Few Americans would argue against the proposition that the Cuban people should have access to more objective information than that supplied by Fidel Castro's news services. The Reagan administration, however, has not made a convincing case for Radio Marti as the best means of providing that access. Further, if the United States is to assume the task of informing the Cuban people, the matter of costs, risks and benefits to the United States must be carefully weighed. The Reagan administration clearly has not done that. On the contrary, many of its arguments seem to flow from a complete ignorance, or misreading, of Cuban reality. The more I have heard of the administration's case, the more convinced I have become that it is leading us toward a step that is unnecessary and may be sharply counterproductive.
Even without Radio Marti, the Cuban people are not without alternatives. As one goes across the radio dial in Havana, fully half the stations one picks up are American. The Voice of America comes in clearly all over the island on medium wave and has a wide listenership. If one wished to expand broadcasting to Cuba, the logical way to go would be through VOA. The administration, after all, says all it wants to do is to provide objective news and commentaries. That is what VOA's charter calls on it to do. Its credentials for accuracy are well established; hence, new programs would have immediate credibility. And if VOA were doing the broadcasting, American taxpayers could be certain the programs were truthful and carefully articulated.
Certainly the administration has not been able to explain exactly what it hopes to gain from Radio Marti (aside from the pleasure of broadcasting to Cuba). Evolutionary change has been suggested as one objective. But how that is supposed to work is difficult to understand, especially since, as the administration itself emphasizes, the Cuban people have little input in their government's decision-making process. Some senior spokesmen have said Radio Marti will raise the cost to Castro and thus force him to abandon his interventionist policies in Central America and Africa. Past experience, however, indicates Castro is likely to react by becoming more rather than less obstreperous.
On the other hand, he has already offered several times to begin serious negotiations and has emphasized that he is willing to discuss all issues, including Cuban activities in Central America and Africa. The United States has so far not taken him up on this offer. The question must therefore be asked: why set up Radio Marti to achieve something that might better be pursued through negotiations? Indeed, if we do the first, we may close off options to the second.
There is no doubt as to how the Cubans will react to Radio Marti. They will jam it, but they will also begin deliberately to interfere with our commercial broadcasts, and on a massive scale. We may view this as an irrational and illegal response, but the Cubans see it as a matter of self-defense. Why? Because they see it against a background of past U.S. efforts to get at them -- the Bay of Pigs, assassination attempts, clandestine CIA radio stations, etc. VOA is seen as part of the long-established rules of the games, as is Radio Havana. Radio Marti, however, is believed to be part of an aggressive effort at destabilization and will draw a strong reaction.
Senior State Department officials have insisted that Radio Marti and the problem of interference are unrelated. This is simply not true. The problem of interference is a longstanding one, in both countries. However, there were high hopes that continuing negotiations could neutralize the problem. Cuba pulled out of those negotiations as a direct result of our announcement of Radio Marti. Cuba has made it clear that, were it not for Radio Marti, it would wish to resume negotiations and would pledge a full effort to solve once and for all the problem of interference. The administration could have it both ways. It could augment radio broadcasting to Cuba through VOA, and it could also resume negotiations on interference.
Unfortunately, the administration seems determined to blunder ahead with Radio Marti. When the radio war is upon us, let the administration not claim to have had no part in provoking it. In the final analysis, however, the most compelling argument against Radio Marti is not Castro's strong reaction. We certainly cannot allow our actions to be circumscribed by his likes and dislikes. No -- the strongest argument against Radio Marti is simply that it is a bad idea. It would do nothing to solve our Cuban problem. More likely, it would produce results exactly the opposite of those intended.