By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Alert! Alert! Look well at the rainbow. The fish will rise very soon. Chico is in the house. Visit him.... The fish is red.
Radio Swan, a clandestine CIA radio station, broadcasting to Cuba on April 17, 1961, the day of the Bay of Pigs invasion Doctor Diego Medina knew something was amiss long before U.S. Marshals Service agents stuck their semiautomatic rifles in his face. Sitting on a plastic milk crate under an avocado tree, the Little Havana general practitioner had watched the headlights crisscrossing the barren fields around him on the warm May night, inching closer, finally pulling up to the gate of his brother's South Dade ranch.
"Hands up! Hands up! Don't move!" yelled the agents, clad in bulletproof vests. "Get on the ground! On the ground!" Moments later Medina found himself eating dirt, a deputy marshal's knee grinding into his back. "It was like I was Al Capone," Medina recalls. "I think they were expecting a squad of commandos. They shouldn't have made such a big deal out of it. They could have called me at home."
The agents seized Medina's white Ford van, a collapsible painter's ladder attached to its roof, a gasoline-fed generator and a $30,000 short-wave radio transmitter inside. On May 22, 1989, after a six-month investigation, the Federal Communications Commissiongovernment had shut down La Voz de Alpha 66, the radio voice of one of the oldest and most militant Cuban exile groups, bringing to a close the heyday of clandestine anti-Castro radio broadcasts.
No longer would the South Florida radio waves sound like an on-air Calle Ocho domino match, with acerbic exile Cuban commentators illegally signing on to criticize each other as much as Castro. No longer would federal agents spend untold thousands of dollars chasing tanked up, "Cuba Libre" short-wave conspirators across the east Everglades, raiding barns and pig farms, tracking darkened vans that used ladders for antennas, busting a Who's Who of exile leaders who claimed they were just doing America's dirty work. Those operations have taken their business elsewhere, to licensed, evangelical Christian short-wave stations that need the money, to foreign countries that openly support the cause. "It's a crazy world full of strange, crazy characters," says John Santosuosso, a political science professor at Florida Southern College in Lakeland and a clandestine radio expert. "Something about sitting in a dark room somewhere monitoring a radio set just makes people weird - like they say about real life being stranger than fiction."
Although they are seldom used by South American guerrilla groups, clandestine radio stations have played a major role in Central American and Caribbean - particularly Cuban - politics. "It's really a variety
of things - high illiteracy rates, difficult geographic conditions, governments that crack down on the opposition so published materials can't be distributed - that make it so popular down there," says Santosuosso. "Probably the most clandestine radio that's been seen has been against Castro."
And apparently the short-wave signals, which traverse far greater distances than normal AM and FM radio waves, have made their way without much interference to the island, where most radios are equipped with short-wave receivers. In a 1989 listener study based on interviews with 202 recently arrived Cuban exiles, Miami-Dade professors Manuel Mendoza and Juan Clark concluded that 32.8 percent of the island's population was tuning in at least several times per month to La Voz del CID, Miami's most high-tech clandestine station. "Those numbers are considered fairly high," says Mendoza. (Miami AM broadcasts, as well as registered short-wave stations such as Voice of America and its Cuban service Radio Marti, rated higher, with Marti topping the list at 92.4 percent.)
Clandestine radio first flourished as a tool of propaganda warfare in Europe during World War II, but it has been around since the early Thirties, when radio receivers first became readily available. On June 9, 1933, amid strikes, riots, and revolts against the brutal regime of Cuban leader Gerardo Machado, a station run by a student revolutionary group went on the air in the island nation, broadcasting anti-government propaganda and imploring the army to revolt. Days later police burst into a house in the province of Matanzas, east of Havana, and seized the students' transmitter, as well as weapons and documents. The short-lived clandestine station, the first in Cuba and among the first in the world, began that nation's checkered relationship with shadowy political broadcasters.
Nearly 25 years later, on February 24, 1958, the first notes of "Invaders' Hymn" and the words Cubans would hear over and over in the next months came across the airwaves: "This is Radio Rebelde, the voice of the Sierra Maestra." Poorly heard at first, Radio Rebelde, Castro's clandestine short-wave station, established at the urging of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was to become the primary source of information for many island residents during the revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista. Although many anti-Batista radio stations surfaced during the war, Rebelde was the most important, and to this day it remains the name of the major radio network - which broadcasts on AM, FM, and short wave - in Cuba.
