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US Sanctions More Cuban Officials for Suppressing Protests

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FILE - Cuban exiles rally at Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood in support of protesters in Cuba, July 12, 2021, in Miami.

The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on Cuba’s police force and two of its leaders following recent protests on the island against the communist government.

U.S. President Joe Biden said at the start of a meeting Friday with Cuban American leaders that more sanctions would be coming “unless there is some drastic change in Cuba, which I don't anticipate."

"We hear the cries of freedom coming from the island. The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people,” Biden said.

The president also said he had directed the Treasury and State departments to report to him within one month on how to allow Americans to send remittance payments to Cubans without the Cuban government benefiting from the money.

Earlier Friday, the Treasury Department announced the latest sanctions on Cuba, saying they were a reaction to "actions to suppress peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11."

Large demonstrations

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets on that Sunday in the largest demonstrations against the Cuban government in decades. The demonstrators were protesting shortages of basic goods, power outages, restrictions on civil liberties and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Treasury Department will continue to designate and call out by name those who facilitate the Cuban regime’s involvement in serious human rights abuse,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement. “Today’s action serves to further hold accountable those responsible for suppressing the Cuban people’s calls for freedom and respect for human rights.”

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Cuban American leaders in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, July 30, 2021.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Cuban American leaders in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, July 30, 2021.

The sanctions target the Cuban interior ministry's national police force as well as the force’s director, Oscar Callejas Valcarce, and deputy director, Eddy Sierra Arias.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday that the United States “seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences to discourage malign actors” in Cuba.

“We recognize the bravery of the Cuban people and the protesters who stood up to the Cuban government’s police state and sent a message to the world,” he said.

Cuban American leaders have been urging the Biden administration to do more to support to the Cuban protesters.

Among those who were at the meeting Friday with Biden were Yotuel Romero, one of the authors of "Patria y Vida," a song that has become the anthem for the protesters. Also present were L. Felice Gorordo, the CEO of eMerge Americas; Ana Sofia Pelaez, the founder of the Miami Freedom Project; and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Internet access

U.S. officials say the Biden administration is also looking into ways to provide internet access to the Cuban people. Internet service was cut off at one point during the July 11 protest.

"The Cuban Americans are hurting. They're hurting because their loved ones are suffering and it's, quite frankly, intolerable," Biden said Friday.

Last week, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on Cuba's defense minister, Álvaro López Miera, and an interior ministry special forces unit.

In addition to the sanctions imposed Friday, the Office of Foreign Assets Control continues to enforce the Cuba sanctions program, which is the most comprehensive sanctions program administered by the office, the office’s statement said.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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