti in Cuba and over 40% listened to Radio Marti. If you have in Havana a satellite antenna, as more than 40,000 people do, you can see TV Marti unjammed on Channel 8. Don’t put your honesty at stake by writing an article with such a bologna!

  • 6 Jose // Jan 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    We’re friends with China but enemies with Cuba. how strange, considering China has a far worse human rights record.

  • 7 Bill Myers // Jan 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Actually it says that taxpayers paid over 500 million in taxes towards Radiomarti.

  • 8 Matt // Jan 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    While I would love to see the comparison of recent arrivals (including how many arrivals we’re actually talking about) who received TV/Radio Marti to the overall Cuban populace, I would rather address the budget of Radio & TV Marti. Considering the fiscal state of our economy, tough decisions need to be made. I by no means sympathize with the Castro government, however I do not prioritize continuing to challenge their government over the financial, educational, and physical well-being of American citizens. This is especially important when our tax dollars are contributing to this budget. $29 million may represent peanuts compared to the overall US budget, but this can be more efficiently allocated elsewhere considering that most Cubans do not receive these broadcasts, and services such as Social Security have been borrowed from to the point that they are not prepared to contend with retiring baby boomers.

    Additionally, using Havana as the barometer for Cuba’s reception of the broadcasts is a limitation as it does not take into account those living in rural areas. It also does not address the number of Cubans receiving the signal, as countless US-Cuba academics domestically and abroad have consistently reported that barely anyone receives these signals.

    I do not have access to your survey data, and assume it to be honest. Nevertheless, that argument is not strong enough to continue a program that in over twenty years has not assisted in transitioning away from the Castro regime.

    Lastly, Cuba’s human rights record is deplorable. Prisoners of conscience continue to weather conditions that I cannot begin to fathom, and I applaud the multiple hunger strikes they have made since the 2003 mass arrests and absence of due process. However, such chaos within Cuba’s infrastructure cannot be combated by a TV and Radio broadcast that a) does not reach the entire island and b) does not address the greater problems leading to the abuses you mentioned. Change needs to come from within, which cannot happen so long as the Cuban government has the embargo and programs such as TV and Radio Marti as scapegoats for all of their problems.

  • 9 Tony Herrera // Jan 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    @Luiz Zuniga

    Just because our government spends “scant’ millions of dollars to fund Radio Marti, does not ensure that such money is well spent.

    Fact is Radio Marti is a total waste of taxpayer money. We don’t for instance spend US taxpayer money for a “Radio Zapata” for Mexicans in Mexico or a “Radio l’Ouverture” for Haitians in Haiti, so why should we do so for Cubans. Why should Cubans be afforded these types of special privileges from the US government?

    I for one would care a “pin” about the arbitrary executions in Cuba if you could prove to us that the millions of dollars Washington spends on Radio Marti actually does anything whatsoever to prevent such executions, which obviously you can’t prove.

  • 10 Jesus Suarez // Jan 7, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Radio & T.V.Marti: Lining the Pockets of Republican /Cheap Labour Conservatives in South Florida since 1990. The funny thing is that Those of us directly affected by the situation in Cuba have no say what so ever. Our families have left Cuba to get away from Dictatorship only to land into another one here in the U.S. We can’t win But Lose. They NEED to get rid of T.V. and Radio Marti…They have needed to a long Time ago. Why isn’t that money directed instead toward stimulating our Local economy here in South Florida instead. We can all sure use it.

  • 11 Smirnoff // Jan 11, 2011 at 5:22 am

    Tony Herrera, you are correct. Right now the biggest problem is balancing the budget nationwide, and this old cold war stuff is garbage. Especially now that we’re such good friends with China, who has a far worse human rights record then Cuba.

  • 12 Jude Soto // Jan 11, 2011 at 9:45 am

    The conservative Cuban exiles have too much political power. At the very least, our current economic needs dictate that Cuba should be opened up to trade with US. Thank heavens Obama won the presidency without kowtowing to this spoiled elite whose geopolitical relevance is gone with the Soviet Union.

  • 13 Olga Aguilar // Feb 15, 2011 at 12:18 am

    While I deplore wasteful spending, I detest anyone who thinks freedom or the hope of it, is wasteful.

    I can tell you first hand that there is a large percentage of Cubans who do actually receive transmission from Radio Marti. Radio Marti has made numerous contacts with Cubans on the island and they all convey that listening to Radio Marti gives them hope, hope that freedom does exist. And there are countless who after struggling to leave the island, find that freedom is real and make a pilgrimage to visit the radio station to let those who work there know that their voices are heard and not to stop their broacasts.

    I would rather spend 29 million on a peaceful mission for freedom than BILLIONS of dollars on a violent war where countless of Americans lose their lives.

    War should never be the answer to liberate freedom held hostage. It is too costly in money and in human lives.

    Freedom has many pricetags but Radio Marti is safe, is cheap and gives Hope.

  • 14 Armando Simon // Sep 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America were heard behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War (even Khurshchev’s son listened to it regularly) and they threw a light into the darkness of Marxist totalitarianism. The same with RadioMarti and TVMarti. If it is so inneffective, why is it that the Communist government has had a hysterical fit over its existence and why has Castro’s sycophants in the US tried so hard to get it abolished through sophistry and cynicism?

  • 15 Mariano Perez // Jan 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    So called Cuban “exiles” need to grow some cojones and stop begging the USA to fight the Castros for them. How many years has it been now?

  • 16 Mario // Feb 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Radio Marti is a REPUBLICAN based group so why you would write Democratic is confusing.

    It is ANOTHER waste of USA tax money by republican Miami Cubans

  • 17 Paul // May 21, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Gee, I see that there are some in the Banana Republic of South Florida who drink the Mas Canosa, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz Balart Kool Aid. I have done six mission trips to Cuba, have met hundreds of Cubans from Pinar del Rio to Santiago de Cuba and I feel like Diogenes: I’m carrying a lamp and hoping to finally meet ONE person who has ever heard a broadcast of Radio Marti. And as for the fairy tale up above that people come here and they say how Radio Marti gave them hope, I say listen to their broadcast, read their website and tell me what there is that offers hope. It’s nothing more than angry hateful ranting. Tokyo Rose in Word War II did a better job that these Banana Republicans.

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