HAVANA — Cuban President Fidel Castro turned up the verbal volume Tuesday in his battle of the airwaves against the U.S. government's TV Marti, warning of stronger electronic countermeasures that experts say could disrupt radio broadcasts throughout the eastern United States.
The Cuban leader, whose government has jammed every TV Marti telecast since the test transmissions began eight days ago, warned that "we have the right to give new responses if this situation continues. . . . We can't give up our right to broadcast to the whole U.S."
Without being specific about what new responses he had in mind, Castro expressed regret that the new measures, if undertaken, would affect U.S. broadcasters.
His remarks left little doubt that he referred to Cuba's acknowledged ability to focus a powerful radio transmitter that would disrupt radio broadcasts from Iowa to the East and South.
"We are not going to confine ourselves to television only," Castro said.
Recognition of this potential for radio interference has left many American broadcasters feeling lukewarm toward President Bush's call for their support in pressing ahead with TV Marti. The congressionally funded station plans to transmit news and variety programs for a few hours each day for the next 90 days as a test of the feasibility of regular programming.
Its signals are beamed from a tethered helium balloon over Cudjoe Key, Fla., about 100 miles from the Cuban coast.
"This problem is not our fault," Castro said. "We did not create the situation. We are not responsible for it. . . . We have no desire to affect U.S. broadcasters, because it's not their fault either. But we can't allow the U.S. to broadcast to our country when we can't broadcast to the U.S. This is not a reprisal. We are simply explaining our right as we see it."
Despite the toughened rhetoric, however, Castro indicated that for the time being, Cuba will be satisfied with the virtually total success it is having with its present, relatively low-powered jamming campaign.
He made his remarks during a 2-hour, 15-minute press conference for 110 foreign journalists, half of them Americans, who were hastily invited to Cuba over the weekend to hear him and to be shown some of the island country's jamming facilities.
According to officials who took the journalists on a tour of some of the facilities Monday, the jamming signals are generated by a number of transmitters broadcasting from land and ship and from helicopters. An officer said the electronic countermeasures helicopters, flying with outrigger-like antennae, had previously been used to disrupt the surveillance signals.
Castro called Washington "cynical" and "foolish" for persisting with what he called "aggression against a sovereign country."
"We thought perhaps the U.S. was looking for a pretext to start a military confrontation against Cuba," Castro said, vowing that Cuba would make any such action so costly as to be foolhardy.
Asked how he would respond to a "surgical strike" against Cuba's jamming facilities, Castro replied: "In that case we would do as much damage to the surgeon as possible, make the surgeon pay.
"They cannot tease us with surgical operations because we too can create surgical operations," Castro said, suggesting for the first time that in the event of military conflict, Cuba would try to hit U.S. targets.
Castro expressed particular bitterness because the United States named its station after Cuban national hero Jose Marti, who was staunchly anti-American.
"It's as if we named a whorehouse somewhere after George Washington," he cried. "Can they be that dumb?"