WASHINGTON – The Biden administration targeted two individuals and the island’s national police force in another round of sanctions on Friday, following the violent response to peaceful protestors during the historic protests on the communist island July 11.
Cuban Police director Oscar Callejas Valcarce, his deputy Eddy Sierra Arias and the National Police Force, la Policía Nacional Revolucionaria, are facing human rights violations and sanctions, blocking the ownership of property or interests in the United States, in any way associated with the individuals or the communist regime on the island.
“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 Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki. “Today’s action serves to further hold accountable those responsible for suppressing the Cuban people’s calls for freedom and respect for human rights,” the statement continued.
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.
In the days before the recent protests, there were calls on social media for antigovernmental demonstrations. Cuba’s government said 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.
Internet service was cut off at one point during the July 11 protest, though Cuban authorities have not explicitly acknowledged that they did it.
The White House meeting comes 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.
Last week, the U.S. government announced sanctions against the minister of the Cuban armed forces, Álvaro López Miera, and the Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior — known as the “boinas regras” — for having participated in the arrest of protesters.
Several Cuban Americans were in attendance during Friday’s meeting, including entertainers Emilio Estefan, Yotuel Romero and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, now the Chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. Diaz applauded the sanctions.
International organizations have harshly criticized the Cuban government, which has said that while people affected by the country’s crisis participated in the protests there were also “criminals” who took advantage of the situation to create disturbances. At times, the protests turned into vandalism with looting, robbery and confrontations with the police.
Government sympathizers also took to the streets to defend the authorities and the revolution.
Human rights groups report more than 700 arrests and 500 people still in custody following the protests, although the judicial authorities have said there have been 19 trials involving 59 people.
The communist regime blames America and the economic embargo for the recent protests, but U.S. leaders pushed back saying they were the result of the country’s economic crisis.