Within months of Castro's consolidation of power in 1959, stations opposing his regime began to broadcast clandestinely. Deteriorating relations between Cuba and the United States, the presence of the large exile community in South Florida, and the ready availability of short-wave radio receivers in Cuba made a war of the airwaves almost inevitable. The most important of the early anti-Castro clandestine stations, Radio Swan, went on the air for the first time on May 17, 1960.
Created by the U.S. government with assistance from United Fruit Company, which lost large tracts of land expropriated by Castro, the station was so named because it was located in the Caribbean, between Honduras and Cuba, on Swan Island, originally a relay station for United Fruit's Central American radio communications operations and later a Nicaraguan contra supply base. Swan operated under the cover of a commercial station, broadcasting music, soap operas, religion, news, and political opinions voiced by prominent Cuban exiles. Among the speakers was Jorge Mas Canosa, now head of the Cuban American National Foundation and an instrumental voice in the establishment of Radio Marti. There was little agreement among the exiles, leading one Cuban station to comment, "Radio Swan is not a radio station but a cage of hysterical parrots." The CIA agreed, but had bigger things in mind for Swan.
On the morning of April 17, 1961, as Cuban exile forces landed in Cuba, Radio Swan reported that the invaders were advancing, joined by thousands of sympathetic residents. In fact the opposite was true - there was no popular uprising, and as the Bay of Pigs invasion began to falter, CIA propagandists E. Howard Hunt (later of Watergate fame) and Atlee Phillips attempted to confuse Cuban forces by broadcasting gibberish over Radio Swan, speaking of rainbows, fish, and "Chico." Within three days, however, the invasion force had been routed.
This is Radio Libertad Cubana, the only rebel station broadcasting from the only piece of free earth that exists here in the eastern mountains of the Republic of Cuba in the year of liberation from international communism.
Comandante David, clandestine radio broadcaster, actually transmitting from Miami, 1980
During the steamy summer of 1979, residents of a quiet neighborhood in Southwest Dade began to notice wobbly lines on their TV screens during prime time. Coincidentally, listeners in Miami neighborhoods and Cuban cities, towns, and villages tuned in their short-wave sets four days per week to hear the gravelly voice of Comandante David, who claimed to be broadcasting from somewhere on the island and who called for the overthrow of Fidel Castro in explosive diatribes against the dictator.
The comandante's message never varied: Castro's downfall is near. Resist and fight. More acts of sabotage are on the way. And his vague divinations often came true. After one prediction of damage, a November fire destroyed the first floor of the Hotel Nacional in Havana. Another nonspecific forecast of destruction was followed by the torching of the railroad warehouse in Old Havana. Soon the comandante became a folk hero, the short-wave darling of the Cuban airwaves. Anti-Castro posters and signs sprang up across the island in his honor - "Long live Comandante David. Down with Fidel" - and later, exiles who arrived in Miami by the thousands during the 1980 Mariel boatlift said they always eagerly awaited David's vitriolic broadcasts.
Local residents weren't aware of any hubbub; they only knew their reception stank, and they complained about it to the FCC. Already aware of the phenomenon, FCC investigators had begun eavesdropping, tracking the unlicensed signal to somewhere in the area. So began the most-celebrated case involving anti-Castro clandestine radio in the U.S., a case that eventually would lead to ten years of pursuits and disputes between the FCC and broadcasters, between Cuba and the U.S. government, and between the FCC and the White House.
Castro complained to the U.S. government about David in late 1979, and by early 1980 the FCC had pinpointed the radio signal to a house at 8780 SW 51st St., the residence of Jose M. Gonzalez, a 47-year-old exile from Santa Clara, Cuba. Agents warned Gonzalez to quit broadcasting, but the ten- to fifteen-minute programs, broadcast on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights and on Sunday afternoons, continued unabated, including references to attempts to shut down the transmissions. U.S. marshals twice raided Gonzalez's house in 1980, confiscating broadcasting equipment. In July of that year, a grand jury indicted Gonzalez on two misdemeanor counts of violating FCC regulations by illegally operating Radio Libertad Cubana, punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to one year behind bars.
