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US PRESIDENT Joe Biden described a new raft of sanctions on Cuba as “just the beginning” on Thursday as Washington tightened the screws on the socialist island.
“This is just the beginning,” Mr Biden said in a statement. “The United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.
“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence,” said Mr Biden.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a press conference: “We’ve made clear over the last week that addressing this moment was a priority for the administration.”
The move comes soon after the president claimed to support the Cuban people in protests amid an economic crisis and shortages of medical equipment and vaccines to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
But his professed support is undermined by his refusal to lift a crippling six-decade economic blockade which has cost the Cuban economy about $754 billion (£548bn) since it was implemented in 1959.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel had suggested that if Mr Biden had sincere humanitarian concern for the Cuban people “he could eliminate the 243 measures implemented by President Donald Trump, including the more than 50 cruelly imposed during the pandemic as a first step towards ending the blockade.”
Instead the US Treasury Department has sought to ratchet up pressure on Cuba targeting the Interior Ministry and 77-year-old Alvaro Lopez Miera, leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that the US has no legal, political or moral authority that enables it to impose sanctions on people across the world.
He said that the charges levelled against Cuba were “unfounded and slanderous.”
He said that it should apply the same rules to itself for the “systematic repression and police brutality that took the lives of 1,021 persons in 2020.”
Cuban authorities insist that the unrest on July 11 was co-ordinated by US-funded opposition groups and that those detained had committed acts of violence and damage during the protests.
“There are people who will receive the response that Cuban legislation allows for, and it will be energetic,” Mr Diaz-Canel said on state television last week.
The US has sought to exploit an economic crisis on the socialist island which is largely of Washington’s own making.
A co-ordinated social media campaign has been launched using US-based automated Twitter accounts under the hashtag #SOSCuba.
Global media outlets have been accused of using photographs of pro-government rallies to depict opposition protests.
Cuban Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Johana Tablada has accused Washington of “weaving a Walt Disney narrative” of the recent demonstrations to justify military intervention.
Last week Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called for air strikes on Cuba to overthrow the democratically elected government.
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