‘Symbolic but Meaningless’: Biden Sanctions One Person over Cuba Protest Crackdown

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about voting rights at the National Constitution Center on July 13, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Biden and Congressional Democrats are set to make another push for sweeping voting rights legislation as Republican state legislatures across the country continue to pass controversial voting access laws. (Photo …
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The Biden administration on Thursday announced sanctions against Cuban security minister Gen. Alvaro Lopez Miera and a security unit of the Cuban Interior Ministry for their role in cracking down on protesters.

The sanctions were denounced as “unfounded and slanderous” by the Cuban regime, and as “symbolic but meaningless” by critics such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who noted Miera is already under sanctions.

“The actions of Cuban security forces and violent mobs mobilized by Cuban Communist Party First Secretary Miguel Diaz-Canel lay bare the regime’s fear of its own people and unwillingness to meet their basic needs and aspirations,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken when announcing the sanctions on Thursday.

“Today, the United States is imposing sanctions on Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba Álvaro López Miera and the Cuban Ministry of the Interior’s Special National Brigade or ‘Boinas Negras’ (Black Berets),” Blinken said. “López Miera and the Special National Brigade have been involved in suppressing the protests, including through physical violence and intimidation.”

Miera and the Black Berets were added to the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of “specially designated nationals” under the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes sanctions against foreign nationals for corruption and human rights abuses. 

“The Cuban people are protesting for the fundamental and universal rights they deserve from their government,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. “Treasury will continue to enforce its Cuba-related sanctions, including those imposed today, to support the people of Cuba in their quest for democracy and relief from the Cuban regime.”

President Joe Biden said the sanctions are “just the beginning” and the U.S. will “continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.”

“The Cuban people have the same right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as all people. The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime,” Biden said.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded on Twitter, calling the sanctions “unfounded and slanderous” and suggesting the U.S. government should punish itself for “systematic repression and police brutality that took the lives of 1021 persons in 2020.”

Rodriguez threatened the U.S. with “grave consequences” for its “irresponsible conduct.”

The Black Berets have been caught on video using excessive violence against peaceful protesters. One woman provided video of Black Berets shooting her husband and carting him off in a wheelbarrow while their children watched.

Another woman said her son, an independent journalist named Henry Constantin, was arrested while covering the protests and taken to his home by the Black Berets so they could confiscate his computers and other equipment. Constantin’s colleagues say he and his producer and editor have been taken to a detention facility known as “the place where everyone sings” due to its “methods of greater severity in interrogations.”

Cuban democracy activists said the regime shut down power and Internet service so it would be harder for victims of the Black Berets to upload footage of the brutal unit’s human rights abuses.

The UK Daily Mail on Thursday quoted skeptics who said the Biden administration’s tepid action would have little practical effect on the Cuban regime or its stormtroopers, beyond mildly embarrassing the Black Berets and making them wonder if they might be held personally accountable for their actions:

Giancarlo Sopo, who was rapid response director for Spanish-language media on President Trump’s re-election campaign, said: ‘US law already prohibits transactions with the Cuban military. The Cuban military does not have property in the US.’

But a Cuban-American lawyer, speaking on anonymity because of the sensitivity of sanctions cases, said the repercussions of such a public naming and shaming would be felt in a country that relies on anonymity and a ‘just following orders’ mentality.

‘As a practical matter there’s little that will change in their financial life,’ he said. ‘But put yourself in their shoes, you have have now been identified in a very public way.

As Sen. Rubio pointed out, the entire Cuban Interior Ministry was already targeted for sanctions by the Trump administration under the Global Magnitsky Act in January, including the Black Berets. Under the Trump sanctions, “all property and interests in property” of the ministry and its leader, Lazaro Alberto Alvarez Casas, was frozen.

“U.S. officials have acknowledged that Cuban officials rarely have U.S. financial dealings and seldom travel to the United States, limiting the practical impact of such measures,” Reuters noted on Thursday. 

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