Jose Gonzalez never admitted that he was Comandante David. He did, however, assert that the comandante's broadcasts were aired with the U.S. government's approval, and FCC investigators reported that Gonzalez had told a neighbor, "The federal government is aware of [David]'s broadcasts, and has encouraged him to continue his anti-Castro speeches to Cuba."
Before Gonzalez's trial began, his attorney filed a motion requesting that a federal judge review a classified CIA file about his client, in order to determine whether it contained relevant information. An assistant U.S. attorney from Miami was sent to CIA headquarters to review the file, and afterward, on April 14, 1981, attorneys on both sides of the case met in Miami for an all-day, closed-door session. Minutes before the trial was to begin, the lawyers reached an agreement: all charges would be dropped if Gonzalez ceased to "engage in unlicensed broadcasts from his residence in the future."
The FCC, which had spent more than 1000 man-hours investigating what it considered a precedent-setting case, was incensed. The agency filed a formal protest with the Justice Department, claiming dismissal of the charges was a blatant political move to avoid upsetting the exile Cuban community. "I was furious," recalls James McKinney, then chief of the FCC's field operations bureau in Washington, D.C. "I'm still mad about it. I can remember talking to [then-U.S. Attorney] Atlee Wampler right after he announced he wasn't going to prosecute, and I remember the telephone conversation was not pleasant at all. I was really hot."
FCC files pertaining to the case have since been destroyed as part of federal paperwork-reduction regulations, and interagency memos that might provide clues about the contents of Gonzalez's CIA file have not been released to the public, but McKinney says it's clear Gonzalez's case attracted attention at the top levels of government. "It went deep into the White House. It went deep into the Reagan administration," says McKinney, who later became Reagan's deputy assistant. "Whether [Wampler] was responding to what he thought Washington wanted or to what they told him to do was never clear to me. All I know is I received several calls from the White House, wanting to know what we were doing going after these guys in Miami." Administration officials, McKinney says, were perturbed that the FCC was prosecuting a person who was taking an anti-Castro stand. "But as far as we were concerned," he asserts, "they were violating the law and causing interference." And besides obscenity, interference, not mere content, is the FCC's primary concern.
Wampler, now a private attorney in Miami, remembers the case somewhat differently. "There was no cloudy, murky, back-door stuff," he says. "There was no conspiracy. There was no political pressure. Nobody from any organization, including the White House or the CIA, ever contacted me. We simply approached it as we would any other case of that nature." His office was swamped by a huge case load at the time, Wampler adds, otherwise the U.S. attorney's office would have gone "out of its way" to prosecute a test case for another federal agency. "We just couldn't do it in that case," he says, "so we asked them to resort to other means."
Wampler readily admits that he felt no special warmth for Castro. "As I recall, the threat by Castro's officials was that if we didn't press this case to the limit, they were going to interfere with American radio broadcasts," he says. "Well, we were imposed on a bit at the time by the Mariel boatlift thanks to Mr. Castro, and I wasn't disposed to be extorted on anything by his officials. That certainly colored my attitude, I admit. And I was not about to make any concessions to anybody who was being extorted by foreign officials."
Theories about Comandante David, who continued to broadcast sporadically throughout the Eighties, still abound. Clandestine radio expert John Santosuosso and other short-wave enthusiasts even suggest the entire case against Gonzalez was fictitious, hatched by federal agencies and Cuban exile groups so that the real Comandante David could continue broadcasting without government interference. "They're not still saying it was Jose Gonzalez, are they?" asks Santosuosso. "Gonzalez is as close to being Comandante David as I am. That was all a big lie to keep Anglos guessing who the real David was." Cuban exiles who knew Gonzalez scoff at theories that he wasn't Comandante David; some even say they sat in the same room with him while he broadcast. Ofilia Gonzalez says her husband, who died of cancer this past year, was indeed the comandante. He never acknowledged his dual identity, she explains, because he was afraid his admission would endanger his family. She has kept all his radio equipment and the tapes of his broadcasts.
"Commander David is definitely part of history," says the FCC's James McKinney. "That case gave us considerable amounts of concern. It was the first time we ran into that kind of political judgment as to what would or would not be prosecuted with these clandestine folks."
