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.