If you want to get a taste of what life was like in Cold War America, buy a subscription to SiriusXM, the privately owned satellite radio broadcasting service. Then tune in to Channel 153. You will think that you have entered into a Cold War time warp. That’s because SiriusXM Channel 153 serves as an anti-communist propaganda channel for the U.S. government.
The only thing is that you’ll have to know Spanish. That’s because SiriusXM’s Channel 153 is run by Radio Marti, a radio station that is owned and operated by the U.S. government and whose mission is to broadcast U.S. anti-communist propaganda into Cuba, which has been run by a communist regime since 1959.
Established during the Cold War and, specifically, during the Reagan administration, Radio Marti operates under the auspices of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is part of a U.S. agency called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). According to the BBG’s website, the OCB’s mission is to “promote freedom and democracy by providing the people of Cuba with objective and information programming.”
According to Wikipedia, SiriusXM has 32 million subscribers. How many of them are Cuban citizens? My guess — and it’s only a guess — is very few. That’s because the Cuban regime has always done whatever it could to block the transmission of radio broadcasts from Radio Marti directly into Cuba and has also made it illegal for Cuban citizens to listen to Radio Marti.
But realizing that I could be wrong about that, I decided to contact SiriusXM, the BBG, and Radio Marti. Not only was I curious about the number of SiriusXM subscribers in Cuba, I was also interested in finding out how the relationship between SiriusXM and Radio Marti came into existence. Most important, since the vast number of the SiriusXM subscribers surely are Americans, I was particularly interested in knowing how SiriusXM and federal officials justify broadcasting official federal propaganda to American citizens, specifically those SiriusXM subscribers across the country who speak Spanish. (According to the New York Post, “a report published by the renowned Instituto Cervantes research center says there are now an estimated 52.6 million people in the United States who can speak the worldwide romance language, which is second only to Mexico’s 121 million.)
Alas, my efforts to get answers to my questions were unsuccessful.
I did receive a polite reply to my email from a representative at SiriusXM, which requested more specifics regarding my request for information. After I replied with more specifics, I never heard from her again, notwithstanding a follow-up email I sent her.
I then telephoned BBG in Washington, D.C., and spoke to a person who told me that she would have someone call me with the information I was seeking. I did not hear back from her. But it is possible that she was responsible for my being contacted by a Radio Marti representative in Miami after I sent an email through Radio Marti’s website. He requested that I send him my questions by email, which I did. When I didn’t hear back from him, I emailed him to ask how things were going with my request for information. He said he needed to check with BBG to get the answers to my questions and that that would take some time. When I asked him whether it would be possible for him to provide me with a direct contact at BBG in order to accelerate the process, I received no further communication from him.
In a 2007 interview on the television program Democracy Now, John Nichols, professor of communications at Penn State University and author of a book entitled Clandestine Radio Broadcasting, pointed out that after Americans had seen how the Nazi regime had successfully employed propaganda on the German people, Congress wanted to make sure that the United States would never have what Nichols described as “a taxpayer-funded propaganda arsenal turned against our own people.” Thus, in 1948 Congress enacted the Smith-Mundt Act, which was signed into law by Harry Truman. The law prohibited the federal government from deploying propaganda at the American people.
Therefore, obvious questions arise: Why is the federal government propagandizing listeners on Channel 153 of SiriusXM? How much money, if any, is the federal government paying SiriusXM to enable it to propagandize listeners on SiriusXM? How does the federal government reconcile propagandizing American citizens who subscribe to SiriusXM with the provisions of the Smith-Mundt Act? Why is the U.S. government meddling in Cuban affairs by broadcasting propaganda to Cuban citizens? Even if SiriusXM is reaching listeners in Cuba, does that justify the propagandizing of even one American citizen on SiriusXM? And why are officials at the BBG, the OCG, Radio Marti, and SiriusXM reticent about providing answers to such questions?
Since I was getting no answers to my inquiries from the people who could provide them, I decided to seek answers on the Internet, which I will share in this article. I apologize in advance if any of my information is mistaken or incomplete.
Balanced and unbiased?
In 2007 Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio agreed to enter into a merger. Federal law (in a nation that prides itself on being based on the principles of free enterprise) required them to get the approval of the U.S. government. In 2008, the federal government, specifically the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approved the merger, on the condition that SiriusXM provide a certain number of channels to minority groups.
