“Looking for a Handout” Between Miami and Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg*

The signal is so efficiently blocked that I don’t know of anyone in Cuba who has ever been able to tune in to TV Marti.

HAVANA TIMES — Last week, a campaign calling for lower Internet rates began on the island and Radio and TV Marti – US government stations that broadcast propaganda to Cuba – announced they would use the web to send their messages to the population.

People say extremes meet and complement one another. The news must have made those looking for arguments to restrict Internet access in Cuba very happy. Now, they can refuse to make the web more accessible invoking the country’s legitimate need to defend itself.

Radio and TV Marti claim that more than 3 million people watch their programs in Cuba – proudly, they tell us that one out of every four Cubans follow these. Their ratings bring to mind those of Vivir del cuento (“Looking for a Handout”), Cuba’s most popular sitcom.

I must be very unlucky, because I don’t know a single person who watches TV Marti. Even those who have confessed to me that they read materials published by the anti-Castro émigré community assure me they have never been able to tune in to the programs aired by these broadcasters.

Even dissident Amador Blanco, from Cuba’s province of Las Villas, told the New Herald in Miami that “we’ve never seen TV Marti. If anyone claims they watch it, that’s a lie. Radio Marti’s audience is also minimal.”

The weekly TV shows “package” sold by private locales is the programming with the largest audience in Cuba.
The weekly TV shows “package” sold by private locales is the programming with the largest audience in Cuba.

The True Hits in Cuba

What people in Cuba actually look forward to watching every week is the new “package”, a compilation of films, TV series, Internet pages and documentaries put together with materials downloaded from the Internet or recorded from satellite TV programming.

This package is an initiative of the island’s self-employed. The materials are downloaded illegally at places with a broad bandwidth and recorded by those who copy US television shows to broadcast these locally.

They are sold to paqueteros (“package providers”) who throw together a combo that includes music videos by local artists and commercials for the private establishments that are gradually emerging in Cuba. Then, they sell these to hundreds of thousands of Cuban families for 1 or 2 dollars apiece.

The phenomenon is so widespread that the government is studying the possibility of developing an “official” package, so as to exercise greater control over its contents. All the while, the newspaper of Cuba’s internal dissident community, 14 & ½, tries to slip its news into the “packages” to reach a wider audience.

However, one will be hard pressed to find a paquetero willing to include materials from the opposition in their product, for everyone in Cuba knows that mixing business with dissident activities is not profitable, particularly when the financing for the latter is of dubious origin.

Cuba’s Paradoxes

The radicalism of one camp prompts radicalism in the other. Caught in the middle is Cuba, a nation that cannot progress at the pace it could.
The radicalism of one camp prompts radicalism in the other. Caught in the middle is Cuba, a nation that cannot progress at the pace it could.

Politicians in both camps find it difficult to understand the success of these “packages.” One reason for its success could be that they are not designed on the basis of ideological schemes but in response to the tastes and needs of common people.

It is ironic that a single paquetero who has invested a few thousand dollars has a wider audience than Radio and TV Marti, each with hundreds of employees and receiving US $ 26.3 million from the US government every year.

To justify such high spending, they need to disguise their tiny audience, while desperately seeking any means of increasing their impact, taking advantage of any development on the island, be it greater access to mobile phones, the Internet or social networks.

In Cuba, a campaign against those who use the Internet for independent work is already underway. There are even TV programs that show us how a network of “dangerous” programmers (guilty of using the Internet for their own purposes) was dismantled.

The radicalism of one camp prompts radicalism in the other. Caught in the middle is Cuba, a nation that cannot progress at the pace it could. As the editor of Cubadebate Rosa Miriam Elizalde explains, “we cannot continue to use horse-drawn carts in a world that is moving so quickly.”
(*) Visit the blog of Fernando Ravsberg.

3 thoughts on ““Looking for a Handout” Between Miami and Cuba

  • Unlike Mr. Ravsberg I do know a series of people that have watch TV Marti (both on the “paquetes” and live) and that listen to Radio Marti. Mr. Ravsberg – in his text – seems strangely oblivious to the fact that these channels are effectively jammed. Only the caption of the picture refers to it. Without this jamming lots more people would tune in.Claiming the channel is “unpopular” because it is jammed seems rather a contradiction in terms: the regime jams the station because they know lots more people would watch it then now is the case.

  • Cubans do watch television from the US. At our hotel, English language CNN was on screen in the bar. Granted, very few Cubans were there and those who were there were working.
    But we were also in a private home, someone who was trying to run an unlicensed ‘casa particular.’ As I watched, it became apparent that it was a Miami station.
    This was in Havana. I expect these stations are not available in parts of Cuba more distant from the US.

  • Hahaha! What buffoonery! Only in Cuba (well, maybe North Korea as well) is access to information considered dangerous. Be it ‘Radio/TV Marti’ or ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ the consumer should be trusted to make their own choices. in the event where in the production of content, participants are harmed as in child pornography or animal abuse, the State should step in to protect the innocent. But political, social and cultural content should be left to market forces. The internet is merely the information vehicle du jour. The greater debate is whether the Cuban people themselves can be trusted to make their own information and entertainment choices. The Castros obviously don’t think so.

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