Radio/TV Marti's director on ways of disseminating information to Cubans
19-09-2013 16:27 | Patrick McCumiskey
Cuba has one of the world's most restrictive media environments; it
habitually ranks in the bottom ten on the Freedom of the Press Index as
one of the ten worst countries in the world for journalists and
bloggers. The U.S. government's Miami-based Radio and TV Martí
broadcasters works tirelessly to get around Havana's censorship, and
come up with novel ways to disseminate information on the island. Carlos
Garcia-Perez, who runs the operation, attended this week's Forum 2000
conference in Prague and on a visit to Radio Prague's studios he spoke
to our editor-in-chief Miroslav Krupička, who chaired one of the Forum
2000 panels on the role of the radio in inspiring democratic changes.
Mr. Garcia Perez began by sharing his impressions of this year's Forum 2000.
" I think it was a great conference, I really enjoyed it. I went to a
lot of different panels. Some of which had nothing to do with Latin
America but with the transitions in Eastern Europe, for example. I was
very pleased to see the Cuban dissidents and activists that were here in
Prague. It was a joy to observe their intellect, clarity of thoughts and
passion. I'm dealing with Cuba in every sense of my life now, and it
gives me a great sense of hope- a hope which I've always had, actually.
But this really raises my hope that there are really some good things
happening on the island."
You actively participated in the panel on radio and democracy. What
would be your reflections on democracy? Were there any inspirations for you?
"Absolutely. Some of the Cuban activists were there and participated.
That's the primary reason why we exist. To listen to our target
audience, to talk about how the change would benefit them- and that's
humbling. Because we can't do research in Cuba, that's the best kind of
research that we can have. I actually found myself a lot of the time
taking notes (laughs). It was educational for me, and it was also
inspirational for me. That's exactly the sort of thing we try to
broadcast on radio Martí."
Let's talk about radio and TV Martí for a short while. It was
interesting listening to you about the methods you use to disseminate
your message over to Cuba. Could you briefly name and describe your methods?
"We are a multi media operation. You cannot split up radio, TV and the
internet anymore- and this is the genesis of the whole thing. Everybody
shares the operation these days. Why is that? Well, there are two
primary reasons. Firstly, it's the most efficient way of carrying on our
operation today, and, as you know, the internet is a big player. You
(Radio Prague) play a big role on the internet now, so internet and
social media has changed the spectrum of how information is
disseminating and the availability of information. Secondly, it is the
attempt to jam us by the Cuban government. And we go from the most
primitive way of distributing information, which is through flash drives
and DVDs on the island, where we put our radio and TV content to
satellite. In between those, we have an AM station, we have our own 1180
signal, but we buy time from commercial stations in Miami- that's in a
test period- but we do that because we know it reaches the island, and
we are getting great feedback from the island on these. We are doing
short wave and we are also testing FM. We know the access to internet is
a big component of distribution- although we know access to the internet
on the island is very limited. The paper flash drive is a very big
component now on our distribution."
How does it work? You send it to Cuba and people put it in their
computers and what happens then?
"You basically download information that's in the flash drive. You load
it up with information- it could be programs, or, for example, the one
that you are holding now for the audience is called Piramideo, which is
a social text network that we have created for Cubans on the island. So
basically it's group messaging. You register your cell phone on
piramideo through the website and you can put as many Cuban cell phone
numbers of your friends as you wish and for the price of one text we
send a text message to all the people in your group. But the way you do
it is that you download it to your computer, you break it off from the
business card, you put it into your computer and download the
information, and that's it."
Is this form of communication through cell phones and internet
detectable from the Cuban authorities?
"I think everything is detectable by the authorities. It's a matter of
the degree that they can chase all these things, and that's our
strategy. Our strategy is to have a lot of initiatives that we know
people on the island are using and consuming. So if you want to chase us
with what you're doing, then fasten your seatbelt and put on a helmet,
because we are creating new things every 3 months. For example, we have
something very important coming up now which is in the development stages."
You mean a new device or channel how to get to Cuba?
"We were thinking of new ways of how to deliver the radio and TV Marti
content to Cuba, which has become more relevant than ever, because we
have always had volunteer independent journalists on the island
collaborating for Martí. But now we have paid journalists, so these are
professional journalists. And I'm not taking anything away from the
independent journalists that have collaborated with Martí; they continue
to be- and will continue to be- an important source of information for
Martí. But we are also creating the profession of journalism on the
island. There are a lot of organisations training journalists on the
island, but once they are trained, they don't have a job. So we're
proving employment on the island."
From time to time your organisation comes under criticism that you are
not as efficient as you could be that you don't cover the whole of the
Cuba population and so on. Is there any way to measure the audience, how
would you reply to that? Is the audience rather declining or growing?
"Well, as you know from the panel that you and I participated in, it is
very clear that our audience is growing. That's why the government is
involved in this business. Commercial station cannot operate on the
island: there's no free press, nobody can walk around with a notepad
taking notes to see what the reach of Martí is. So the Martí need to
create that space for the free flow of information on the island. From
the calls we get on the island, we know we have a positive influence on
the island. So there's no way of measuring the impact other than
anecdotal evidence. But I'll give you an example. We did a giveaway of 6
motorcycles on January 6th 2011. The 6th in the Catholic religion is the
Epiphany, or the three king's day. These 6 motorcycles were a gift from
Cuban exiles. We promoted the giveaway for a week and a half before
January 6th. On the day of the giveaway there was a big show, probably
like what you've done here many times, so everybody knew we were going
to do this. We had over 3000 participants- a huge number, considering
the conditions in Cuba. The day of the program, we had to do away with
our pre-production plans because we were getting so many phone calls
from Cuba. So, if the authorities in Cuba really wanted to jam us, they
would have done it. In terms of the criticism, the BBG, which is the
umbrella under which Martí operates, (which is voice of America RFE/RL,
which based here in Prague) this is not different than anything we do
around the world.
Of course we are criticised, because the Cuban government doesn't like
us very much. If it was a commercial operation in a free country, we
would, of course, be spending less money. But we are fighting now to
create the free flow of information and to be able to educate the people
in Cuba against the will of the government, so it's just a moral
And finally, do you see any progress in Cuba in terms of the government
liberalising ways of life?
"Well, I think what you and I witnessed in these past two days with
having Cuban activists here is very telling. There's certainly
liberalisation going on on the island. The reasons for it…we could be
here for three hours. But the bottom line in my mind is the following:
There's a civil society growing on the island that is very strong, that
the fundamentals of it are very strong, that they're civil, respectful
among each other and with the people that do not agree with their
thoughts. And I truly believe, and I have more hope especially after
what I've seen here, that the train has left the station a long time ago
and the activists and people in Cuba have lost their fear and they are
demanding changes from the government, and the government has no option
other than to do that, because they're going to lose control."
Source: "Radio Prague - Radio/TV Marti's director on ways of
disseminating information to Cubans" -