US imposes sanctions on Cuban military head following crackdown

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The United States imposed economic sanctions on the Cuban army chief in response to Havana’s crackdown on protesters, in an effort by Joe Biden to increase pressure on the Communist regime.

Sanctions announced Thursday by the Treasury Department targeted Alvaro Lopez Miera, Cuban Defense Minister, for “serious human rights violations” in connection with the protests, as well as “Black Berets”, a unit of the Interior Ministry which was deployed to curb unrest.

Thousands of people took to the streets on July 11 in Cuba’s biggest anti-government protests in decades, in what appeared to be spontaneous protests in several cities for demonstration against food and medicine shortages and call for more freedoms.

The government responded by sending police in large numbers to disperse the protesters and restrict internet access in most of the island. Human Rights Watch later said about 400 people were arrested.

“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and mock trials which unjustly condemn to prison those who dared speak out in an attempt to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people to be silent,” Biden said in a statement Thursday.

“The Cuban people have the same right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as everyone else. The United States is on the side of the courageous Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime, ”added the American president.

Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of Cuba, has repeatedly criticized exiles in the United States for encouraging and organizing the protests. Like Cuban leaders before him, he has singled out the US embargo for causing shortages and economic hardship, although independent economists say the country’s state-dominated economy and inefficient central planning play a role. important role.

The Díaz-Canel administration had hoped that Biden would resuscitate the policy of detente of the Obama era with Havana. Despite the US president’s campaign promises to alleviate some of the humanitarian consequences of the embargo, those hopes have so far been dashed.

Cuba’s crackdown on protesters further limits Biden’s political space to make moves towards dialogue with Havana.

Biden said the United States will “continue to sanction those responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people” while working with “civil society organizations and the private sector to provide Internet access to the Cuban people that bypasses efforts. censorship of the regime ”.

He said the United States was also “reviewing our fund transfer policy to determine how we can maximize support for the Cuban people” and pledged to “staff our Embassy in Havana” to ” provide consular services to Cubans and improve our ability to engage with civil society. ”.

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