President Bush declared yesterday that the government's five-month effort to beam television programs into Cuba was a success and said the controversial broadcasting operation would continue.
In a statement released last night, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater likened the Voice of America's TV Marti to other government broadcast services that transmitted programs behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. "TV Marti is an integral part of U.S. policy to provide information for people who are denied that right," he said.
The Spanish-language station has been condemned by Cuban President Fidel Castro, who called it "this trash, this outrage, this insult to our country."
It had also provoked protests from U.S. commercial broadcasters who feared that Cuba would retaliate by jamming the television and radio signals in southeastern states.
Fitzwater noted that the Cuban government has jammed TV Marti's early morning broadcasts, but recalled that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, two government broadcast services aimed at Eastern Europe, "were jammed for years, yet people were able to listen."
Bush decided that the television broadcasts to Cuba transmitted from a huge balloon tethered over the Florida Keys were "feasible and will not cause objectionable interference" with the programming of U.S. television stations, Fitzwater said.
Bush, in a "presidential determination" signed Sunday, ordered the broadcasts to continue "in a manner which is consistent with our international obligations."
The decision frees $16 million in federal funds that had been withheld from the television service, pending a decision by Bush that the operation is legal under international communications law and technically feasible.
Fitzwater said in a statement released at the president's vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, that Bush had determined that TV Marti meets both conditions.
Bush's decision to continue the project is not surprising. He has received strong political support from Florida's conservative, anti-Castro Cuban American community.
In an April 1 speech to broadcasters in Atlanta, Bush urged them to put aside their skepticism and financial worries and rally behind the ideals of the station.
The station broadcasts from 3:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. each day, a schedule dictated by communication rules prohibiting the interference with Cuban broadcasters.
Since March 27, when the broadcasts began, the Cuban government has been jamming the signal, denying Cubans an opportunity to view the station's mix of news, movies and reruns of old U.S. shows including "Alf" and "Kate and Allie."
The U.S. Information Agency, which runs TV Marti, said polls of Cuban emigres indicate approximately 273,000 households on the island "should be able" to receive the programming occasionally.
The General Accounting Office challenged that view in a recent report, contending the administration "vastly overestimated" the station's audience.
The Miami Herald reported that State Department estimates indicate the viewership may be between 50,000 to 70,000.
The Voice of America has been broadcasting to Cuba since 1985, leading some detractors of the television service to call for increased radio broadcasts as more cost effective.
Cuba began jamming the Radio Marti in the Havana area after the television tests began.