The US Treasury announced new sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on Friday, targeting Cuba's National Revolutionary Police, its director, Oscar Callejas Valcarce, and deputy director, Eddy Sierra Arias. The Office of Foreign Assets Control noted the three new additions to the Specially Designated Nationals list on Friday, the latest in a series of retributions by Washington after riots in Cuba earlier this month it says were put down "with a heavy hand."
Last week, the U.S. also imposed sanctions on Cuba’s Minister of Revolutionary Armed Forces and on the Interior Ministry’s special brigade, which US President Joe Biden said were "just the beginning" of actions "targeting elements of the Cuban regime responsible for this crackdown."
US Sanctions Cuban Defense Minister and Special Brigades
Riots erupted in several cities in the socialist island nation on July 11, largely motivated by outrage over fuel shortages and a worsening COVID-19 outbreak, which have resulted in intermittent power as electricity is rerouted to area hospitals. Earlier this week, the president of the Cuban Supreme People's Court said the court was reviewing 19 cases involving 59 people in connection with the protests, which were mostly peaceful and not explicitly against the government.
Earlier on Friday, Biden met with Yotuel Romero, a Spain-based dissident Cuban rapper behind the song "Patria y Vida," which U.S. media has alleged to be a "rallying cry" for the protests, especially those by right-wing Cuban-Americans in Miami, Florida, whose protests have been much more prolonged and militantly anti-socialist than the demonstrations on the island itself have been.
According to The Grayzone, behind the popularity of Romero and other musicians and artists associated with the dissident San Isidro Movement "are two traditional CIA fronts: the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)." As such, the Cuban government has accused the U.S. of fomenting the protests, and Twitter of amplifying the message of the most anti-government protesters.
The U.S. government has also accused the Cuban government of shutting down the internet in order to limit citizens' access to information about the protests. On Friday, a senior Biden administration official told reporters the US was "in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people."
"We are also going to be [talking] about humanitarian support for the Cuban people," the official added. "We see the censorship of information as a violation of human rights and so we’re going to explore every option possible to be able to be able to guarantee access to that information."
The demise of the USSR and Eastern Bloc socialist states in the early 1990s created a severe crisis in Cuba called the Special Period, and the US increased its sanctions on Cuba in an attempt to force the socialist government from power, creating severe shortages of fuel, machine parts, and medical supplies, among other goods.
A brief reprieve came in 2015, when then-US President Barack Obama began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, but those efforts were reversed just two years later by Obama's successor, Donald Trump, who further tightened the screws after Cuba continued to support the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro when the US attempted to overthrow him in 2019 using another local proxy, then-lawmaker Juan Guaido.
Since 1992, the United Nations has voted overwhelming to denounce the blockade; the most recent vote last month saw 184 nations vote against the blockade and just two nations - the US and Israel - vote for it.