MIAMI – The United States beefed up its television transmissions to Cuba over the weekend through its Miami-based TV Marti station in response to reports that Cuban President Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to his brother.
On Saturday, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting unveiled a new G-1 twin turbo propeller plane, which will increase the transmissions from one afternoon a week to six, said Alberto Mascaro, chief of staff of the broadcasting office.
The new privately owned plane was set to go up in mid-August, but TV Marti pushed the date forward after Castro transferred powers to his brother Raul Castro July 31, citing intestinal bleeding and the need for surgery. Neither Castro nor his brother have spoken publicly since then.
Congress approved $10 million in its 2006 budget to develop airborne TV broadcasting and counter the Cuban government's mostly successful efforts to jam the transmission.
"We have some reports already of people in Havana and the Matanzas area seeing it, but we just started out on this so we're getting information as we go along," Mascaro said Monday.
TV Marti, which began broadcasting in 1990, includes four-and-a-half hours of newscasts, as well as programs about public affairs, culture, music, sports, and entertainment in Cuba, the U.S. and around the world.
The Cuban government has called it U.S. propaganda.
Since 2004, the station has transmitted programming Saturday afternoon and evening via an Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane. During that time, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting has received 1,000 recorded testimonies from those on the island who were able to see the programming, Mascaro said.
"It's difficult to know. It's not like in a place like Cuba you can take a public poll," he said.
Previously, the station transmitted programming using blimps, which were damaged by hurricanes.
The Office of Cuba Broadcasting has been transmitting programming to Cuba via Radio Marti since 1985. The radio station was established by Congress under the now defunct U.S. Information Agency. Today, it broadcasts 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Both the radio and TV stations are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent federal agency, and have a combined budget of $28 million.
On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a message to the Cuban people via the Marti television and radio stations, imploring them not to flee the island for Florida because of political uncertainty.
Radio and TV Marti are not the only U.S.-based stations seen and heard on the island. A small number of people in Cuba have satellite dishes and can pick up commercial TV stations. Some Miami commercial radio stations can be heard in the western provinces. The nonprofit Cuban Democratic Directorate also maintains the radio station Radio Republica, which is beamed via shortwave into the country.