U.S. sanctions Cuba over protest crackdown


U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced new sanctions in July 2021 against Cuba’s national revolutionary police and its top two officials to increase pressure on the communist government following protests on the island.

The Police Nacional Revolcionaria (PNR) and the agency’s director and deputy director, Oscar Callejas Valcarce and Eddie Sierra Arias, were targeted in the latest sanctions announced by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The police are part of Cuba’s Interior Ministry, which was already the subject of a blanket designation by Donald Trump’s administration in January 2021. “We hear the cries of freedom coming from the island. The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people,” President Biden said at the start of a White House meeting with Cuban Americans.

The administration says it is considering a wide range of additional options in response to the protests, including providing internet access to Cubans, and has created a working group to review U.S. remittance policy to ensure that more of the money that Cuban Americans send home makes it directly into the hands of their families without the government taking a cut.

Biden added that more sanctions were in the offing. The White House meeting occurred almost three weeks after unusual July 11 protests in which thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and other cities to protest shortages, power outages and government policies. They were the first such protests since the 1990s. (Pictured: Hundreds of people demonstrate outside the White House in July 2021 to protest the lack of freedoms inside Cuba and ask for U.S. assistance.)

The Cuban regime deployed the PNR to attack protesters, the Treasury Department said in a statement. The police were photographed confronting and arresting protesters in Havana, including members of the Movement of July 11 Mothers, a group founded to organize families of the imprisoned and disappeared, according to Treasury.

In Camagüey, a Catholic priest was beaten and arrested by the PNR while he was defending young protesters, according to Treasury. PNR officers also beat a group of peaceful demonstrators, including several minors, and there have also been documented instances in which the PNR used clubs to break up peaceful protests across Cuba, Treasury said. “The Treasury Department will continue to designate and call out by name those who facilitate the Cuban regime’s involvement in serious human rights abuse,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Today’s action serves to further hold accountable those responsible for suppressing the Cuban people’s calls for freedom and respect for human rights.”

Among the Cuban American activists meeting with Biden was Yotuel Romero, one of the writers of the song “Patria y Vida!” that has become an anthem for the protests. Others attending included L. Felice Gorordo, CEO of the company eMerge Americas; Ana Sofía Peláez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project; Miami’s former mayor, Manny Díaz; and Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

White House officials said Biden would discuss the new sanctions as well as ways to potentially establish internet access for the Cuban people. Internet access is a sensitive issue in Cuba. In the days before the protests, there were calls on social media for anti-government demonstrations. Cuba’s government said that anti-Castro groups in the United States have used social media, particularly Twitter, to campaign against it and blamed Twitter for doing nothing to stop it.