- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush tightened U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba yesterday, saying that Fidel Castro’s government has taken steps to destabilize relations with the United States over the past year.

Mr. Bush signed an order to expand the government’s authority to prevent the unauthorized departure of ships bound for Cuba from U.S. waters.

He said U.S. authorities would be empowered to inspect any vessel in U.S. territorial waters and take other steps if necessary.

Mr. Bush’s order would tighten enforcement of the U.S. embargo on Cuba by making it harder for unauthorized vessels to enter Cuban territorial waters.

He said Mr. Castro’s government “has over the course of its 45-year existence repeatedly used violence and the threat of violence to undermine U.S. policy interests. This same regime continues in power today, and has since 1959 maintained a pattern of hostile actions contrary to U.S. policy interests.”

Mr. Bush’s move is likely to be welcomed by anti-Castro forces in the United States, particularly in Florida, a key state in Mr. Bush’s re-election strategy.

The president noted that the United States had warned Cuba on May 8 that any political moves that resulted in a mass migration would be viewed as a hostile act.

He directed Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to develop new rules to keep “unauthorized U.S. vessels” out of Cuban territorial waters.

The president said the passage of American boats into Cuban waters could bring injury or death to anyone on the vessels, “due to the potential use of excessive force, including deadly force, against them by the Cuban military.”

Crossing into Cuban territorial waters is already a violation of U.S. law for unauthorized vessels, he said.

Moreover, such boats and ships bring money and commerce into Cuba, which runs contrary to U.S. policy aiming to “deny resources to the repressive Cuban government,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Castro’s government may use such cash to support terrorist activities, he added.

Mr. Bush cited long-standing U.S. grievances against Cuba, calling it a state sponsor of terrorism and saying that it has demonstrated “a ready and reckless willingness to use excessive force” against U.S. and Cuban citizens.

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