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Just as the detractors predicted, TV Marti, America's latest effort to needle Fidel Castro, is a disaster. The Cuban leader has successfully blocked TV transmission of U.S. propaganda into Cuba. Not only has TV Marti been a $7 million bust, but Castro has used it as an excuse to turn giant transmitters toward the United States and block commercial radio broadcasts.

Critics, even some within the State Department, predicted that TV Marti was doomed. Several members of Congress said the project, by Voice of America, would unnecessarily aggravate the relations between the United States and Cuba. Some even said beaming TV Marti across international boundaries to an unwilling Cuba violated international broadcasting laws.So why did the federal government do it anyway? The answer lies in the enormous political clout of Cuban-Americans and the leading group of exiles, the Cuban American National Foundation.

Based in Miami, the CANF is a powerful lobby with plenty of money for members of Congress in campaign contributions. CANF's flamboyant leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, personally hands out the campaign donations like candy through CAMF's political action committees.

Mas successfully lobbied for the creation of Radio Marti broadcasts to Cuba in 1982, despite the objections of then-Secretary of State George Shultz. Supporters of Radio Marti talked it up as a great success, but congressional critics said Cubans paid the price. Castro retaliated at home by cracking down on political dissidents.

CANF's tightest grip is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Dante Fascell, D-Fla. Fascell's district in Miami is the stronghold of Cuban exiles, and he has steadfastly backed their cause. He told us he has always been solidly anti-Castro, even before CANF became a force.

Through Fascell, CANF has even been able to cow one of its traditional enemies, Rep. Mervyn Dymally, D-Calif. He thinks the United States ought to mind its own business and leave Castro alone. Dymally vehemently opposed Radio Marti eight years ago, calling it "an outrage, a total scandal." He argued that "the American public ought to know that we are wasting money disrupting other people's lives. Cuba is a sovereign nation." But that was then and this is now. Dymally chairs the Foreign Affairs subcommittee that authorized TV Marti, and when it came up for a vote, he didn't oppose it.

The influence of Cuban exiles extends all the way to the White House. Mas is a major fund-raiser for the Republicans, and sources say he boasts about his friendship with "George and Barbara."

Mas wants to be the first president of a democratic Cuba after the overthrow of Castro.