U.S. to Impose Sanctions on Cuban Officials Responsible for Violence Against Protesters

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that it will impose sanctions on Cuban officials responsible for violence against Cuban protesters calling for an end to the communist regime in the country.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that the situation in Cuba remains a top priority for President Joe Biden's administration and noted that the ongoing protests are a result of how the Cuban communist government has failed to help its people.

The spokesperson also told Newsweek that under Biden's direction, the U.S. will continue to look for ways to help the Cuban people and to hold the government accountable.

The possible sanctions were announced in a series of tweets posted by Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

"At President Biden's direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable," Chung wrote in a tweet.

In a subsequent tweet, Chung wrote, "We are going to focus on applying hard-hitting sanctions on regime officials responsible for the brutal crackdown. Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression, & human rights violations against peaceful protestors in Cuba must be held accountable."

We are going to focus on applying hard-hitting sanctions on regime officials responsible for the brutal crackdown.

Cuban officials responsible for violence, repression, & human rights violations against peaceful protestors in Cuba must be held accountable.
(6/7)

— Julie Chung (@WHAAsstSecty) July 21, 2021

In another tweet, Chung said, "The United States will intensify diplomatic engagement with regional and international partners to support the aspirations of the Cuban people....We must collectively condemn the violence and repression upon the Cuban people for demanding freedom."

The comments by Chung come after mass protests erupted in Cuba as a result of an economic crisis fueled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Protesters recently took to the streets in Artemisa and Havana chanting "freedom" and calling for an end to the country's communist government led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba has seen a drastic decrease in tourism, which was a main source of income for the country.

However, the Cuban government has placed some of the blame on the U.S. and the sanctions it imposed. The Cuban government also blamed a trade embargo imposed by former President Donald Trump for the country's economic hardships.

Diaz-Canel previously denounced the protesters and called them "vulgar criminals," but in a televised address last week, he said that the Cuban government must "gain experience from the disturbances."

"We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition," Diaz-Canel said, according to the Associated Press.

Prior to the comments by Chung on Wednesday, Biden said in a statement that he stands with the Cuban people and called on the "Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."

"The Cuban people are bravely asserting fundamental and universal rights. Those rights, including the right of peaceful protest and the right to freely determine their own future, must be respected," Biden said in a statement.

State Department spokesman Ned Price made similar comments in a press briefing on July 13 when he said, "We commend the people of Cuba for showing great bravery, the strength of their will, and the power of their voice.

"We remain deeply concerned by the Cuban government's, quote, 'call to combat' and by the images of violence that we have seen over the past two days. We call for calm and we condemn any violence against those protesting peacefully, and we equally call on the Cuban government to release anyone detained for peaceful protest."

Updated 07/21/2021, 12:15 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from a spokesperson for the State Department.

Cuba
The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that it plans to impose sanctions against Cuban officials found responsible for violence against protesters in the country. Above, people wave Cuban flags on their car during a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, in Union City, New Jersey, on July 18, 2021. Kena Betancur/Getty