On July 22, the Biden administration announced sanctions against Cuban Security Forces amidst Havana’s violent crackdown on people protesting against the six-decade-old communist government. The protests, which began on July 11, were triggered by shortages of food and medicine as well as the administration’s failure in effectively dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
While announcing the sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Cuban security forces and violent mobs mobilized by the communist party as actions laying bare the regime’s fear “of its own people and unwillingness to meet their basic needs and aspirations.”
Sanctions were imposed on Alvaro Lopez Miera, Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and the Special National Brigade also called the “Boinas Negras” (Black Berets). Blinken accused both Miera and the Brigade of using “physical violence and intimidation” to suppress nationwide protests.
“We take this action pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act,” Blinken said in a statement
The Secretary of State added that Washington will continue placing additional sanctions to ensure accountability for the Cuban regime’s human rights abuses. The Global Magnitsky Act authorizes Washington to sanction foreign nationals who are involved in abusing human rights or corruption.
President Joe Biden called the sanctions “just the beginning” and promised that the people responsible for oppressing Cuban citizens will be subject to such sanctions. He revealed that Washington is working with the private sector and civil society organizations to circumvent the internet censorship of the communist regime and provide uncensored internet access to Cuban citizens.
The U.S. government is also reviewing its remittance policy to decide how best to maximize support for the people of Cuba. “The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime,” Biden said in a statement.
In a tweet, Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, called U.S. sanctions “unfounded and slanderous.” He asked for the Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed on Washington for the “systematic repression & police brutality” that took the lives of 1,021 people in the U.S. last year.
The Biden administration’s sanctions have been heavily criticized for being ineffective. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Giancarlo Sopo, who served as the rapid response director for Spanish-language media in Donald’s Trump 2020 reelection campaign, pointed out that U.S. law “already prohibits transactions with the Cuban military.”
Moreover, the Cuban military has no assets in the United States. As such, Biden’s sanctions will likely have little to no effect on either Miera or the Black Berets. “As a practical matter there’s little that will change in their financial life,” a Cuban American lawyer stated.
According to a Reuters report, U.S. officials have acknowledged that Cuban officials rarely travel to America or have financial dealings in the United States, thereby “limiting the practical impact of such measures.”
On Jan. 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Treasury, under the Trump administration, had announced sanctions on the Cuban Ministry of Interior and its leader.
“Biden sanctioning an already sanctioned regime official in #Cuba is the kind of symbolic but meaningless measure we will continue to see as long as @potus is being advised by people who were drinking mojitos in Havana in 2015 to celebrate the Obama policy,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a tweet.
Violence against protestors
The Cuban communist government has unleashed violence against protestors in a bid to quell the people’s uprising. President Miguel Diaz-Canel issued an “order of combat,” asking pro-communist citizens to commit acts of violence against those who are suspected of being “counter revolutionaries.”
“We will not hand over our sovereignty, or the independence of the people, or the freedom of this nation… They have to pass over our corpses if they want to confront the revolution and we are willing to do everything and will be on the streets combatting,” Diaz-Canel said, according to the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma.
Young Cubans are reporting increased pressure from their pro-government parents to obey the regime and commit violence against the protestors.
“My mother says she is a Fidelista … even after seeing blood from the door of her house, [seeing] how they beat the people with sticks, hard… They called my older sister to ask her to go beat people at the Capitol [in Havana], and they made my brother-in-law go make sticks to use to beat the protesters but he said no,” one woman told a local Cuban media outlet.
The woman added that her older sister eventually did attack people at the capital as she did not want to “endanger her home” by not doing so.
Another person revealed how his father considers using violent repression against the protestors to defend the communist revolution as legitimate. His father participated in Fidel Castro’s imperialist war in Angola and was indoctrinated into communism while in the military.
In addition to violence, the government has arrested scores of people. In a July 22 tweet, the human advocacy group Cuba Decide counted 667 people as having been “arbitrarily arrested/disappeared” since the beginning of the protests. Out of these, 526 continue to remain in detainment while 141 have been released. However, the numbers do not include house arrests. According to experts, the true number of arrested people might be in the thousands.