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HAVANA (Reuters) - Immersed in a nationwide battle against an outbreak of dengue fever, President Fidel Castro revived on Monday an old accusation against the United States of carrying out biological attacks against Cuba.
"I say to our people, I say it here, we have suffered dozens of biological attacks," Castro said in a television address on Cuba's massive campaign to eradicate a recent outbreak of the potentially fatal dengue fever.
Castro did not blame Washington for the current dengue problem, which has killed two and stricken hundreds but is now receding. But he said U.S. authorities were responsible for past attacks against Cuban tobacco, sugar and pigs.
Last year, Havana also blamed the United States for a disease that has destroyed 16,000 beehives, causing an estimated $2 million in lost honey output, since 1996.
In Monday's sometimes-rambling comments on state television, Castro particularly lashed out at the U.S. government's aid agency USAID, which he said was dedicated to spreading subversion in Cuba and backing corrupt elites elsewhere in Latin America.
"This is the famous agency, well-known in our country, very charitable, very humanitarian," he said sarcastically, after reading a media report of USAID's work in El Salvador, which is also fighting a dengue outbreak.
"We know 10 times more than them" about combating dengue, Castro said after a lengthy explanation of how Cuban authorities had managed to control the disease thanks to a massive public health campaign since early January.
"The most they (USAID) know about, really, is how to transport and develop viruses -- they did it for years -- and how to attack a country with viruses," he added.
USAID sets aside millions of dollars each year for anti-Castro groups in the United States, some of whom support local dissidents. But Washington denies illegal actions against Cuba.
For decades, Havana has been alleging chemical attacks by U.S. agents, sometimes speaking of planes spraying chemicals, or of individual travelers carrying germs. American officials generally ridicule those claims as fantasy and paranoia.
Further signaling a possible change in tone from recent conciliatory comments by Cuba's communist leaders toward its decades-old political foe, Castro promised a response soon to hostile comments in past days from a senior U.S. diplomat.
"There are some other little things to discuss here on the round-table, some public comments, some stupid things," he said in a more than two-hour speech on a nightly TV round-table program dedicating to promoting the Castro government's views.
"They waste their time completely every time they stupidly talk about waiting for change in Cuba ... and the hope, I don't know what, for the post-Castro era," he added.
The Cuban leader clearly was referring to a slew of recent public comments from Washington's chief envoy to Havana, Vicki Huddleston, who heads the U.S. diplomatic mission.
Huddleston has been countering speculation of a possible U.S.-Cuban rapprochement following cooperation over the use of the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, on Cuba's southeastern coast, for Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan.
She has said the Bush administration plans no changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba, including a four-decade-old economic embargo, unless the Castro government undertakes reforms including releasing political prisoners and allowing free speech.
On Cuba's dengue problem, which has been centered mainly on Havana, Castro said "the battle is being won" after a vast fumigation and clean-up drive since the start of the year, mobilizing thousands of workers, students and activists.
He noted Cuba's apparent greater success than other Latin American countries also fighting dengue, including Brazil, where 14 people have died this year. Cuba's previous worst dengue epidemic was in 1981 when 158 people died.
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