The US government has imposed sanctions on Cuban officials who they say committed human rights violations during a crackdown on protests earlier in July.
The decision by President Joe Biden’s administration comes amid pressure from Cuban Americans and politicians to respond to anti-regime protests.
The United States is also exploring ways to keep internet access open on the island.
The July 11 demonstration was the largest in Cuba in decades. Hundreds of people were arrested and at least one protester was killed.
Cuba blamed the United States and its economic sanctions for the protests and the broader issues in Cuba. The United States has said it supports the Cuban people in asserting their rights.
Protesters said they were angry at the collapsing economy, food and drug shortages, price hikes and the government’s handling of Covid-19.
The sanctions announced Thursday target Defense Minister General Alvaro Lopez Miera and the Interior Ministry’s special forces unit, blocking all US assets and transactions with Americans.
“This is just the start,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States will continue to sanction those responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people.
During the presidential race, Biden pledged to reverse President Donald Trump’s travel and economic policies against Cuba.
Former President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Havana in 2015.
White House officials have said Biden may increase the number of Havana embassy staff in a bid to support the Cuban people. Earlier this week, the White House also formed a group to discuss ways for Cubans living abroad to send money home in a way that avoids government-controlled banks.
In recent weeks, Cuban Americans, especially those in Florida who backed Mr. Trump in the 2020 election, have sharply criticized Mr. Biden’s response to the protests.
Cuban politics puts Joe Biden at an impasse, caught between those on the left who aspire to a return to Obama-era diplomacy and Cuba’s hard-line supporters, especially on the key electoral battlefield of the United Nations. Florida, “said Anthony Zurcher, reporter for BBC North America. .
“It’s a delicate balance that can leave no one satisfied.”