updated 2/26/2004 6:49:14 PM ET 2004-02-26T23:49:14

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

Bush signed an order to expand the government’s authority to prevent the unauthorized departure of ships from U.S. waters bound for Cuba. He said U.S. authorities would be empowered to inspect any vessel in the territorial waters of the United States and take other steps if necessary.

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 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.”

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

Bush said that over the past year, Cuba has taken a series of steps to destabilize relations with the United States, such as threatening to rescind migration accords with the United States and to close the U.S. interests section in Havana. Further, he said that Cuba’s top officials have repeatedly said that the United States intended to invade Cuba, despite explicit denials from the United States.

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

Bush 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 against 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,” Bush said. Castro’s government may use such cash to support terrorist activities, he said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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