The United States has imposed sanctions against a Cuban official and a government entity over alleged human rights abuses in the country.
The administration of US President Joe Biden on Thursday sanctioned a Cuban security minister and an interior ministry special forces unit over accusations of cracking down on protesters.
Protest rallies erupted against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel almost ten days ago. Cuba says it holds Washington responsible for the recent unrest in the country, which led to at least one death and dozens of injuries and more than 100 arrests.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez says Washington is using high-tech digital systems to provoke protests in the small island nation.
The latest US sanctions, according to the Treasury Department, were placed on an entire Interior Ministry security unit and on General Alvaro Lopez Miera, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Biden said in a statement, "This is just the beginning," expressing condemnation for what he described as "mass detentions and sham trials."
"The United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people," he said.
During his 2020 campaign, Biden promised to reverse some of his predecessor Donald Trump's Cuba policies, however, Thursday's announcement suggests little appetite for a return to rapprochement.
After entering the White House, Biden kept in place all the toughened sanctions imposed on Cuba by Trump.
Cuba is experiencing its toughest phase yet of the coronavirus pandemic. The Cuban government says the US embargo is impeding the country’s ability to purchase equipment and other supplies to deal with COVID-19.
Numerous resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly have indicated that the US blockade of Cuba is against international law.
Biden said Thursday, "We will work closely with our partners throughout the region, including the Organization of American States, to pressure the regime."
He also ordered a review of the viability of increasing the number of employees at the US Embassy in Havana as his administration is hopeful that a boost in staffing could help it better facilitate civil society engagement following the recent demonstrations.
In response to the US move, Rodriguez rejected on Twitter the sanctions as "unfounded and slanderous," calling on the US to apply such measures to its own record of "daily repression and policy brutality."