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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Reluctant Propagandist

Just in case you thought the U. S. government was finished fighting the war against communism, be warned: Joe Sampson is still express mailing features from Moscow to TV Marti, an American-sponsored television station that was set up to persuade Cubans that life really is better after socialism.


Sampson, the American bureau chief, cameraman, editor and general fix-it man for the independent Galaxy television company, arrived in Moscow last October, and has been producing upbeat television feature stories for TV Marti ever since.


The packages are designed to show those still living under Castro's regime that they would be happier if they got rid of him. Only problem is, the TV shows never reach Cuba.


"They have a 1, 200 foot antenna in Miami, and they beam pictures all the way to Chile from it", says Sampson. "But Castro has the whole island blocked, so Cubans never see TV Marti".


This does not unduly worry Sampson, who works for TV Marti not out of anti-Communist fervor, but because he is paid to.


"I have no feelings at all about it", says Sampson, 46. "There are good communists and there are bad communists, just like there are good and bad democrats". He says he is glad that at least his work is broadcast to other parts of Latin America.


"The idea is to show the positive side of life here", says Sampson, "to show people that even though the Russians are depressed, that at least they are not caged in, that they have the freedom to talk".


U. S. President Bill Clinton's budget cuts have meant that the funding for the stories has been reduced - Sampson is no longer sending out the 15 stories a month that he used to - but he says he's heard it may be due to pick up again.


When he is not filming happy Russians struggling on in the face of economic difficulties, Sampson is busy producing material for American Public Broadcasting Television network documentaries, or anyone else that will pay for his 24 years of television expertise.


He has just returned from Kamchatka and Khabarovsk, which he says he loved. "I could live in Khabarovsk", he said.


It comes as little surprise to learn that Sampson, a well-built, energetic man, is also very keen on physical fitness.


A track star in high school, Sampson is studying now to become a qualified personal fitness trainer, and will be accredited this summer.


"Before I came out here, I figured there wouldn't be much else to do in Moscow except study", he said.


Sampson, who gets up at 5: 30 A. M. to exercise, presently does a weekly spot on Radio Maximum called "Joe's Fitness".


His love for sports has encouraged him to establish contacts with the Veterans Athletic Association here. "They are a great bunch of guys", he says admiringly "I may compete with them next year, which would be funny, because I might run against Americans".


Sampson says he would very much like to be involved in helping the Olympic Committee here. "Sports is all falling apart here", he says, "and it's such a shame".


Sampson's positive attitude towards living amongst Russians is a product of his perception of Russians as "a really friendly people".


Although Russia is often portrayed as a racist country, Sampson, who is African-American, says he has not experienced any problems here, and that sometimes the color of his skin has even worked to his advantage.


"The communists at the rallies let me in, because it doesn't occur to them that I am American", he says, laughing. "They ask me where I'm from and I say, 'Cubano, Cubano'".


But he does not pretend that all aspects of being here are always pleasing.


"Patience. I never had any patience before I came here", says Sampson, "but you can't survive without it here".


He remembers how quickly he was able to cover the L. A. riots in the U. S.


"We did the story and were out in four hours", he says.


"Here, people are never on time, you have to bribe people under the table - it's all much more complicated".