U.S. plans to satirize Cuban leaders in TV show
William E. GibsonContact Reporter
Critics say the Cuba broadcast service is swayed by South Florida exiles.
—The provocative U.S. broadcast service to Cuba is developing a new TV
comedy series that will satirize Cuban leaders at the same time U.S.
diplomats are negotiating with them to establish closer relations.
Miami-based TV Marti, still struggling to overcome signal jamming to
reach its would-be Cuban audience, is rounding up proposals for
30-minute spoofs designed to produce some yucks while exposing political
Critics are aghast, saying this is the wrong time to launch satirical
attacks that could undermine attempts by the Obama administration to
show respect, ease tensions and establish a new relationship with a very
“Cuban leaders should not have such thin skins that they can’t take a
little bit of humorous criticism,” acknowledged William LeoGrande, an
expert on Cuba at American University in Washington. “But the point is
that this is ridicule, really, coming from an agency of the United
States at a time when the White House is trying to build confidence with
these same people to improve relations.”
He and other critics say the broadcast service is still swayed by the
most conservative part of a powerful Cuban exile community in South
Florida stoutly opposed to the new opening to Cuba.
The emerging comedy show is the latest in a long line of controversies
swirling around Radio and TV Marti, a U.S. government broadcast service
that has tried for three decades to penetrate Cuban airwaves with news
and entertainment in the hope it will spur democratic reform.
Radio Marti has managed to send its shortwave and AM signals to the
island despite sporadic Cuban interference. TV Marti’s signal has mostly
been blocked, though some Cubans with surreptitious satellite dishes
receive it. Others see its programming through “flash drives” smuggled
into the country that can be plugged into a computer.
Some long-time backers, including former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., say
Marti no longer serves a purpose now that normal communications links
are being restored.
“The goal is to have access to free radio, free television, free
Internet for the Cuban people,” Graham said in an interview. “If that
can be accomplished by relying on the normal international channels,
then the need to have a separate U.S. government-supported program is
Others are more caustic, calling Marti a Cold War relic that never
worked, a boondoggle, a fount of biased information and a sop to South
“Our taxpayers should not be funding propaganda broadcasting,” said U.S.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. She has introduced a bill to eliminate
funding for Radio and TV Marti, saying they have wasted more than $770
million, including $27 million this year.
Defenders in Congress — including Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo,
Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — countered with a proposed
resolution that calls for the United States to keep trying to overcome
Cuban jamming and to preserve Marti’s funding and staffing.
Leaders of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting assert that they are
providing objective news coverage as well as important public service
announcements, including warnings to discourage Cubans from attempting
dangerous journeys by raft to Florida.
The planned TV comedy series derives from a strategy developed during
the Ronald Reagan administration to broadcast programs satirizing the
Castro regime and communist life in Cuba while attracting an audience
with entertainment and music.
Three decades later, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting is soliciting
proposals from TV producers for the new comedy series.
Whoever gets the contract will hire a cast and develop 10 shows that
weave in social commentary. The goal is an “entertaining way to discuss
social issues, expose any political injustice and promote social
values,” said Laurie Moy, spokeswoman for OCB.
“Although there have been changes in diplomatic relations, there has not
been an improvement on freedom of speech on the island,” Moy said. “The
government is still tightly controlling information. So OCB and the
Martis are continuing on their path.”
Proponents in South Florida say Radio and TV Marti are needed more than
ever as Cuba heads for a transformation.
“To me, it’s important to provide reliable information as part of the
drive for human rights,” said Omar Lopez Montenegro, human rights
director at the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami. He has been
making Radio Marti broadcasts for 20 years.
“It’s really nonsense to say that a TV show that ridicules the leaders
of one country would interfere with the high-level decisions of two
governments,” he said. “That’s just an excuse to attack TV Marti and the
Office of Cuba Broadcasting.”
“The show must go on,” he said.
Timeline of U.S. broadcasting to Cuba
Radio Swan, an anti-Castro radio station created by the CIA, goes on the
air as part of covert operations.
A Reagan administration advisory report recommends broadcasts satirizing
the Castro regime and communist life, plus entertainment.
Radio Marti begins broadcasts to Cuba. In protest, Cuba cancels an
TV Marti begins broadcast service to Cuba. Cuban government blocks its
Radio and TV Marti survive attempts in Congress to end their funding.
U.S. tries broadcasting signals to Cuba from a C-130 military plane, but
TV Marti’s signal is still jammed by Cuba.
Federal report finds that the broadcast service to Cuba is often biased,
fails to meet journalism standards and reaches few Cubans.
TV Martí produces “Hacia La Democracia” (“Toward Democracy”), which was
nominated for an Emmy Award.
Martinoticias.com begins streaming Radio and TV Martí programming 24
hours a day.
Obama administration proposes to turn the Cuba broadcast service into a
government-funded private, nonprofit organization.
Source: U.S. plans to broadcast comedy show to Cuba satirizing leaders –
Sun Sentinel –