In 2011, a newly formed company called National Latino Broadcasting (NLB), which was based in Miami, issued a press release stating that it had been chosen to operate four Latino channels on SiriusXM. According to the press release, NLB was formed as a subsidiary of a company named Eventus Marketing, Inc., which, according to a Bloomberg page on the Internet, is a subsidiary of a company named Advantage Sales and Marketing, Inc., which now goes by the name Advantage Solutions. The press release stated that NLB would bring “creative, entertaining, and culturally relevant” programming to the Latino market over SiriusXM.
The press release failed to point out anything relating to compensation. Did SiriusXM lease those channels to NLB for money or did it give them to NLB for free? What were the terms of the lease, including the expiration date? Did NLB have the authority under the lease to assign the lease or particular channels to a third party? If so, did that require the approval of SiriusXM?
I couldn’t find answers to those questions on the Internet. Therefore, even though I had struck out with SiriusXM, BBG, and Radio Marti, I decided to expand my search for answers. I first telephoned a number that a Bloomberg page on the Internet had for National Latino Broadcasting. I received a message that I had “reached a number that had been disconnected or was no longer in service.” I then sent an email to the address that was posted on NLB’s one-page website (nlblive.com). It bounced back to me. I then found another Bloomberg page with a different number for NLB, which was the same number for its parent company, Eventus Marketing, Inc. I telephoned that number and received a recorded message enabling me to leave a voicemail. I did so, explaining that I was looking for Mr. Nelson Albareda, the president of NLB, or anyone else who could provide me with the information I was seeking. No response. I then sent emails to Eventus and Advantage Solutions. Alas, no one responded.
My Internet research revealed that in February 2015 — four years after SiriusXM leased those four channels to NLB — the BBG issued a press release announcing that “two popular Radio Marti programs will now be available on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, thanks to an agreement between the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and National Latino Broadcasting.” The two programs would air on Channel 153 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Today, that two-hour broadcasting period has been expanded, significantly. It seems that every time I tune in to Channel 153, Radio Marti is broadcasting. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Radio Marti has taken full control over Channel 153, thereby plying the listeners of SiriusXM’s Channel 153 with 24 hours of U.S. propaganda, seven days a week.
Did NLB assign its lease of Channel 153 to Radio Marti? Or was a new lease entered into between the federal government and SiriusXM? Is Radio Marti paying money to SiriusXM or to NLB? If so, to what extent, if any, are U.S. taxpayers subsidizing a private, for-profit American company with what amounts to a corporate welfare dole?
I could not find any answers to those questions on the Internet. And as I previously indicated, the people who could provide answers to such questions weren’t talking.
Given that what Radio Marti broadcasts on Channel 153 is dull anti-communist propaganda, it is not exactly the “creative, entertaining, and culturally relevant” programming that National Latino Broadcasting described in its 2011 press release.
A 2015 press release issued by the BBG stated, “The arrangement provides another way for audiences in Cuba to receive balanced and unbiased news.”
That is one big piece of laughable propaganda. If there are Cuban citizens who do subscribe to SiriusXM, the last thing they are going to hear is “balanced and unbiased news.” That’s because most of the programming at Radio Marti revolves around criticism of the communist regime in Cuba and, to a certain extent, the socialist regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
There is one thing that listeners of SiriusXM’s Channel 153 never hear and will never hear: any criticism of the U.S. government’s decades-old interventionist policies towards Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua or, for that matter, Chile, Guatemala, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, or many other countries around the world that have been on the receiving end of U.S. intervention and meddling. That, of course, shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is a U.S. government-owned and government-operated radio station. Its broadcasts are propaganda in their purest form, designed to mold the listeners’ minds in such a way as to support the U.S. government’s policies.
Given that Radio Marti is a government-owned and government-operated radio station, that of course makes it a socialist entity. Imagine that: the U.S. government employing socialism here at home to criticize socialism in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. And notice that the U.S. government employs official propaganda to achieve its goal of influencing people’s thinking, just as communist regimes do (and as the Nazi regime did).
Despite their repeated claims in a ditty sung on Radio Marti that their goal is to lend a “helping hand” to the Cuban people by bringing them “liberty,” the history of U.S. interventionism would indicate that what what U.S. officials really want to do is restore a pro-U.S. dictatorship into power in Cuba, much like that of Fulgencio Batista, the brutal pro-U.S. dictator whom the Cuban revolutionaries ousted from power during the Cuban Revolution in 1959 or like that of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the brutal military dictator whom the U.S. national-security establishment installed into power in Chile as part of a U.S. regime-change operation in that country during the 1970s.