It would not be the last time.
Power is slipping from [Fidel and Raul Castro's] hands. It now is a question of weeks and months, not years. The liberating revolution of the Cuban people comes with the unstoppable force of the march of history, and with all the push of the reasons and anxiousness restrained during a long night of 32 years of injustice, lies, and terror.
Huber Matos, Sr., broadcasting on La Voz del CID, October 1990
In Venezuela in 1980, after twenty years in Cuban prisons, Huber Matos formed a political exile group called Cuba Independiente y Democratica. At one time a commander in Castro's rebel army, Matos had been jailed for counterrevolutionary activities; now he had returned with a vengeance. Not long after the charges against Jose Gonzalez were dismissed, Matos's group began La Voz del CID. A far more ambitious project than Comandante David's shoestring operation, La Voz del CID broadcast on a veritable network of five stations. Two signals were beamed from small transmitters in the U.S. - one in a mobile van, the other in an office trailer in West Miramar - the other three from licensed, commercial short-wave stations Radio Clarin in the Dominican Republic and Voz del Tachira in Venezuela.
In its various guises, La Voz del CID signed on using famous names from Cuban history - Jose A. Echeverria, Antonio Maceo, Antonio Guiteras, Ignacio Agramonte, Maximo Gomez, and later, Frank Pais - with as many as three of them on different frequencies simultaneously broadcasting news, commentary, music, political satire, and the requisite calls for sabotage and mayhem. But in September 1982, the FCC cracked down, catching the mobile transmitter at work at an old pig farm west of the Doral Country Club.
Matos was a popular figure around the Reagan White House, and when the FCC fined CID $2000 for broadcasting without a license, he complained vociferously. Quoted in the Miami Herald as saying the action only helped Castro and "his Russian masters," Matos bolstered his rhetoric by sending the FCC a copy of a letter President Reagan had written CID, dated nearly a month after CID's stations were shut down. "You have my best wishes and encouragement for progress in your work," the letter read. Still, the fine was paid, and CID moved its operations off United States turf. After buying licensed time, and broadcasting clandestinely in Central and South America, in 1984 CID purchased a powerful, 50,000-watt transmitter, which began beaming its signal from an undisclosed location, calling itself Camilo
"Donations," says Angel D'Fana, CID's program director, when asked how the radio station meets the demands of its obviously high budget. About rumors the group receives CIA money, his only comment is, "We wish." The CIA and the State Department aren't talking, but CID now is represented in Washington by lobbyist Elliott Abrams, former assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs under Ronald Reagan.
La Voz del CID's Dade headquarters are two houses in a quiet residential neighborhood, on Southwest 37th Terrace at 100th Avenue. One single-story residence has been converted into a maze of passageways and offices, with two production studios where most of the network's programming is taped (the group owns another studio in Costa Rica), and even a small newsroom where staff members scan the Agence France-Presse news wire, monitor radio receivers, and type copy into lap-top computers.
Across the street, the front door of another house opens into administrative activity, with secretaries scrambling from fax to phone outside the office of Huber Matos, Jr., in which the most striking decoration is a poster of CID's 50,000-watt Camilo Cienfuegos radio tower. "Our radio programs are one of the most important things we do," says Matos, spouting the party line. "It's how we can make our views known, how we can inform the people still in Cuba." In 1988 the group even announced plans to broadcast clandestine television programming into Cuba from a 50-foot fishing boat anchored offshore. The FCC warned them not to try.
Clandestine or not, La Voz del CID broadcasts some of the slickest, strongest programming on short wave. Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos croons between reports about the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Comedians and pundits punctuate commentary about recession in Latin America. Program highlights have included an ongoing baseball sketch that featured "Los Yanquis" against "Los Rojos" in a contrived political "game," complete with canned crowd sound effects. The announcer, speaking with a guajiro (hillbilly) accent, pointed out in 1988 that then-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who used to play for Los Yanquis, was traded to Los Rojos, where he was slated to play left field. Los Rojos, needless to say, never managed to win a game.
