For Radio Marti and freedom


SOME THINGS never change, alas. Perhaps because some of us never learn, alas. For example, one of the lesser congressional subcommittees on appropriations has just adopted a Cuban policy guaranteed to please only one Cuban: Fidel Castro.

The committee voted 6 to 5 to cut off Radio Marti's water. Radio Marti is the Caribbean version of Radio Free Europe -- whose effectivePaulGreenbergness may be gauged by an increasingly free Europe. But there was a time not long ago when its broadcasts were ridiculed, too. Now the same, all too familiar jibes are aimed at Radio Marti:

* Efforts like Radio Marti are unrealistic. So why not work and trade with Fidel Castro's little gulag instead? In the case of the Soviets, this approach was called detente, the term appeasement having gone out of fashion.

The conventional wisdom of the '60s and '70s held that a rollback of communism was a vain and even dangerous ambition, so why not learn to live with the tyrants? They might have their little faults (repression, aggression, terror, etc.), but in time we'd get used to one another and by some mysterious process all would be well. Conclusion: Let's not be beastly to Stalin or Mao or Ho Chi Minh and now Fidel; they weren't/aren't so bad.

Back in '75, George McGovern announced after a visit to Cuba that he had found Fidel "soft-spoken, shy, sensitive, sometimes witty." Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter's ambassador to the United Nations and other phantasmagorical realms, not only proclaimed the Rev. Khomeini in Iran a saint but declared that Fidel had sent troops to Africa not at the command of the Soviets but as an idealistic gesture. Simply to repeat such judgments in 1991 is enough to expose them as the fatuities they always were. In comparison, Radio Marti is the soul of realism.

* Radio Marti is an expensive waste of money. Broadcasting two and a half hours a day, Radio Marti costs the American taxpayers $14 million a year. Compare that to the billions in aid invested over the years to ward off communist subversion in the Caribbean and thwart Cuban mercenaries around the world. Only $14 million a year to give communism a final shove in Cuba sounds like a good deal -- just as Radio Free Europe has been a bargain compared to the billions invested in armaments to deter the Soviets. Words are cheaper and on occasion even more effective than arms.

* Radio Marti is ineffectual. If so, why is Fidel Castro spending his increasingly rare resources to jam it? Radio Marti is criticized for light broadcasting like "I Love Lucy" -- but that may be the most effective program it carries. (In Cuba, it could be retitled "I Love Desi.") The Cubans get enough heavy-handed ideology from their oppressors; the best propaganda for freedom may be the kind that depicts a society in which not every waking moment is an ideological crisis.

The other arguments against Radio Marti have the same tinny sound, as if they had been stored on a shelf somewhere since the decades when communism was supposed to be an unalterable fact of life that would have to be accommodated rather than defeated.

The way to have good relations with Cuba is to have a free Cuba, and Radio Marti represents a modest investment in that good cause. Just as the best way to deal with the Soviet Union is to have a free Soviet Union to deal with. That idea was once dismissed as dangerously visionary; today it's fast becoming a fact of international life.

It used to be said that Radio Free Europe shouldn't be funded because the Cold War was unwinnable. Now it's argued that Radio Marti is unnecessary because the Cold War has been won. The inherent contradiction in these separate-but-opposite positions scarcely fazes good gliberals. When it comes to pulling the plug on a voice for freedom, one excuse is as good as another.

Cuban exiles in this country now occupy much the same position that spokesmen for the captive nations of Eastern Europe did during the defeatist decades. Remember how the governments-in-exile of countries like Lithuania were dismissed as unimportant fossils? And how anyone who spoke of communism's imminent downfall was dismissed as hopelessly out of it? The dream turned out to be the reality, and the "realists" anything but realistic. Radio Marti may be the most practical investment in the Carribean.

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