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Testing Period Ends Today For TV Marti; Congress Awaits Report From Bush

White House seeks $16 million to keep station on the air through the end of fiscal year; doubts grow about its value

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RECENT Cuban exiles have testified to the strong impact on the island of five-year-old Radio Marti, the official United States broadcasts to communist Cuba. So television seemed like a ``natural escalation,'' says TV Marti director Antonio Navarro.

That escalation has quickly become a full-scale ``electronic war,'' in President Fidel Castro's phrase. After a three-month, $7.5-million test run, which ends today, reports are mixed about which side won.

President Bush is required to report to Congress today on how whether TV Marti has succeeded in delivering a clear, viewable signal to the Havana area.

His report becomes the basis for continuing TV Marti for the rest of the fiscal year, for another $16 million.

At best, watching TV Marti in Cuba is not easy. In the most skeptical views, it is impossible. This leads some analyst to question the value of the effort.

In addition, broadcasters in the United States are concerned that if TV Marti moves beyond its test period, the Cubans will retaliate by disrupting US channels as far away as Minneapolis.

The Cubans have worked vigorously to jam TV Marti's signal.

TV Marti commissioned a study polling tourists from Cuba at Miami International Airport last month and found 81 percent of the 543 people surveyed had tried to tune in the signal and 28 percent had succeeded for five minutes or longer. Of those who had succeeded, 57 percent could remember specific programs.

Other casual indicators show a starker picture. Wayne Smith of Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies and a former chief of the US Interests Section in Havana, visited Cuba in April and tried to tune in the signal in Havana, as well as in various locations in Matanzas province. He failed.

After talking to a number of friends in Cuba, he says: ``It is absolutely not seen.''

Ernesto Betancourt, who was director of Radio Marti until March, says: ``All the information I get is that it is not successful.''

Graciela Cruz-Taura, a University of Miami historian and Cuban exile, has a friend in Matanzas Province who has seen a clear signal, another further from Havana who can't get it.

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