USA TODAY US Edition
President imposes sanctions on Cuba
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced new sanctions Thursday targeting a top Cuban military official and a unit of the government’s repressive state security apparatus, which he said was responsible for the brutal crackdown on historic protests across the island this month.
Biden’s decision marks a shift from his promises during the campaign, when he vowed to restore the Obamaera thaw in U.S.-Cuba policy. Administration officials and Cuba experts say the unprecedented protests in Cuba have prompted a change in Biden’s strategy and rhetoric on Cuba.
“This is just the beginning – the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” Biden said in a statement Thursday.
In Thursday’s action, the White House used a federal human rights law to sanction Alvaro Lopez Miera, minister of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, and a special brigade in the government’s intelligence ministry.
Critics of Cuba’s communist government applauded the announcement, although it’s not clear if the penalties will carry much of a punch. It’s unlikely that Miera holds any assets in the United States that could be frozen under Thursday’s move. And the Trump administration had already blacklisted Cuba’s Interior Ministry.
Ryan C. Berg, an expert on Latin America at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the designations “signal the important role that Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior plays in the state’s violent repression.”
But, he said, they will have little practical effect.
“The sanctions architecture built around Cuba makes these designations entirely redundant,” he said. “The sanctions are purely symbolic and meant to give the impression that the Biden administration is responding rapidly to the Cuban protests when these actions really are not doing much.”
Biden said his advisers were working on other steps, including avenues to restore internet access to Cubans after the government blocked sites used to organize the July 11 demonstrations.
“As we hold the Cuban regime accountable, our support for the Cuban people is unwavering,” Biden said.
Thousands of Cubans took to the streets July 11 to protest food and medicine shortages, power outages and spiraling prices, prompting the largest protests seen on the communist island in three decades. The protesters faced arrest and violence as a result.
Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the Biden administration’s decision sent a clear message to the Cuban government. “The U.S. stands with the people of Cuba and there will be consequences for those with blood on their hands,” the New Jersey Democrat wrote on Twitter.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said he could not divulge whether any targeted individuals or entities had assets in the U.S.
When pressed on the practical effect, Price said there was “an important messaging element” to the sanctions. “It’s an important signal of our determination to hold accountable those responsible for this (crackdown),” he told reporters at a briefing Thursday.