US-Cuban war of words may escalate onto airwaves

A war of angry words is going on between Havana and Washington these days -- and there are hints that it could soon escalate into even more bitter propaganda warfare.

Both sides are already gearing up for such warfare.

Both Cuba and the United States are studying the use of expanded radio broadcasts and other electronic means to get across their messages. The US, for example, is considering the establishment of a powerful radio station that would specifically broadcast reports to Cuba about conditions on the island.

The Cubans have similar plans to load up the airwaves with dozens of radio stations beamed at the US, and they have recently begun operation of several high-powered radio stations on frequencies that interfere with the broadcast channels of many US stations.

All this comes as relations between Cuba and the US reach what some Cubanologists term a new low.

Reacting bitterly to a stridently anti-US speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro this week, for example, the US quickly denied visas to Cuban officials invited to take part in a congressional seminar next week in Washington.

That Castro speech Sept. 15 was peppered with charges that the Reagan administration is "genocidal" and "covered in blood."

In many respects, the speech was vintage Castro -- full of bombast and rhetoric. But his vehemence and the depth of his hostility toward the US shocked even Cubanologists accustomed to his strong language.

There was, however, little surprise that Wayne Smith, the US diplomat who heads Washington's interests section in Havana, dramatically walked out on the speech.

Dr. Castro's speech clearly angered Washington as few Cuban words or actions have done in the past.

"He needs to have his mouth taped, sealed permanently," said one administration spokesman.

There is also deep bitterness here over recent charges by Dr. Castro that the US is responsible for a fever currently afflicting hundreds of thousands of Cubans.

The US unreservedly denies the charge, suggests that Cuban soldiers returning from service in Angola probably carried the disease, and points out that Washington and the Pan American Health Organization actually offered Cuba various medicines for treatment of the disease weeks before Dr. Castro first made the charge.

The Cuban leader ignored Washington's denial and repeated the charge.

The consequence of all this angry rhetoric is likely to be a further slippage in Washington-Havana relations, which in the extreme could lead to an end of the limited diplomatic ties set up between Havana and Washington during the Carter presidency.

Such an eventuality is regarded as unlikely at this moment, but the propaganda barrage from both sides ends any speculation that the current diplomatic tie might be strengthened in the months ahead.

The more likely result, in the view here, is an all-out radio propaganda war. Such a battle would not simply be one of words, but also one of technology.

Already radio interference from Cuba has become a serious problem for many radio stations in parts of the US. And there are strong hints that Cuba plans to set up superstations at power levels far above those permitted by international treaty.

Transmitters in Cuba could well beam signals 3,000 miles or more during nighttime operation, when radio waves travel further. Such signals could interfer with hundreds of stations in the US and Canada.

Some 20 south Florida stations are faced with such problems because of new Cuban stations operating on the same or adjacent frequencies.

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