According to Voice of America spokesman Joseph O’Connell, TV Marti – off the air since Jan. 16 when the transmission balloon fell into the Florida Everglades – will be out until the “payload and electronics” can be retrieved.

TV Marti, the U.S. government’s controversial programming venture into Cuba, had been transmitting since March via a transmitter floating in an aerostat balloon tethered off the Florida Keys. The tether snapped, allowing the balloon to drift into the Everglades, per O’Connell. U.S. Coast Guard helicopters are attempting to retrieve the equipment.

Prior to the accident, TV Marti was broadcasting from 3:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. and had plans to increase its hours. Programming has shifted in recent months from U.S. soap operas and “sports shorts” to more “Cuban public affairs-oriented shows,” O’Connell said.

The Cuban government has jammed the TV Marti signal from the outset, resulting in limited viewing in downtown Havana.

Congress grudgingly endorsed TV Marti in August by allocating to it $16 million for 1991. However, criticism of the service has continued (especially by the National Assn. of Broadcasters, which fears Cuba’s Fidel Castro will retaliate by jamming U.S. broadcast stations).

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a critic of TV Marti, put out a statement jokingly suggesting that the balloon “remain in the Everglades and become a part of the National Park system where it would be of much greater value to the American people.”

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