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The move indicates that the Biden administration is unlikely to soften the US approach to Cuba any time soon.
The United States has imposed sanctions on a senior Cuban security official and an Interior Department brigade after a crackdown on anti-government protests earlier this month, the Treasury Department said on Thursday.
The move marks the first concrete steps by President Joe Biden’s administration to put pressure on the Cuban government as the United States faces calls from US lawmakers and the Cuban-American community to show increased support for the protesters .
“This is just the beginning,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States will continue to punish those responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people.”
“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and mock trials that unjustly lead to prison terms of those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and silence the Cuban people,” Biden said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, “We made it clear last week that tackling this moment was a priority for the administration.”
The Treasury Department has identified 78-year-old Cuban citizen Alvaro Lopez Miera and the Interior Ministry as targets of sanctions.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a Twitter post dismissed the sanctions as “baseless and defamatory” and urged the United States to apply such measures to its own record of “daily repression and policy violence”.
I refute the baseless and defamatory US government. sanctions against Army Corp. Gral Alvaro López Miera and the National Special Brigade.
Rather, it should apply the Magnitsky Global Act to itself for systematic repression and police brutality that killed 1021 people in 2020.
— Bruno Rodriguez P (@BrunoRguezP) July 22, 2021
The speed with which the Biden administration has drafted new sanctions further indicates that it is highly unlikely that the US president will soften his country’s approach to Cuba shortly after his predecessor, Donald Trump, launched a historic Obama-era attempt to thawing relations with Havana has reversed.
Thousands of Cubans have spontaneously staged anti-government protests a week ago to demonstrate against an economic crisis that has led to shortages of basic goods and power outages. They also protested the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and curtailing civil liberties. Many activists were arrested.
Biden had pledged to roll back some of Trump’s anti-Cuba policies during the 2020 presidential campaign, but Thursday’s announcement suggests little appetite for a return to rapprochement.
Trump had imposed strict restrictions on the flow of remittances, which are believed to have previously amounted to several billion dollars a year.
On Tuesday, authorities confirmed they had begun trials of those detained on charges of inciting unrest, committing vandalism, promoting the coronavirus pandemic or assault, charges that could carry jail terms of up to 20 years.
“There are those who will get the response that Cuban law allows, and it will be energetic,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on state television last week. He promised that there would be a legislative procedure.
Javier Larrondo, a representative of the human rights group Cuban Prisoners Defenders, said authorities would probably detain the most charismatic and effective opposition leaders, who have often been young artists of late, whether they were at the protests or not.
“We will have hundreds of political prisoners in just two weeks,” he said.
The exile rights group Cubalex, which has created a spreadsheet of the detainees that is updated every day as new messages come in, says more than 500 Cubans appear to have been detained during the protests or after.
It said the number was likely higher, but some families may be afraid to report the arrest of relatives in the event of retaliation, such as losing their jobs in the state sector.
The majority of detainees have been kept incommunicado, while the location of some is still unknown, Cubalex and Human Rights Watch said based on interviews with family members.
Cubans post photos of people they say they can’t find in detention or share them on a Facebook group called “Disappeared #SOSCuba” with more than 10,000 members.
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