President Joe Biden vowed to go after those responsible for a crackdown on civil liberties on the island, targeting a Cuban official the US says “played an integral role” in the repression of recent protests.
US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that his administration would levy new sanctions against a Cuban official and a government agency in the wake of recent demonstrations that gripped the island nation.
“I condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are the Cuban regime’s efforts to threaten the Cuban people into silence. My Administration stands with the Cuban people, and is imposing new sanctions targeting those in the Cuban regime responsible for this crackdown,” Biden tweeted after releasing a formal statement.
Earlier this month, thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana and other cities across the island to protest poor economic conditions, the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, and the suppression of civil liberties.
“The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime,” Biden’s statement read.
Cuban military leader targeted
The recent protests were a rare display of anti-government sentiment, which led to a swift crackdown by authorities. The Cuban government said the demonstrations were being led by US-backed “counter-revolutionaries” exploiting the economic hardship caused by US sanctions.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control listed Alvaro Lopez Miera, a Cuban military and political leader, as the individual who would be sanctioned, saying that he “has played an integral role in the repression of ongoing protests in Cuba.”
Treasury said that Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which is led by Lopez Miera, and other Cuban government’s security services have attacked, arrested, or disappeared over 100 protesters in their attempt to suppress the demonstrations.
More sanctions could come
The US currently has an embargo on Cuba and the island’s government is among one of the most sanctioned regimes on the Treasury’s list, along with countries like North Korea and Iran.
During his time in office, former US President Barack Obama had sought to change course on US policy toward Cuba, reopening the embassy in Havana and even making a personal visit to the island. But his Republican successor, Donald Trump, moved to undo such policies.
Biden had promised during the 2020 campaign to reverse some of Trump’s Cuban policies. But Thursday’s announcement suggests that, in practice, his administration may seek some continuity.
“This is just the beginning — the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people,” Biden’s statement read.
Cuban Americans: ‘a vital partner’
One of the main drivers of political and economic confrontation with the Cuban regime has been the highly influential Cuban American community.
Based mainly in Miami, Florida, much of the community has supported a hard line against Cuba and was critical of Obama’s opening with the island. This month, demonstrators in Miami demanded that the US take a stronger stance in support of the protesters.
On Thursday, Biden said that Cuban Americans would be “a vital partner in our efforts to provide relief to suffering people on the Island.”
The US president called for the State Department to launch a working group to review US remittance policy, the glue that still binds the US to the island, to ensure that money that Cuban Americans send home makes it directly into the hands of their families, without the regime taking a cut.