WASHINGTON, May 14 — While Jimmy Carter called for easing sanctions against Cuba, President Bush said today that he would hew to a tough line when he speaks Monday on his policy toward Cuba.
Officials said that Mr. Bush would speak at a fund-raiser in Miami and possibly to the Organization of American States in Washington, and that he would announce measures to strengthen the economic pressure and political isolation of President Fidel Castro's government.
The measures include stepping up enforcement of travel restrictions, promoting aid to dissidents and strengthening American government broadcasts of news and opinion, according to an official who follows the policy.
The United States also plans to ask European and Latin American nations, particularly Mexico and Spain, to help build support for Cuban critics of the government.
Administration officials denied that Mr. Bush's announcements had been timed to embarrass the former president, Mr. Carter, who would just be ending his five-day trip to Cuba. But officials did acknowledge concern that Mr. Carter's trip might provide momentum for calls to ease American policy toward the Castro government.
In Miami, Mr. Bush is to address a fund-raiser for the re-election campaign of his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. South Florida is a bastion of Cuban exiles who oppose any softening toward Havana, and President Bush's remarks are likely to be warmly received.
The president is a strong supporter of the four-decade-old American trade embargo against Cuba. His stance has won him the devotion of a large swath of the Cuban-American community, without which he probably would not have won the state of Florida, and the presidency, in 2000.
President Bush, in remarks to the news media today during a visit of the prime minister of Malaysia, said his message on Cuba was not affected by Mr. Carter's visit.
He foreshadowed the tough line he is expected to take on Monday, Cuba's independence day, saying, "My message to the Cuban people is: Demand freedom, and you've got a president who stands with you."
While the president is preparing to increase the pressure against Cuba, his administration is caught in a debate over public allegations that Mr. Castro's government is developing biological weapons.
After John R. Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, made the allegation last week, both Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld distanced themselves from the accusation. Asked today if the administration had any evidence to support the allegation, the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said only, "We have concerns."
The administration's new measures on Cuba, a result of a review ordered by the president, are intended to crack down on illicit American travel to the island and bolster internal opposition to the Castro government, officials said.
Otto J. Reich, the State Department's policy maker for Latin America, is expected to outline the measures at the White House on Monday, then fly to Miami to join President Bush. Mr. Reich was not available today, his spokesman said.
But in remarks last week to the Council of the Americas, a business group, Mr. Reich said the policy review sought to "help accelerate Cuba's transition to democracy."
He added that the administration would maintain economic pressure against the Castro government. "The United States will continue supporting freedom in Cuba," Mr. Reich said. "We will not throw a lifeline to save a regime that is sinking under the weight of its own historic failures."
As a whole, the steps are relatively modest and represent little more than modifications of a policy in place. Officials decided to wait until Mr. Carter had left Cuba before announcing the measures so Mr. Carter's presence would not overshadow the policy statement.
It was not immediately clear how the administration intends to crack down further on illegal travel. Tens of thousands of Americans defy the ban each year, flying to Havana and Cuba's beach destinations from Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. Another 137,000 authorized travelers went last year, including academics, journalists, students and Cuban-Americans on family visits, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York.
Over the past year, the administration has tried to stanch the flow of tourists, saying they say provide the Castro government with badly needed cash and, unlike the authorized travelers, do little to ease the burden of ordinary Cubans. The Treasury Department issued 766 civil penalties to travelers in 2001; in the last year of the Clinton administration, 188 fines were imposed.
But the tougher enforcement has clashed with growing pressure in Congress to lift the travel ban entirely, which in reality is a ban on spending money in Cuba.
In a hearing in February, Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who advocates easing sanctions, presented the cases of two travelers who were fined: Marilyn Meister, a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher who went on a bike trip, and Cevin Allen, 56, who scattered his missionary parents' ashes at the Cuban church they helped found. Each was fined $7,500, which Senator Dorgan criticized as crimping Americans' freedoms while doing nothing to dislodge Mr. Castro.
"One would think when we're engaged in the war on terrorism, we would be going after terrorists, rather than tracking down little old ladies who are taking bicycle trips to Cuba," he said. "It's a terrible waste of resources."
On Wednesday a bipartisan group of House members plans to issue its own call to end travel restrictions as part of a broader effort to ease sanctions and increase cooperation with Cuba on security issues. The House has voted twice in two years to lift the travel ban, but the bills did not advance.
The so-called Cuba Working Group, which includes 17 Republicans and 17 Democrats, argues that the United States should engage Cuba at all levels just as it has worked with China and North Korea to improve conditions in those countries.
The administration also intends to find new ways to help Cuba's dissidents. The goal is to make resources available for the disparate opposition groups — including independent journalists, labor groups and the like — so they can communicate better and use the United States as a conduit, according to a Congressional official who was briefed on the strategy.
"There's going to be a concerted effort to provide access to the Internet and improve communications in the island" for such people, the official said.
American diplomats will also try to raise the profile of dissidents by visiting them in their neighborhoods and native towns, rather than waiting for them to visit the American interests section in Havana, the official said.
The top American diplomat in Cuba, Vicki Huddleston, has enraged Cuban officials by distributing short-wave radios that can tune in Radio Martí, an American government broadcast. Officials also hope to find a way to beam TV Martí into Cuba; the television transmission, which costs about $10 million a year, has been jammed by Cuban censors since its inception.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company