In other words, the people at BBG, OCG, and Radio Marti are not libertarians and, therefore, have no desire for a genuinely free society in Cuba. Far from it. They are obviously conservatives, ones with a Cold War-era mindset. In fact, they even emphasize this over and over again in a propagandistic slogan on Radio Marti that states, “Conservativism is at the heart of the Hispanic culture.”
And what is conservatism? It is a political and economic philosophy that supports such statist programs and institutions as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, public housing, welfare, economic regulations (including forcing private companies to seek government permission to merge and then forcing them, as a condition of approval, to devote channels to government-approved programming), a central bank, paper money, a progressive income tax, a massive military-intelligence establishment, secret surveillance, torture, indefinite detention, military tribunals, kidnapping, and assassination. In other words, the same types of statist programs and institutions that exist in Cuba and other totalitarian regimes!
You will never hear any criticism of any of those things on Radio Marti. In fact, one will listen in vain for any criticism of the U.S. government’s policy of continual interventionism in Cuba for more than 100 years, beginning with the Spanish-American War in 1898, when U.S. officials deceived and double-crossed the Cuban people by leading them to believe that the U.S. government was helping them win their independence. As the Cuban people soon discovered, the truth was that the U.S. government was planning on simply replacing Cuba’s Spanish rulers with U.S. government rulers. In fact, there is no reasonable possibility that Radio Marti would ever point out that it was through force and oppression that the U.S. government secured its imperialist military base at Guantanamo Bay in perpetuity for a nominal price.
Listeners to Radio Marti will also never hear any criticism of the CIA for its paramilitary invasion of Cuba in 1961, an invasion against a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so … or any criticism of Operation Northwoods, where the Pentagon recommended to John Kennedy that he employ a false-flag operation to serve as an excuse for a full-scale military invasion of Cuba … or any criticism of the Pentagon and the CIA for exhorting Kennedy to bomb and invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which would have meant nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union … or any criticism of the deadly and destructive acts of sabotage and terrorism against innocent people committed by CIA operatives in Cuba … or any criticism of the Mafia-CIA partnership to assassinate (i.e., murder) Cuban leader Fidel Castro. And needless to say, they will hear no condemnation of the cruel and brutal Cold War-era economic embargo that U.S. officials have enforced against the Cuban people for more than half a century, which, in combination with Cuba’s socialist economic system, has squeezed the economic life’s blood out of the Cuban people.
In fact, the question has to be asked: What role, if any, does the CIA play in Radio Marti, including, say, secret and surreptitious control of the BBG, the OCB, or Radio Marti itself, which, given the CIA’s penchant for secrecy, might explain the secrecy at BBG, OCB, and Radio Marti? Before anyone cries “Conspiracy theory!” let’s not forget about Operation Mockingbird, the CIA’s secret program of acquiring assets in the mainstream press to propagandize the American people. In 2006, it was discovered that Radio Marti secretly had journalists on its payroll at the Miami Herald. Of course, the question naturally arises: Were they actually Radio Marti assets or CIA assets disguised as Radio Marti assets, á la Operation Mockingbird? (To the credit of the Miami Herald, they were fired.)
One thing is for sure: The goal of the BBG, OCB, and Radio Marti is the same as that of the CIA (whose Cold War base in Miami was once the second-largest CIA base in the world): regime change in Cuba.
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that on Sunday mornings Radio Marti broadcasts a Catholic Mass. Thus, not only is the U.S. government using SiriusXM to influence people’s thinking with political propaganda, it’s also using SiriusXM to engage in a bit of religious indoctrination. I can’t help but wonder whether there are at least a few Jews, Muslims, Protestants, atheists or other non-Catholics who find it objectionable that their federal tax monies are being used in this way.
Isn’t it ironic (and a bit hypocritical) that U.S. officials are crying and complaining about Russian “meddling” in America’s political affairs, even while they continue to meddle in Cuba’s political affairs? The U.S. meddling occurs not only through the broadcast of U.S. propaganda into Cuba but also through the continued enforcement of one of the most brutal economic embargoes in history, which, like sanctions against Iran and North Korea, intentionally targets innocent people with economic suffering and death with the aim of bringing about the regime change that Radio Marti and the CIA and other elements of the U.S. national-security establishment continue to long for.
Finally, isn’t it perversely ironic that U.S. officials would name their interventionist radio station after José Martí, the father of Cuban independence, given that Martí gave his life in the Spanish-American War in the hope that Cuba would finally be free and independent?
The fact that federal officials are hitting both Americans and Cubans with official propaganda through a U.S. socialist radio station really shouldn’t surprise anyone. But what is SiriusXM’s excuse for letting them do it on SiriusXM?
This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of Future of Freedom.