Biden's new sanctions on Cuba are 'purely symbolic'

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Joe Biden
Joe Biden Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden announced new sanctions against Cuba on Thursday, in response to the government's crackdown on historic protests on the island. But some progressives, experts on U.S.-Cuba relations, and Biden's own State Department say the sanctions probably won't do all that much.

The sanctions will target Cuba's defense minister and the communist nation's special forces brigade, reports CNBC. "This is just the beginning – the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people," said Biden. Cuban Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera "played an integral role in the repression of ongoing protests in Cuba," the U.S. argues. But as USA Today notes, Miera likely doesn't hold any U.S. assets that would be affected by sanctions, and Cuba's interior ministry was already blacklisted by the Trump administration.

"The sanctions architecture built around Cuba makes these designations entirely redundant," Ryan C. Berg, an expert on Latin America at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told USA Today. "The sanctions are purely symbolic and meant to give the impression that the Biden administration is responding rapidly to the Cuban protests when these actions really are not doing much."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price discussed the sanctions with reporters on Thursday, but acknowledged that the practical effects would be minimal, at least for now. Price said there was "an important messaging element" to the sanctions. "It's an important signal of our determination to hold accountable those responsible."

The Biden administration is promising that the sanctions are just the first of many actions — USA Today notes that the protests have seemingly changed Biden's mind on his campaign promise to take a softer approach on Cuba and ease sanctions. And symbolic or not, many experts and lawmakers do think the sanctions are likely the right decision. Progressives and advocates who argue the U.S. embargo on Cuba is contributing to the current unrest are unlikely to agree that more sanctions are the answer.

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