Daniel C. Walsh. An Air War with Cuba: The United States Radio Campaign against Castro. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. viii + 303 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-6506-4.
Reviewed by Scott Bertinetti (U.S. Army War College)
Published on H-War (October, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Published four years before the 2015 political changes to US-Cuban relations, this book sheds light on the factors that prolonged animosity between the two nations. Daniel C. Walsh introduces readers to the United States’ attempts to influence the people of Cuba over the airwaves. Two stories emerge in An Air War with Cuba. The first details US broadcasting efforts in Cuba and the American struggle to measure the effectiveness of those messages. The second is the rise of the Cuban exile community in the United States and the power of the anti-Castro lobby within American politics.
Much of the book explores US broadcasting efforts, through the organization known as Radio Martí, to destabilize Fidel Castro’s control of Cuba. Radio Martí, created during the Reagan administration, was “named after the 19th century poet and patriot Jose Martí, who helped inspire Cuba’s drive for independence from Spain” (p. 51). The radio station operated under the nonprofit Radio Broadcasting to Cuba, Incorporated. As a nonprofit organization, it had less government oversight than the United States Information Agency or the Voice of America, and instead operated more like Radio Free Europe. The organization benefited from the ability to receive donations from independent corporations. At the same time, as Walsh indicates, the lack of oversight created administrative and programming challenges that diluted Radio Martí’s messages. That, and the successful signal jamming by the Cuban government, limited Radio Martí’s effectiveness. Radio Martí’s broadcasts continued despite reports from the US Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that its messages were not influencing Cuban behavior.
Walsh ties the story together by examining the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and its untiring efforts to ensure that Radio Martí remained on the air. CANF focused its efforts on “influencing public opinion and governments” (p. 50). The organization succeeded in uniting the competing exiled Cuban communities in the United States by advocating the removal of Castro. According to Walsh, CANF exerted its influence through the leadership of Jorge Mas Canosa, a onetime Castro supporter and Bay of Pigs participant who became an ardent foe of the regime. Canosa’s influence enabled a significant bloc of voters and financial contributors to ensure that US policy maintained pressure on Castro. The author argues that CANF and its influence fractured with Canosa’s death and the rise of second-generation Cuban Americans who advocated a more moderate approach to Cuba.
Walsh draws on a number of sources in making his arguments. He relies on Florida newspapers, particularly the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel, to substantiate important insights. Other primary sources include US government documents from the Library of Congress, documents from the Government Accounting Office, and congressional voting records. Walsh does not use sources from the Republic of Cuba.
Ultimately, An Air War with Cuba is not an all-encompassing book on US information operations or propaganda efforts against Cuba. It is a successful study of efforts to influence change in Cuba via broadcasting. Simultaneously, Walsh depicts the rise of the exiled Cuban community using the USt political system to advocate their views. The book will be particularly valuable to communication professionals and students interested in understanding audiences and measuring the effectiveness of messages. Walsh does not end the book with a conclusion. Instead, chapter 13, “Change or More of the Same?,” concludes with the 2011 challenges presented by “an established Cuban American organization that favored a more moderate position” (p. 214). The vague closure leaves open the opportunity to continue to build on his study with a look into the continued thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States. The recent change in political relations between the two countries may enable access to Cuban archives that will add further light to what, at this stage, remains a one-sided story.
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Scott Bertinetti. Review of Walsh, Daniel C., An Air War with Cuba: The United States Radio Campaign against Castro.
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