In July 1984, FBI agents armed with shotguns raided a barn near Chekika State Recreation Area in South Dade. Inside they found a sophisticated commercial transmitter with no manufacturer's identification numbers. Once again, big bucks were at work. This time it turned out to be the clandestine station Radio Mambi, the voice of the Junta Patriotica Cubana. ("Mambi" is the Indian name given nineteenth-century Cuban independence fighters; it was the name of the prerevolutionary Cuban station from which much of Castro's Radio Rebelde staff was drawn, and, since October 1985, has been the moniker of licensed station WAQI-AM 710 in Miami.)
Heading the junta was another exile leader, Manuel Antonio "Tony" de Varona, who had been prime minister of Cuba under Carlos Prio Socarras, and who had led Prio's "Autenticos," the Authentic Revolutionary Cuban Party. Varona had been exiled by Batista for his role in a September 1957 military mutiny at Cienfuegos, but in the waning days of the dictator's rule, he led a CIA-backed airborne invasion force on December 28, 1958.
At that time Varona was seen by the U.S. government as a strong alternative to Castro: he was anti-Batista, anti-communist, politically legitimate, and had not been implicated in the corruption of the Prio government. The invasion, however, was a failure, his force stranded in rural Camaguey as Batista fled Cuba on New Year's Eve and Castro prepared for his triumphant march into Havana.
In the summer of 1960, Varona's CIA-backed Democratic Revolutionary Rescue Organization began clandestinely airing daily three-hour anti-Castro programs from a cabin cruiser off the coast of Cuba. These Radio Cuba Independiente programs were taped in studios in Miami, then beamed to select areas on the island. Now, in 1984, Varona had signed on clandestinely once again, broadcasting from a barn in the east Everglades. The FCC fined the Cuban Patriotic Junta $1000, but reduced the charge to $750 when the group agreed to donate its transmitter to an undisclosed Central American organization and support the establishment of Radio Marti.
The most beautiful sight that can be seen in a tobacco growing zone is a curing house full of tobacco - and burning away like a torch. If the Russians want cigars, let them grow (tobacco) themselves. Sabotage and assaults!
Dr. Diego Medina, broadcasting on La Voz de Alpha 66, May 1988
Late in Jimmy Carter's presidential term, as U.S.-Cuban relations worsened, the Miami airwaves became increasingly crowded and local residents grumbled more and more about static on their radios and their TV screens. Licensed radio operators groused, too, and the Cuban government fired off complaint after official complaint, hinting it might interfere with commercial stations in the United States unless something were done.
Fidel Castro filed a grievance with the United Nations, which issued a formal reprimand, the first time the U.S. government had ever been cited for violating international regulations of the airwaves, something the FCC considered an "international embarrassment," says the agency's James McKinney. "We took great pride in stringent compliance with international regulations," McKinney says. "Those were the kinds of complaints we were continuously pounding them to issue to the Soviet Union and Cuba for causing broadcast interference."
In early 1980, after nearly twenty years of buying occasional time and appearing in guest spots on licensed Miami stations, La Voz de Alpha 66 appeared regularly on short wave, beginning an ingenious, often slapstick clandestine radio operation, one that would have poorly funded, spit-and-baling-wire broadcasters dodging the FCC for nearly a decade.
Diego Medina, a young Cuban army doctor, arrived in Miami in 1963, after spending eleven months in the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana. Medina already was a founding member of the Alpha 66 Revolutionary Cuban Organization, a violent anti-Castro group formed in 1961 by Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, leader of the Escambray guerrillas in the anti-Batista struggle and an anti-Castro conspirator after the revolution. (In 1965, Gutierrez returned to Cuba to organize guerrilla activity, and was captured. He was released about three years ago and now lives in Miami.) "Alpha 66" is derived from the code name for the group's first commando action - Alpha - and the number of members who attended the organization's inaugural meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1961.
Although he knew nothing about media campaigns, Medina was given the title of propaganda chief. "I realized it was something you study in school, something you could spend a lifetime learning," the 59-year-old physician says. "So I just started reading everything I could, everything I could find on the subject." Out of these studies came Alpha's trademark radio programs of news and commentary punctuated by "commercials" - the notorious arengas calling for lawlessness, destruction, and sabotage. According to Medina, Alpha 66 was encouraged by Comandante David's success, and began to use Jose Gonzalez's transmitter to broadcast its 30-minute short-wave radio programs in 1980.
