US imposes sanctions on Cuba’s Raul Castro’s son-in-law

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WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is targeting the son-in-law of retired Cuban leader Raul Castro with sanctions as it steps up its campaign against the communist island’s government ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.

The departments of State and Treasury announced Wednesday that Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the husband of Castro’s daughter, Deborah, had been added to the U.S. list of “specially designated nationals and blocked persons.” The agencies accused him of helping to fund human rights abuses and working in concert with Venzuela to suppress Cubans' freedoms.

López-Calleja is the head of the Cuban military’s financial arm, known as GAESA, which controls state-owned businesses including hotels, factories, stores and an airline. The move freezes any assets he may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bars Americans from doing business with him.

“The revenue generated from the economic activities of GAESA is used to oppress the Cuban people and to fund Cuba’s parasitic, colonial domination of Venezuela,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Today’s action demonstrates the United States’ long-standing commitment to ending economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence, and security agencies or personnel at the expense of the Cuban and Venezuelan people.”

The announcement is the administration’s latest action against Cuba and comes just two days after it imposed sanctions on a debit card operation that allowed Cubans to buy food, appliances and other items with money sent by relatives in the United States.

On Monday, Pompeo announced that FINCIMEX, a Cuban state company that processes remittances and issues the American International Services debit card, had been added to the sanctions list. The government began accepting the card for purchases in July amid the coronavirus pandemic that worsened the lack of food on the island and sparked long lines for goods. It became so popular that FINCIMEX temporarily stopped accepting applications in mid-August but resumed them this month.

The administration has been steadily ramping up pressure on both Cuba and Venezuela as November’s vote nears, with President Donald Trump in tight race for re-election against former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump is seeking votes from anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in Florida and elsewhere, and has sought to paint Biden as soft on the Cuban government. Biden was vice president when former President Barack Obama and Raul Castro initiated a rapprochement in U.S.-Cuban relations.