Radio Marti, the Reagan administration's controversial radio service for Cuba, went on the air yesterday, and the Havana government retaliated immediately by suspending a 1984 immigration accord with the United States, imposing travel sanctions and denouncing the station as a "barefaced provocation."
In a communique, the Cuban government said it deplored the start- up of the station at a time when "many kinds of consultative steps have been taken to decrease current tension between the two countries" and that it was "ruining the basis for communications and relations" between Cuba and Cubans living in the United States.
With a buoyant "Buenos Dias, Cuba," the radio station opened its first broadcast with news of Cuba's reprisals against the station. It proceeded to transmit, in Spanish, 14 1/2 hours of news, features, anti-Castro commentary, soap operas, and periodic quotations from Jose Marti, the Cuban patriot for whom the station is named.
In Havana, the government announced that it has suspended the accord allowing 3,000 Cuban prisoners, many believed jailed for political reasons, to come to the United States each year and requiring Cuba to take back 2,746 "undesirables" who came here from the island nation in a 1980 boatlift and are now in U.S. prisons and mental institutions.
Cuban officials previously had billed the accord, signed in December, as a step toward improved relations with the Reagan administration, which has routinely denounced Cuba for its policies in Central America and Africa. The pact, the first between Cuba and the administration, also allowed 20,000 Cubans to immigrate to the United States each year.
The only prisoners freed under the accord arrived early yesterday at Miami International Airport -- three hours before the Cuban sanctions were imposed. They included 11 former prisoners and 17 family members.
The State Department said 201 "undesirables" had returned to Cuba since the accord.
The Havana government also suspended travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans except in "strictly humanitarian" cases, threatened to cease cooperating with U.S. efforts to apprehend hijackers, and proposed "to adopt additional measures in relation with the communications between the United States and Cuba."
"This will damage relations," said Anhel Pino, spokesman for the Cuban mission here. "We consider the transmissions of Radio Marti an aggression against Cuba and totally illegal."
The Federal Communications Commission said it had detected attempts by Cuba to jam the broadcast by transmitting a tone on AM 1180, the frequency of Radio Marti. But Cuban residents, according to news agency reports, reported picking up the broadcast clearly.
In Washington, administration officials said President Reagan was not surprised by the Cuban reprisals. They defended Radio Marti as a legal effort to provide news of Cuba to Cubans, much as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty transmit to Eastern Europe.
"It means breaking the [Cuban] regime's virtual monopoly on news and information, freedom of choice," State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said. "It means telling the Cuban people what is happening in Cuba and elsewhere, after years of propaganda and disinformation."
"If that [reprisals] is their reaction to the lawful . . . presentation of accurate, balanced, and objective news reports, then that speaks volumes for the Cuban government," White House spokesman Larry Speakes said.
U.S. officials expressed regret over the suspension of the immigration accord, and said they hope Cuba will reconsider.
Meanwhile, American radio broadcasters expressed concern over possible interference by Cuba with domestic radio stations. During congressional debate over Radio Marti two years ago, Cuban President Fidel Castro beamed broadcasts that interrupted stations as far away as Salt Lake City and the midwest.
In its communique, the Cuban government said it "reserves the right to make radio broadcasts directly to the United States in order to make known the points of view of Cuba about the problems of that country and its international policy."
Some officials said that this could mean Castro plans a Cuban version of Radio Marti rather than interference with internal U.S. broadcasts.
Interviews by news services in Havana turned up mixed reactions to the new station. Eduardo Rey, an elderly Cuban waiting outside a Havana tourist office for a ticket to Miami called Radio Marti "a stupidity," but added that "the reaction of our government seems as bad."
"I am really worried now," Rey told Reuter. "I got my visa under the terms of the treaty concluded last year and now I don't know if I'll get out."
Others complained that the travel and immigration sanctions will cause family heartache. The suspension of immigration could also cost Cuba considerable revenue brought into the country by travelers from the United States.
Meanwhile, Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), sponsor of the legislation that created Radio Marti, said yesterday that she received "thousands of calls" of congratulations from Cuban emigres in Miami. She said her constituents did not blame the station for the reprisals.
"That's their dictator's fault, not Radio Marti's," she said. "He's the one who cut them off from their family members. That'll outrage the people at Castro, not at the radio station."
Radio Marti, created by Congress in 1983, is an arm of the Voice of America, which is required by law to present unbiased reports. The White House had wanted the station to be independent of the VOA.
The first news broadcast contained 21 items ranging from the kidnaping of an Israeli soldier and a trial of dissidents in South Africa to the United Airlines strike in this country. The items were written and presented without commentary in the standard style of "hard news" radio broadcasts.