Biden administration sanctioning Cuban officials over response to protests

Biden administration sanctioning Cuban officials over response to protests
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The U.S. will sanction a top Cuban military official they’ve deemed responsible for human rights abuses during widespread protests on the island nation earlier this month.

The sanctions, imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. to seek financial punishment against human rights offenders, targets Álvaro López Miera, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as a special forces unit known as the Black Wasps, according to the Treasury Department.

"Today, my Administration is imposing new sanctions targeting elements of the Cuban regime responsible for this crackdown—the head of the Cuban military and the division of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior driving the crackdown—to hold them accountable for their actions," President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE said Thursday. "This is just the beginning–the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people."

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The Biden administration has come under increasing pressure to take a hard-line approach with the island's Communist government, a departure from the thawing of relations Biden saw during his time as vice president during the Obama administration

Cuban officials periodically suspended internet service in the country earlier this month as tens of thousands of protestors gathered in 45 cities. During the demonstrations, Cuban officials arrested more than 100 people, and the ministry confirmed the death of one protester in a clash with police.

The sanctions freeze any assets under U.S. jurisdiction and bar U.S. travel for the officials, but, given the longtime U.S. embargo, they serve as more of a public condemnation than practical restriction.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded to criticism that the sanctions announced Thursday did not go far enough under questioning from The Associated Press during a press briefing.

“This, I do not expect will be the sum total of our actions, we’re going to continue to review what more we can do, not only to support the cuban people, but also again, to hold to account those who would be so brazen in their efforts and attempts to violate the human rights of the Cuban people,” Price said.

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“This individual, this entity, we have targeted them as part of our effort, that is not over, to be sure, to hold to account those actors in Cuba who have been responsible for the crackdown, for the repression, for the human rights abuses on those in Cuba who are doing nothing more than exercising their universal rights.” 

The sanctions come as Biden has ordered task forces to evaluate easing other restrictions on Cuba currently in place.

"We have of course condemned mass detention, sham trials and disappearances that are attempts to threaten the Cuban people into silence. We continue to call for the swift release of peaceful protesters who have been unjustly detained," White House Press Secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine MORE said Thursday. 

"We've made clear over the last week that addressing this moment was a priority for the administration and for President Biden and that he had asked his team to look into a range of options that will both help the Cuban people, help provide humanitarian assistance help look into addressing issues like the lack of internet access and that also sanctions authority was a part of those considerations."

The White House has established two working groups to evaluate whether to allow remittances to Cuba along with reestablishing consular services on the island.

Reestablishing consular services allow Cubans to seek a visa to the U.S. from the island rather than having to visit a U.S. Embassy in a third country like Mexico, while renewed remittances permit Americans to send money to relatives in Cuba amid discontent with food shortages and difficulty accessing medicine.

The U.S. eased restrictions on remittances to the island nation under former President Obama, but they were walked back during the Trump administration. The U.S. also opened an embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961 under Obama, but the U.S. shut down a number of its functions under Trump.

Imposing sanctions on Cuban officials is a continuation of a more hard-line approach on Cuba for the Biden administration, which has been hesitant to reverse some Trump policies toward the island.

The State Department in May listed Cuba as among those “not cooperating fully with United States antiterrorism efforts,” renewing a determination first made in 2020.

The Biden administration has also yet to reverse the Trump’s administration’s determination placing Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list.

Updated 2:44 p.m.

—Laura Kelly contributed.