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President Joe Biden has imposed new sanctions on Cuba's defense minister and special forces brigade amid growing political pressure to respond punitively to the regime's human rights abuses during recent protests.
“This is just the beginning — the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” Biden said in a statement Thursday.
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 Cuban government deployed a Ministry of the Interior special forces unit, known as the Boinas Negras, or Black Berets, "to suppress and attack protesters," according to a department statement.
The White House urged the regime to release people detained during the protests last week.
"We continue to call for the swift release of peaceful protesters who have unjustly been detained," press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Last week, a senior administration official said numerous prominent activists were missing following the government's crackdown.
Record numbers of protesters joined last week's unusual demonstrations on the island, prompting dozens of arrests and taking the regime by surprise, a senior administration told reporters last week.
“In terms of whether the Cuban regime was caught unawares — I think all of us were caught unawares even though we knew that the level of oppression had increased,” this person said.
Biden at the time said the U.S. "stands firmly" with them and their “clarion call for freedom,” but lawmakers and outside activists have urged him to take stronger action.
On Thursday, the administration said it would work with private corporations to help bring secure internet to the island, a plan backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio, both Republicans. And it is reviewing a policy on remittances for people with family members in the country.
The White House has also engaged Cuban American activists and leaders as it weighed its response.
Democratic political operative Sasha Tirador, who was part of a group briefed by administration officials, voiced support for the move.
"This is the right thing," Tirador told the Washington Examiner on Thursday.
Speaking to the Washington Examiner last week, Tirador had voiced frustration over Biden's approach, stating, “He has the opportunity to make history and do the right thing.”
She added, "Otherwise, the Democrats can kiss the state of Florida goodbye for years to come."
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Original Author: Katherine Doyle