________________________________________________________________________ U.S. blimp may allow Cubans to watch anti-communist TV ____________________________________________________________________________ Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 Agence France-Presse KEY WEST, Fla. (November 29, 1997 11:35 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - Cubans may finally be able to watch U.S. government anti-Communist television programming thanks to a new remote-controlled blimp. The Americans have been broadcasting Spanish-language "TV Marti" from southern Florida to Cuba since 1990 at a cost of some $10 million a year. But up to now the station, operated by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), has been a waste of money: the government of President Fidel Castro has succesfully jammed the station signal, preventing viewers on the island from tuning into the station's four hours of daily transmissions. Cuban officials have long maintained that the station offers distorted anti-Castro progaganda designed to encourage people to topple the island government. Now the USIA has a new weapon in the transmission war: a helium-filled blimp nicknamed "Fat Albert." The blimp will climb 10,000 feet over Cudjoe Key, some 20 miles east of Key West, on the southern tip of Florida carrying a 1,200-lb., $2 million transmitter. U.S. government officials are keeping the blimp's launch date a secret, though it is expected to be in place early next year. "Apparently, the system works," said Herminio San Roman, director of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting. "But we will not have any conclusive evidence until we conduct further tests." TV Marti currently beams its signal toward the island on a single television channel over a very high frequency (VHF) signal. Under the new plan the transmitter "Fat Albert" will carry broadcasts over an ultra-high frequency (UHF) signal on three different channels. TV Marti was created following the success of Radio Marti, which has been beaming newscasts, radio dramas by Cuban exiles and a smattering of popular music toward the island since the mid 1980s. The radio station is popular in Cuba, though it is unclear if Cubans tune in to listen to the news or merely because it offers alternative entertainment. Cuban exiles who are hard liners belonging to the anti-Castro Cuban-American Foundation successfully lobbied the U.S. congress for money for a television counterpart to Radio Marti. Cuba blocked TV Marti transmissions as soon as the broadcasts began in 1990, though U.S. officials believe that top Cuban officials view the programs. Earlier this year retired USIA official Guy Farmer described TV Marti as a "taxpayer ripoff." The station is opposed by "knowledgeable people inside and outside USIA," but has continued "because of political pressure" from Cuban expatriates, Farmer wrote. The radio and television stations are named in honor of the 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti.
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