BY NANCY SAN MARTIN | Knight Ridder Newspapers
The U.S. military aircraft broadcasting TV and Radio Marti’s signals to Cuba will not be diverted to Iraq, at least until a replacement plane is bought and equipped, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
“The president has made the decision that we would do what we could to break through the information blockade imposed by the Castro regime,’’ the official said after El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald reported concerns raised by Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that the Pentagon’s C-130 Commando Solo plane could be sent to the Middle East.
“As far as we know ... until the permanent platform is available, the C-130 is flying,’’ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity surrounding the issue.
The official added that negotiations are under way with legislators to win approval for President Bush’s $10 million budget request for the purchase of the plane.
“No one presumed that the battle for the $10 million was going to be a slam-dunk,’’ the senior official said. “At this point, the administration is working on that issue. I remain confident that we’re going to get the money.’‘
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., also expressed optimism: “The president is fully committed to securing a permanent platform for Radio and TV Marti,’’ he said. “And I am not aware of anyone in the administration challenging the president on issues where he has clearly made his intent known, such as this one.’‘
The moving signals broadcast by the C-130 as it flies off the Cuban coast are supposed to make it more difficult for the Cuban government to jam the signal, previously broadcast from a stationary site in the Florida Keys.
Since the flights began in August 2004, 39 Marti broadcasts have been transmitted to Cuba, the State Department official said.