Speaking publicly for the first time about his invitation to former President Carter to visit this Caribbean island, Fidel Castro said he wouldn't mind hearing criticism from his guest.

"We only want him to see the county," Castro said in a wide-ranging address that began late Wednesday after a nationally televised ceremony celebrating his government's victory over dengue fever. "He can criticize all he wants."

Castro noted that Carter had long expressed interest in the island, even offering to negotiate between Cuba and the United States during the migration crisis of 1994, when thousands of people took to the sea in boats and rafts bound for American shores.

The administration of President Bush said earlier this week it was studying Carter's request to travel to Cuba this year. If he gets the green light, the White House wants Carter to push for human rights, the administration said.

Under provisions that restrict travel to Cuba, Americans seeking to visit the communist country must obtain permission from the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. That includes former presidents.

Carter said Friday he expects the Bush administration's "tacit approval, not their blessing."

While not divulging his agenda, Carter said his intentions are to improve relations between Cuba and the United States, not to deliver an ultimatum.