February 27, 2024

After the protests in Cuba, Havana on July 21, 2021, special forces patrol Prado Avenue.

Yander Zamora | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The United States imposed sanctions on Cuba’s defense ministers and the communist nation’s special forces brigade for suppressing peaceful protests that broke out on the island last week.

The sanctions are the first steps by the Biden administration to put pressure on the Cuban government as Washington faces calls for more support for the protesters.

President Joe Biden warned the Cuban government that more are to come.

“This is just the beginning – the United States will continue to sanction those responsible for suppressing the Cuban people,” the president said in a statement Thursday. Earlier, Biden said the US would “stand firm with the Cuban people if they assert their universal rights”.

The Ministry of Finance highlighted Cuban Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera for having “played an essential role in suppressing the ongoing protests in Cuba”.

The sanctions prohibit payments from units in the United States to Lopez Miera and the special forces, as well as payments from Cuban units to the US

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that the US is working with the private sector and Congress to find ways to make the internet accessible to the people of Cuba. Price previously urged the Cuban government to fully restore the internet and telecommunications.

“The actions of the Cuban security forces and the violent mob mobilized by the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Miguel Diaz-Canel, reveal the regime’s fear of its own people and an unwillingness to meet its basic needs and aspirations “wrote Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in a statement.

“We stand by any Cuban who seeks a government that respects human rights and the dignity of the Cuban people,” he added.

Over a week ago, thousands of protesters filled the streets in frustration over a battered economy hit by food and electricity shortages.

The rare protests, the largest the communist country has seen since the 1990s, come as the government struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic and marginalize the island’s fragile health system.

People take part in a demonstration in support of the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana on July 11, 2021.

Yamil location | AFP | Getty Images

Cuban President Diaz-Canel Bermudez said his regime was “ready to do anything” to quell the protests, according to a Washington Post report. “We will fight in the streets,” he said, adding that the United States was partly responsible for the widespread dissatisfaction in Cuba.

A day later, he appeared alongside members of his government, blaming US trade sanctions for stifling Cuba’s growth.

In response to the Cuban President’s comments last week, Blinken told reporters that the United States was not responsible for the laundry list of problems plaguing Havana.

Blinken said Cubans are “tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, lack of adequate food and of course an adequate response to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“This is what we hear and see in Cuba, and that is a reflection of the Cuban people, not the United States or any other outside actor,” Blinken said.