With the help of other Alpha 66 members, Medina and his wife, Sara Martinez Castro, recorded the 30-minute shows in a small production studio in Alpha's dilapidated Little Havana office. While Jose Gonzalez tangled with federal authorities, Alpha 66 began broadcasting nightly, from 9:00 to 9:30 p.m., using two World War II-era short-wave transmitters. A battered, 250-watt U.S. Army Signal Corps surplus transmitter was permanently installed at the home of one Alpha member, linked by cable to a directional antenna on the roof. Over the Signal Corps label on the four-foot-high transmitter was an Alpha sticker that read, "Contra el Comunismo: Verguenza" (Against Communism: Dignity). Another, identical transmitter rode in a van with Medina, who would drive to an Alpha member's house, plug into an outdoor outlet, and beam his signal through makeshift, 60-foot wire antennas stretched between rooftop television poles and tree branches. "It was pretty crude, but it worked," Medina recalls. "It sure got to Fidel."
In March 1982 the FCC shut down La Voz del Alpha 66 and fined the organization $2250 for operating a station without a license. But within a year, Alpha 66 was back on the air, transmitting from the Northwest 29th Street home of Andres Nazario Sargen, the group's secretary general.
Again the FCC temporarily silenced Alpha's radio voice, this time in August 1983. And again the group's persistence and zeal remained undampened. They continued to broadcast their programs, sometimes directly from their office on Southwest 22nd Avenue, threading an antenna wire through a hole in the ceiling and up to the roof. The vehement arengas that sought the destruction of the Cuban economy echoed down the short passageway and through a broad meeting room, past the hundreds of pictures lining the walls: snapshots of Alpha martyrs posing stiffly for the lens, photos of group members in their guerrilla gear grinning in the Florida bush, caricatures of Castro being pestered by an Alpha mosquito.
Then Medina came up with another idea. He mounted a collapsible, 30-foot ladder on top of his 1978 Ford van, purchased a lead ball at a hardware store, and rigged a counterweight so he could flip the ladder upward. To the top of the ladder he attached two plastic-coated antenna wires that could be extended downward in an upside-down V when the ladder was extended. Two cement-filled plastic milk jugs held the antenna wires taut. "Five minutes and I was ready to go," says Medina.
Inside the van was a gas-powered generator and a 1000-watt Southern Bell surplus transmitter purchased for $30,000 at an auction. Shutting off his headlights and disconnecting his brake lights as soon as he hit the rural dirt roads, Medina cruised the desolate eastern edges of the Everglades, places he code-named "El Laguito" (The Little Lake), "El Canaveral" (The Cane Field), "Los Piratas" (The Pirates) - because it was so remote it required a "treasure" map to find - and "Fin del Mundo" (End of the World). Searching the transmitter's dials with a tiny penlight, Medina broadcast on a frequency of 6666.6 kilohertz, unaware that he was infringing on part of a range of short-wave bands reserved by the FCC for aviation safety communications. "They obviously chose the frequency because of their name, Alpha 66, but they were using a restricted frequency in addition to being unlicensed," says John Theimer, engineer in charge of the FCC Miami field office. "That's a no-no."
By 1988 Medina had perfected his mobile method, and Alpha 66's programming began to virtually boom over the airwaves. Radio hobbyists immediately noticed a change. "Something is definitely up with this long-running anti-Castro clandestine," reads an entry in the July 1988 issue of the Association of Clandestine Radio Enthusiasts' newsletter, The Ace. "It is obvious they have a new transmitter."
Broadcast on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, at first for half an hour and then for an hour, Alpha programs were now reaching Cuba, loud and clear. And someone else was listening, too. In November 1988, the FCC's Powder Springs, Georgia, monitoring station, one of thirteen scattered across the United States and Puerto Rico, picked up the Spanish-language broadcasts. Soon all thirteen FCC monitoring stations had homed in on the signal, narrowing down its location to somewhere in South Florida. But after months of searching, Miami agents had not been able to track down the source; Medina, their target, was moving around too much.
Finally, on March 3, 1989, with the help of experts sent from Atlanta and Norfolk, Virginia, FCC engineers found Diego Medina's van broadcasting from a wooded area just west of Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah Gardens. (The engineers said they could see the ladder/antenna poking up over the trees across the parking lot of a nearby shopping center.) On March 6 agents detected the same van broadcasting from a rural area near Southwest 172nd Street and 167th Avenue. The agents tailed Medina to his house, then ran a check on the Ford's license plate.
