Skaggs, a Colorado Democrat who this past year incensed Miami's Cuban-American community when he stumbled into the role of TV Marti's most vocal critic, says Duffey is merely succumbing to President Clinton's wishes for TV Marti while disregarding the mandate given him by Congress. "Joe works for Bill, and Bill said we're going to fund this," says Skaggs. Charging that Duffey did not act in "good faith," he adds, "I think the administration is captive to its own political commitments in Florida and has to play out its commitment to its illogical conclusion."
Joe Duffey initially agreed to an interview with New Times but subsequently withdrew, his staffers explained, because of scheduling problems. Attempts by USIA officials to set up an interview with Richard Lobo, the current director of the Office for Cuban Broadcasting (which oversees both TV Marti and Radio Marti), also proved fruitless.
Kimberly Marteau, chief spokeswoman for the USIA, points out that while panelists found TV Marti incapable of reaching a "substantial" number of people, they didn't state that the number of people reached was not "sufficient" to continue. That decision, she asserts, was up to Duffey, and the compromise bill struck last year in Congress allows him to set the standard for viewership as low as he wants. "It has been found, not just by this president, but by previous presidents, that these broadcasts to Cuba are in the best long-term interests of the United States," says Marteau. "It's the Castro government which is denying its people access to TV Marti."
Marteau says Duffey is recommending a host of changes, including streamlining the operation of TV Marti and Radio Marti in order to save taxpayers about four million dollars. Duffey also believes the station might be made more accessible, Marteau adds, if its hours of operation were altered. (The panel further suggested switching TV Marti from VHF to UHF, at a cost of more than one million dollars but with no guarantee Castro wouldn't be able to block that signal, too. Duffey reported that possibility is still under "active consideration.")
The battle now shifts to Congress, where the artillery bursts sound like an echo from 1993. "We need to keep TV Marti and improve it, not kill it and reward the Cuban dictatorship for the repression of its people and its interference with their right to accurate and objective information," trumpets Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who tangled with Skaggs on the House floor last summer. (The skirmish between the freshman Republican from Miami and the Colorado Democrat was chronicled in "Mr. Diaz-Balart Goes to Washington," a feature story published in New Times on July 14, 1993.)
Earlier this month, an Appropriations subcommittee in the House voted only $8.5 million (out of a requested $15 million) for Radio Marti and nothing whatsoever for TV Marti. Its Senate subcommittee counterpart, meanwhile, led by Democratic Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina (whose history of Marti loyalty was outlined in "Tales of the Limp Blimp," published in New Times on October 27 of last year), voted nearly $25 million for the two stations combined. Perhaps as soon as next month, a conference committee, which likely will include Skaggs and Hollings as well as other members of the House and Senate, will try to resolve the matter.
This time, Skaggs vows, there will be no compromise; no more advisory panels, no more studies, no more money. "TV Marti is dead," Skaggs declares. "Let's hold last rites for it and move on."
A spokesman for Hollings brushed aside that prediction. "Senator Hollings believes that to stop funding for TV Marti would be a propaganda victory for Fidel Castro," argues aide Andy Brack. "And he is not going to stand for giving the last Stalinist Communist a freebie.