Despite promising in 2020 to soften his country’s approach to Cuba and undo the restrictions imposed by Donald Trump in 2017, United States President Joe Biden has now introduced new sanctions on Cuba.
The US Treasury Department announced on July 22 that it was designating Cuban Defence Minister Álvaro López Miera as responsible for the purported “repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11”.
López Miera leads Cuba's Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as the Boinas Negras (National Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior).
Biden says these actions are “just the beginning” and the US “will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people”.
The sanctions have been imposed by an executive order under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Global Magnitsky Act).
Since enacted in 2016, the Global Magnitsky Act authorises the US government to sanction any person or body it regards as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the US.
Essentially, the legislation enables the US government to punish any person or body — and thus their country — which the US finds distasteful.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has labelled the sanctions as “baseless and slanderous”. He said the US should apply its sanctions legislation to itself for the “systematic repression and police brutality that took the lives of 1021 persons in 2020”.
Western reporting of the July 11 protests throughout Cuba, suggested that tens of thousands of ordinary Cubans took part in the demonstrations. Hundreds would be a better approximation, except in Havana, where 2000–3000 people protested.
Also, photos of pro-government demonstrations were misused by some social media outlets to suggest that those involved were actually protesting against the Cuban government.
By way of example, a photo purportedly showing anti-Cuban government protestors in Cuba was actually one of protesting Cuban American hardliners in Miami — with one of the protestors even wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap. The Miami street sign was the giveaway.
Numerous acts of vandalism were committed in different cities during the protests — windows were broken, shops looted and cars overturned.
Interestingly, many of the people carrying out these unlawful acts were quite happy to publicly acknowledge their financial links with US government bodies, including the National Endowment for Democracy, which funds an array of projects and movements.
One current project, Empowering Cuban Hip-Hop Artists as Leaders in Society, ostensibly aims to “to promote citizen participation and social change in society”. However, the real aim is regime change.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLM) issued a statement blaming the unrest in Cuba on the “US federal government’s inhumane treatments of Cubans”.
“Since 1962, the United States has forced pain and suffering on the people of Cuba by cutting off food, medicine and supplies, costing the tiny island nation an estimated $130 billion.”
BLM also recently posted on Instagram that the US embargo was “instituted with the explicit intention of destabilizing the country and undermining Cubans’ right to choose their own government” and is “at the heart of Cuba’s current crisis”.
BLM called for the lifting of the embargo, which, it says, undermines “Cubans’ right to choose their own government”, and is punishment for Cuba’s “commitment to sovereignty and self-determination”.
It is undeniable that much of the Cuban population is hurting right now, mainly as a result of six-decades-long US blockade and the loss of tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his term as president, Trump imposed more than 200 additional sanctions on Cuba. These sanctions, together with the pandemic, have exacerbated shortages of food and medicine, as well as power outages. Cuba’s current economic crisis is the worst in more than three decades.
Cuba imports about 70% of its food. Rising global food costs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, are restraining the nation’s buying power.
In addition, Cuba is facing a serious coronavirus spike, and experienced 5000 daily cases and about 47 deaths at the time of the July 11 protests. Cuba is struggling to vaccinate its people, despite having developed its own coronavirus vaccines.
The US government’s response is hypocritical. It feigns empathy with the Cuban people in their quest for food and other necessities of life but its very policies, sustained over more than six decades, have been designed to cause hardship.
Following the Cuban Revolution, US President Dwight Eisenhower suggested blockading the island in 1960, arguing, “If they [the Cuban people] are hungry, they will throw [Fidel] Castro out”.
Then-US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Lester DeWitt Mallory, wrote a memorandum on April 6, 1960, stating:
“The majority of Cubans support Castro … [T]he only foreseeable means of alienating internal support [to the government] is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship … [A]ll possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba … denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
That, for all intents and purposes, continues to be the demonstrably cruel policy and modus operandi of successive US governments.
It is theoretically possible for Cuba to import food and medicine from the US, but US government red tape and licensing requirements deliberately make it extremely difficult.
Recently, about six million syringes were donated to Cuba by US-based non-profit organisation Global Health Partners, for use in connection with Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign. The first shipment of two million syringes left the US and arrived at the Cuban port of Mariel on July 17. However, it was delayed for almost a month by US red tape.
In late 2020, Trump stopped the practice of sending remittances to Cuba, resulting in a loss of billions of dollars in financial assistance.
Biden has directed his administration to examine how remittances can be sent to Cuba, so that people residing in the United States can send money to Cubans. However, it is unlikely Biden will allow Western Union to use its Cuban partner, Fincimex, to handle remittances because of its ties to the Cuban military-run company, Gaesa.
But, it is difficult to be optimistic regarding the lifting of the US blockade. Biden is anxious to win over as many Cuban-American hardliners as he can, especially given the 2022 midterm congressional elections. Just what additional sanctions, if any, Biden imposes against Cuba remains to be seen.