On the night of May 22, as Medina broadcast from his brother's Homestead-area ranch, federal marshals moved in. "In all those places in the country, you learn the nocturnal movement," says Medina. "In that place, nobody ever passes by. I knew the nocturnal movement around that ranch."
On that particular night, a lot of people were passing by. "I notice two cars go by there, and two cars over here, and one over there, and three over here, way off in the distance," Medina continues. "I think, `Damn, this is strange.' And they're getting closer each time. `Damn,' I say, `this is for me.'" Moments later, as Medina lowered his ladder, the agents arrived.
"Where are the others? Where are the others? Where are the weapons?" the agents yelled at Medina, pinning him down on the ground.
"What others? What weapons?" asked Medina. "There are no others. No arms."
"What do you mean?" the irate agents countered. "Don't move."
"How can I move? You're on top of me with a gun to my head," Medina replied.
Medina and Alpha 66 were issued an injunction ordering them to cease clandestine broadcasting. They complied, and currently buy time on licensed stations - evangelical station WHRI in Noblesville, Indiana, and Radio Mambi in Miami. Medina expresses no regrets about breaking the law. "If Washington and Jefferson hadn't broken the law," he says, "this country would still be part of England." But times have changed, he asserts, alluding to the ready availability of legal airtime. "Why should I go to jail when we can buy time legally?" he asks. "All we care about is getting our message to Cuba.
"Besides, I think this time they'd throw me in jail if I kept it up," he adds. "But we had them fooled for a while. They looked at the van and said, `Who would think of this? Nobody would think of this. Only a genius would think of this.' That's what you have to be to do this - a genius. Or half-crazy, like me."
Fidel Castro is going to have to realize that things have changed. He doesn't have his friends in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union any more. Things are different now.
-Jorge Mas Canosa, broadcasting on La Voz de la Fundacion, October 1990
In the fall of 1989, the Cuban American National Foundation, whose lobbying helped establish Radio Marti, commenced broadcasting its own short-wave programming, La Voz de la Fundacion, buying airtime first on Radio Clarin in the Dominican Republic and later on Indiana station WHRI - which uses two 100,000-watt short-wave transmitters to simultaneously broadcast programs to Europe and Latin America. The news, interviews, commentary, editorials, and music began as one-hour morning broadcasts that repeated in the evening, but now have expanded to two hours in the morning and three at night, after Alpha 66 programming.
"Marti cannot carry a specific agenda for any political group. That's the way it was created and that's the way it should be done," says Domingo Moreira, a CANF director and a member of the group's executive committee. "We do have a specific political agenda and a specific message that differs substantially from what Marti can do. That's primarily pointing out that the only thing that stands between the Cuban people and freedom are Fidel and Raul Castro."
Whether its sources are licensed, and whether its broadcasts attract an audience in Cuba, the network's efforts have not been well received by the Castro government. Late this past year, citing broadcast interference, La Voz de la Fundacion switched frequencies on Radio Clarin, from 11700 to 9950 kilohertz. Castro complained to the Dominican government, claiming - falsely, as it turned out - Cuba had registered that frequency for its own broadcasts. Radio Clarin shut down its short-wave transmitter.
Commercial radio stations have not been spared the wrath of Castro, who regularly jams them with powerful transmissions from his own networks. In Marathon, in the Florida Keys, Radio Mambi wrestles with Radio Rebelde, the major Cuban network, for 710 on the AM dial. And the Cuban government currently jams Radio Marti's 50,000-watt AM transmission with Radio Taino, a tourist-information station believed to be broadcasting from a 300,000-watt transmitter. This is said to be a retaliation against the embattled TV Marti, which began beaming into Cuba earlier this year.
"The anti-Castro situation is not totally unlike selling automobiles," says John Santosuosso. "The little guys have tended to give way to the bigger guys, and the few that are left are big, well-financed outlets." These days, he adds, it's hard to tell the difference between clandestine and nonclandestine transmissions. "It's a real gray area, especially when the licensed guys are broadcasting pretty much the same stuff the clandestines were, just more professionally. All of it bothers Castro.