U.S. sanctions Cuban officials over protests, human rights abuses

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Marisol, (no last name given), protests the lack of freedom and a worsening economy in her homeland of Cuba while in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI

Marisol, (no last name given), protests the lack of freedom and a worsening economy in her homeland of Cuba while in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

July 22 (UPI) -- The United States imposed new sanctions on Cuban officials accused of "serious human rights abuse and corruption" amid ongoing protests calling for economic reform and COVID-19 relief, the Treasury Department announced Thursday.

The sanctions target Cuba's Interior Ministry and Alvaro Lopez Miera, head of Cuba's Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. The financial penalties come under the Global Magnitsky Act, which seek to fight human rights abuses.

The Treasury Department said Lopez Miera and the MINFAR "have attacked protesters and arrested or disappeared over 100 protesters in an attempt to suppress those protests."

The anti-government protests, which began earlier in the month, are the largest seen in decades in the communist country, as people took to the streets in the capital of Havana and other locations as Cuba continued to suffer from a deepening economic crisis and the pandemic.

"The Cuban people are protesting for the fundamental and universal rights they deserve from their government," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. "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 released a statement Thursday said the Cuban people have the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, just as Americans do.

"I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence," he said.

Earlier this month, Biden called on Cuban leaders to listen to protesters' grievances. Havana, in turn, has blamed the United States for acting as foreign agitators.

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