Special forces troops patrol at Prado Avenue following the protests in Cuba, Havana on July 21, 2021.

Yander Zamora | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The United States imposed sanctions on Cuba’s defense minister and the communist nation’s special forces brigade for the suppression of peaceful protests that broke out on the island last week.

The sanctions mark the first steps by the Biden administration to apply pressure on the Cuban government as Washington faces calls to show greater support for the protesters.

President Joe Biden warned the Cuban government that there will be more to come.

“This is just the beginning – the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” the president said in a statement Thursday. Previously, Biden said the U.S. stands “firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights.”

The Treasury Department singled out Cuban Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera, for having “played an integral role in the repression of ongoing protests in Cuba.”

The sanctions prohibit payments from entities in the United States to Lopez Miera and the special forces, as well as payments from the Cuban entities to the U.S.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that the U.S. was working with the private sector and Congress to look for ways to make the internet accessible to the people of Cuba. Price has previously called on the Cuban government to restore full internet and telecommunications.

“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,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a statement.

“We stand with every Cuban seeking a government that respects the human rights and dignity of the Cuban people,” he added.

Over a week ago, thousands of protestors filled the streets over frustrations with a crippled economy hit by food and power shortages.

The rare protests, the largest the communist country has seen since the 1990s, come as the government struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the island’s fragile health-care system to the brink.

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 | Getty Images

Cuban President Diaz-Canel Bermudez said his regime was “prepared to do anything” to quell the protests, according to a report from The Washington Post. “We will be battling in the streets,” he said, adding that the United States is in part to blame for the widespread discontent in Cuba.

A day later, he appeared alongside members of his government and blamed U.S. trade sanctions for hampering Cuba’s growth.

Reacting to the Cuban president’s comments, Blinken told reporters last week that the United States was not to blame for the laundry list of issues plaguing Havana.

Blinken said Cubans were “tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, tired of the lack of adequate food and, of course, an adequate response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“That is what we are hearing and seeing in Cuba, and that is a reflection of the Cuban people, not of the United States or any other outside actor,” Blinken said.

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