© Reuters. File photo: The Cuban flag hangs on a street in downtown Havana, Cuba, July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Authors: Matt Spetalnick and Daphne Psaledakis
WASHINGTON (Reuters)-The United States imposed sanctions on the Cuban Security Minister and Special Forces of the Interior Ministry on Thursday for alleged violations of human rights during the suppression of anti-government protests earlier this month.
This move marks the first concrete step in President Joe Biden’s government to exert pressure on the Cuban Communist government, as it faces calls from U.S. legislators and the Cuban-American community to respond to the largest protests in decades. Great support.
The speed with which the government is enacting new sanctions further shows that Biden is extremely unlikely to soften the United States’ attitude towards Cuba soon after his predecessor Donald Trump cancels the historic easing of the Obama era and Havana.
“This is just the beginning,” Biden said in a statement, condemning the “massive detentions and false trials.”
“The United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppressing the Cuban people,” he said.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted that the sanctions are “baseless and defamatory” and urged the United States to apply such measures to its record of “daily repression and policy atrocities.”
The Ministry of Finance stated that it imposed sanctions on the entire Ministry of Interior Security and the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, General Alvaro Lopez Mira, claiming that he is the leader of an entity whose members have seriously violated human rights.
A week ago, thousands of Cubans staged a protest against the economic crisis that caused shortages of basic commodities and blackouts. They also protested the way the government handled the coronavirus pandemic and restricted civil liberties. Hundreds of activists were detained.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden promised to reverse some of Trump’s Cuban policies, but Thursday’s statement showed that there is little interest in restoring reconciliation.
At the same time, the government is still seeking ways to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the Cuban people.
The White House said on Tuesday that Biden will set up a working group to review the situation of remittances to Cuba after the protests. The goal is to determine how Cuban Americans send money to families on the island, while keeping the funds out of the hands of the Cuban government.
Trump imposed strict restrictions on remittances, which are believed to have been as high as billions of dollars each year.
The White House warned in a statement that the issue of remittances is complex and that “a prudent and thoughtful approach is required in coordination with experts.”
Biden reiterated on Thursday that after Havana restricted access to social media and messaging platforms including Facebook (Nasdaq:) and WhatsApp, his government is looking for ways to help ordinary Cubans regain Internet access.
Biden said: “We will work closely with partners across the region, including the Organization of American States, to put pressure on the regime.”
The Cuban government blamed the protests on the economic difficulties caused by the use of U.S. sanctions by so-called “counter-revolutionaries” funded by the United States.
Global Magnitsky sanctions
The sanctions are implemented under the Global Magnitsky Act, which is used to punish human rights violators through the freezing of US assets and a ban on travel to the United States.
However, US officials admit that Cuban officials rarely conduct financial transactions with the United States and rarely travel to the United States, which limits the actual impact of such measures.
The riots seem to have injected a new sense of urgency into the extensive Cuban policy review that Biden began shortly after taking office in January. So far, Cuba has not been considered a top agenda item when the government is dealing with domestic economic recovery and the coronavirus pandemic, as well as foreign challenges to China, Russia, and Iran.
A State Department official told Reuters that Cuba is now a “top priority”.
Analysts said that reconciliation measures are unlikely to be taken in the short term. To complicate matters, Biden did not perform as expected among voters in the anti-communist Cuban-American community in South Florida, which supported Trump’s tough policies on Havana and Caracas and helped him win the battlefield. State.
Many analysts said that Biden may have to be cautious about Cuban policy before the 2022 congressional elections.