“We will do everything possible to keep Cuba in the spotlight” in order to keep the focus on the Cuban people and their right to demonstrate peacefully, a senior administration official said during an appeal with journalists.
The Treasury Department on Friday imposed individual sanctions on Cuban police, known as the Policia Nacional Revolucionaria of the Cuban Interior Ministry, and two of its leaders – Oscar Callejas Valcarce and Eddy Sierra Arias. The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the United States to impose economic sanctions on those suspected of engaging in human rights violations and corruption.
Just before meeting with Cuban-American leaders, Biden on Friday called the situation in Cuba “intolerable” and said there would be more sanctions to come “unless there was a radical change. in Cuba, which I do not foresee “.
Biden last week announced similar sanctions against the head of the armed forces in Cuba and the Cuban Interior Ministry’s special national brigade, known as the “black berets,” for their involvement in the crackdown on the Cuban government. About 700 protesters have been arrested or are missing in the wake of the protests, according to activists on the island.
Cuban officials and entities are already widely sanctioned by the United States, so it’s unclear whether Biden’s sanctions will have a significant impact on those targeted. But the senior administration official said it wasn’t just about holding accountable those responsible for the violent crackdown on protesters in Cuba, it was also about sending a message to the international community and to the Cuban people.
“Part of it is imposing sanctions,” the official said. “But the other is to make sure that we keep these people in the spotlight, not just on the international community, but that the Cuban people know that the United States is supporting them and trying to defend them.”
Biden officials also explored how to restore remittances and staff the U.S. Embassy in Havana to provide consular services.
Biden said on Friday that the state and treasury departments were ordered to “provide me, within a month, with recommendations on how to maximize the flow of remittances to the Cuban people, without that the Cuban army does not take its part “. It comes after Biden earlier this month established a remittances task force to look into the matter.
Officials are reviewing the efforts that worked in Venezuela to allow the interim government to send money directly to people there, the senior official said.
The administration – including officials from the Commerce Department, the Treasury Department and the Federal Communications Commission – has spoken with private sector companies to see what options are available to provide Internet connectivity on the island.
But administration officials have repeatedly said they face challenges when considering legal and technical restrictions, as many of the options on offer are fairly easy to block. Biden officials are also discussing other means, such as using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to allow Cubans on the island to bypass government censorship.
“There is no quick fix,” the senior administration official said. “If this was something that could be done easily, it would have already been done in places like Iran and other closed regimes.”
Meeting attendees included: Manny Diaz, former mayor of Miami and chairman of the Florida Democratic Party; Yotuel Romero, singer of the Cuban group Orishas and one of the main authors of Patria y Vida, a song that has become a song of protest in Cuba; Felice Gorordo, CEO of eMerge Americas and co-founder of Roots of Hope; Ana Sofia Pelaez, co-founder of the Miami Freedom Project; and Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group.
Senator Bob Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a senior Cuban-American Democrat, and Representative Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee , were also invited to the meeting, said the senior administration official.
Biden’s meeting with Cuban American leaders comes after a series of meetings chaired by Cedric Richmond, senior White House adviser and director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, and Juan Gonzalez, senior director of the Council of national security for the western hemisphere.
The administration strives to “ensure that we are not focusing on the United States or the conflict with the United States and Cuba, but rather on the Cuban people and the rights they claim – and the attention that the international community must [have to] defend them, ”the senior official said.
Earlier this week, foreign ministers of the United States and 20 other countries, including Colombia, Greece and Israel, issued a joint statement condemning the mass arrests in Cuba and urging authorities to release those detained , guarantee press freedom and fully restore Internet access. But U.S. allies like Canada and Spain – both of which have close economic ties to Cuba – have not signed.
On Thursday, Biden also announced that he would appoint Frank Mora, a prominent Cuban-American Democrat, as the United States’ ambassador to the Organization of American States. If confirmed, Mora would be a figurehead involved in the administration’s policies towards the Western Hemisphere.
The Biden administration, however, might struggle to get Mora confirmed. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban American and the top Republican on the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday he opposed the nomination by Biden de Mora, who has supported the Obama-era engagement with Cuba.
Menendez, a key figure given his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not decided whether or not he will support Mora, the Miami Herald reported.
Prior to the protests, Biden’s team made it clear on several occasions that Cuban politics was not a foreign policy priority for the administration. But the protests on the island – the largest in decades – forced Biden officials to step up their efforts to develop a plan for Cuba.