I'm all for trying to inform the people of Cuba about what's really going on in the world. Radio Marti does a good job of reaching much of the island with news and views they don't get from the Castro regime.
But a program that costs the US taxpayer $24 million that is supposed to beam TV signals to the island from an airplane flying around Cuba, might be taking the concept a bit too far.
It seems that Cuba jams the transmission so effectively that few Cubans receive the signal.
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," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) tells The Cable.
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.
Under ordinary circumstances, the plane flies a figure eight pattern near the Communist island beaming hours and hours of TV and Radio Marti, a U.S.-financed broadcaster akin to Radio Free Europe. From 2006 to 2010, AeroMarti burned through $5 million every year. In 2010, its budget was reduced to around $2 million per year. One iteration of the program involved a C-130 military plane and another involved a blimp attached to a cable 10,000 feet above the Florida Keys. All told, the flights have racked up a tab well over $24 million to U.S. taxpayers.
"Proponents of the program say we can't stop doing it because it would send a bad message to the Cuban government that we're capitulating," John Nichols, a communications professor at Penn State University, tells The Cable. "That's bogus: It's ineffective, it wastes a huge amount of money and the compromise we make to keep it on air, knowing it violates international law, is not at all worth it."
Time to deep six this turkey - but not give up our efforts at informing the Cuban people. Private US citizens have played a large role in helping Cuban activists stay live on the internet. Castro tries to shut them down but there are technical means by which the filters can be avoided. This would seem to do far more good than funding a proaganda plane that no one can see and few hear.