Cuba Sanctions Are 'to Hold Them Accountable for Their Actions,' Biden Says

The White House said sanctions were placed Thursday on the Cuban minister of defense and a division within the Cuban Ministry of the Interior "for their role in facilitating the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11."

President Joe Biden said the sanctions were imposed "to hold them accountable for their actions."

"This is just the beginning—the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people," Biden said in an official statement.

Support for Cuban citizens among Americans is "unwavering," the president added.

"Advancing human dignity and freedom is a top priority for my Administration, and we will work closely with our partners throughout the region, including the Organization of American States, to pressure the regime to immediately release wrongfully detained political prisoners, restore internet access, and allow the Cuban people to enjoy their fundamental rights," Biden said.

I condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are the Cuban regime's efforts to threaten the Cuban people into silence. My Administration stands with the Cuban people, and is imposing new sanctions targeting those in the Cuban regime responsible for this crackdown.

— President Biden (@POTUS) July 22, 2021

The White House identified addressing Cuba's "ongoing situation" as a "top priority" for Biden's administration in a fact sheet released Thursday.

In addition to the sanctions, Biden called for protesters who were "unjustly detained" during the July 11 protests to be released. The White House said it is working with members of the international community to "collectively condemn the violence and repression upon the Cuban people for demanding freedom."

The administration said it will continue to communicate with leaders of the Cuban American community and will assess America's current remittance policy to evaluate the extent to which money intended for Cuban individuals is received "without a portion of the proceeds being siphoned off by the regime."

The administration also plans to repopulate the U.S. Embassy in Havana with employees and is looking for ways to ensure Cuba's people have internet access that is not dependent upon the government, according to the White House fact sheet.

The steps Biden's administration is taking signifies it is "unlikely for the time being" that he will continue along the path former President Barack Obama set regarding Cuba during the time Biden was vice president, according to Lawrence Ward, an international business attorney with Dorsey & Whitney.

"There was thought that the Biden Administration would effectively pick up where the Obama Administration left off as to Cuban sanctions. Although there still may be room for that to happen, the human rights abuses by special forces of the Cuban Government in response to civil unrest make that unlikely for the time being," Ward said in a statement sent to Newsweek.

Ward said the White House's mention of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in announcing the new sanctions suggests the administration believes it can get other countries onboard.

"Because the Act is aimed at targeting human rights abuses and corruption as opposed to foreign policy differences between governments, the Biden Administration is likely hoping to squeeze other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom to respond with similar sanctions," Ward said.

Newsweek reached out to the Embassy of Cuba in the U.S. for comment and will update this article with any response.

Updated 07/22/2021, 3:58 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information, background and comments from Lawrence Ward.

Cuba protests new sanctions
The White House on Thursday said it placed sanctions on the head of the Cuban military following protests that occurred in Cuba earlier this month. Above, people take part in a demonstration to support the government of the Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images