President Joe Biden is expected to unveil some sanctions against Cuban officials who cracked down on the island’s largest pro-democracy protests in decades and will pledge to help the island’s dissidents gain access to the Internet, according to a report from the Daily Mail.
The announcement follows several days of backlash from conservatives and Cuban exiles, who blasted the Biden administration’s first response to the Cuban government’s decision to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrations, which involved reconsidering a potential increase in staff for the U.S. embassy in Havana and a “working group” to explore remittances — payments from Cubans in exile to relatives still on the island.
Biden officials tried to frame their response as a thawing of restrictive policies put in place during the Trump administration, but the U.S. has maintained largely consistent diplomatic relations with Cuba since the Obama administration opened the door to communication with Havana in 2015.
The U.S. withdrew staff from its embassy in 2017 after a series of “sonic attacks” sickened members of the embassy staff and suspended visa processing through that embassy until “the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our people,” per the BBC at the time.
Remittances have been largely suspended since mid-2020 when the Trump administration reportedly became concerned that money sent through Fincimex, “a Cuban financial entity handling remittances,” was flowing into the hands of the Cuban military and then funneled to other Communist regimes, like the one in Venezuela.
As the Daily Wire reported Sunday, Cubans in exile in Miami, Florida, and elsewhere had hoped the Biden administration would ramp up pressure for a regime change on the Communist island, but the White House took a cautious approach to that issue, saying only that it “will intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners” in order to encourage democracy.
Thursday, President Joe Biden is expected to expand on that pledge.
“Biden told Democratic Cuban-American activists on Wednesday that he would target individuals and bring in measures to help residents get access to the internet during the uprising against the government,” the Daily Mail reported.
“We are going to focus on applying hard-hitting sanctions on regime officials responsible for the brutal crackdown,” State Department official Julie Chung, who is charged with the Department’s affairs in the western hemisphere, added. “Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression, & human rights violations against peaceful protestors in Cuba must be held accountable.”
“The sanctions will be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act and will target a group of officials in Cuba’s Interior and Military forces,” according to the Daily Mail, citing the Washington Post. “It is not yet clear who will be sanctioned and when they will go into effect.”
The Global Magnitsky Act allows governments to institute sanctions against individuals engaged in human rights abuses without levying further sanctions against a specific country. Cuba is, of course, already under a heavy embargo.
Although the response to Biden’s action on Cuba has been mixed, at least one activist who has been briefed on the administration plans believes the sanctions and other initiatives are a step in the right direction.
“This is huge,” Sasha Tirador, “a top Miami political operative who was briefed on the plans Wednesday night,” told Politico. “No administration has ever announced that they will hold each individual who violates human rights on the island of Cuba accountable.”
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