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Shifting from campaign promises, Biden announces Cuba sanctions after protest crackdown

  • July 22, 2021

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 Obama-era 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.

Biden faces pressure to keep Trump’s Cuba policies despite campaign pledge

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, and we are making sure Cuban Americans are a vital partner in our efforts to provide relief to suffering people on the Island,” Biden said Thursday.

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.

More:Cuba sent doctors abroad amid pandemic. Now, its own COVID surge has sparked historic protests

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.   

Fernand Amandi, a political consultant and Cuban-American Democrat based in Florida, also applauded the sanctions and Biden’s promise for additional steps.  

“These will be very well-received, not just amongst Cuban exiles around the world but the international community who bore witness to the abuses inflicted upon the population in Cuba that was simply asking for freedom and for liberty,” Amandi said.

“These moves have real teeth and change the game on how to punish the regime going forward,” he said. They will exert pressure on the Cuban government, Amandi said, “while at the same time emboldening and empowering the protesters on the island.”

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.

He emphasized that other changes to the U.S. Cuba policy were under consideration, including easing limits on remittances that Cuban Americans can send to their family members. Price said the Biden administration will do that only if it can ensure none of the money will end up in Cuban government coffers.

During the campaign, Biden vowed to reverse the Trump administration’s hard-line policy toward Cuba. As vice president, Biden championed the Obama administration’s historic thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations and vowed to reinstate the Obama administration’s softer approach by easing sanctions, travel restrictions and caps on remittances.

But the protests seems to have changed the Biden administration’s calculus.

“We’ve made clear over the last week that addressing this moment was a priority for the administration,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. 

Reach the reporters on Twitter: @RebeccaMorin_, @dshesgreen, @cmsub

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