Propaganda and Counterrevolution: The Beginnings of U.S. Radio Aggression in Cuba

by Lola Zurbarán

Cuba has not been immune to the use of radio as a tool of the aggressive policy of successive United States administrations, especially during the first decade of the Cuban Revolution. Two key moments have been the mercenary attack at Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs) and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both supported by counterrevolutionary propaganda broadcast by radios in the service of U.S. interests.On March 21, 1960 radio aggression against the Cuban archipelago officially began, with a Spanish-language broadcast by the Voice of America (VOA), one of the agencies of the United States Information Agency (USIA).

With a night-time program aimed at Cuba – although they maintained it was directed towards the whole continent – its contents reflected the growing tension in the relations between the two countries and it served as the mouthpiece for U.S. positions on the revolutionary process going on in Cuba.

As the Voice of America was the U.S. Government’s official radio station, there existed a number of constraints for serving as a vehicle of a particular kind of propagandistic content, such as direct incitement to rebellion or providing instructions for subversive activities.

This situation gave rise to another clandestine radio station with a wide-ranging program. Initiated by President Ike Eisenhower, its goal was the overthrow of the Cuban Revolution through military means.

This complex operation included broadcasting in several ways, with Radio Swan in the main role.

This commercial radio station, located on Swan Island – a territory in dispute between Honduras and the United States – was born under the façade of the Gibraltar Steamship Corporation, with headquarters in Miami and chaired by Thomas D. Babor, former president of the United Fruit Company.

The Gibraltar Steamship Company never had a ship and its offices only provided a cover for the operation.

As an undercover operation, the radio station was never registered in the Master International Frequency Register of the International Telecommunication Union.

According to documents made public in 1980, for the CIA the station meant a monthly expenditure of between $400,000 and $500,000 for maintaining a program that eventually grew to cover three timelines: morning, noon and night. The average total daily airtime ranged between eight and twelve hours.

As per sources of Cuban researcher Adonis Subit Lamí, shortly before the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón, Radio Swan was provided with an additional transmitter in the international 49-meter short-wave band directed to Cuba.

The contents of its broadcasts became increasingly more aggressive because they encouraged subversion and sabotage. An example of this were the advertisements composed in the traditional way of commercials, one of which stated:

“Worker, you who know your machinery, destroy it. There’s nobody better than you to destroy it without the communists becoming aware of it…do not grease it, let sand fall into its gears…”

Later on, on April 17, 1961, when the invasion of Playa Girón began, Radio Swan became the radio station directly supporting the mercenaries. A message broadcast on this day said:

“Forces loyal to the Revolutionary Council have conducted a large-scale general uprising on the isle of Cuba…the militia which Castro trusted seems to be possessed by panic…A Liberation Army is in the isle of Cuba to fight with you against the communist tyranny of destabilized Fidel Castro…attack Fidel followers wherever they are….”

After the defeat at Playa Girón, the CIA changed the name of Radio Swan, now completely discredited, to Radio America, The Voice of Truth for the Whole Continent. With this, they continued propaganda against Cuba until budgetary shortages in the Agency caused its demise in the mid-1960s.

However, during the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States stepped up the use of the radio as an instrument of penetration into Cuba, which was executed in accordance with the Jacobs Plan.

This plan included the installation of two new medium-wave transmitters in the southern Florida Keys, Marathon and Sugarloaf. With their directional antennas, they concentrated broadcasting energy into Cuba, thus avoiding interfering with U.S. commercial radio stations.

These installations initiated another phase of the radio war against Cuba, with which they anticipated considerably increasing their audience within the country.

One day after President John F. Kennedy announced the blockade of Cuba, the Voice of America put out its programs in succession with a dozen U.S. medium-wave stations of great power. These corresponded to assignments in unobstructed channels that could be heard very clearly in Cuba during night-time hours.

These broadcasts were kept on the airwaves all the time that the “quarantine” lasted. Later the provisional stations in Sugarloaf and Marathon remained in regular service. In 1966, hurricane Alma completely destroyed the Sugarloaf station.

During the 1960s, a number of U.S. commercial radio stations, whose signals could be received in Cuba, were used by groups of exiles, directly financed by the CIA, to transmit counterrevolutionary propaganda.

Among them stands out WMIE from Miami, which much later changed its acronym to WQBA La Cubanísima.

WMIE broadcasts were addressed to the central region of Cuba and were used to support counterrevolutionary bands in the Escambray.

The United States also used two private short-wave radio stations, WEUL from New York, owned by Walter Lemmon, and KGET from California.

During the 1966 to 1980 period, only VOA transmissions were maintained for Cuba, of which the authorities suppressed the supplement Cita con Cuba on July 1, 1974, for “lack of reliable information from Cuban sources.”

At the present time, anti-Cuban transmissions total 2,425 hours per week broadcast on 30 radio and television frequencies.

Internet has also shown itself to be another tool of the U.S. government for fomenting the destruction of confidence in the leaders of the Revolution and, in a similar way, manipulating information to support their interests.

Translated by: Maria Luisa Hernandez Garcilaso de la Vega

Revised by Susana Hurlich for Cubanow


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