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U.S. imposes new Cuba sanctions over human rights abuses

"I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out," President Joe Biden said in a statement.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced new sanctions Thursday against a Cuban official and a government entity that it says was involved in human rights abuses during a government crackdown on protests on the island earlier this month.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control listed Alvaro Lopez Miera, a Cuban military and political leader, and the Brigada Especial Nacional del Ministerio del Interior, or Interior Ministry Special Brigade, as among those who will face the latest sanctions.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said the sanctions were "just the beginning" of measures to hold those responsible for the crackdown accountable.

"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," Biden said.

The U.S. would work with regional allies to continue to support the Cuban people, the president added. That includes working with civil society groups and the private sector to provide internet access that circumvents government censors and reviewing U.S. policy on remittances, which were curtailed under the Trump administration. The U.S. is also committed to restaffing the embassy in Havana to provide consular services to Cubans, Biden said.

The Interior Ministry Special Brigade was already sanctioned in January by the Trump administration, which targeted the entire ministry and Interior Minister Lazaro Alberto Alvarez Casas under the Global Magnitsky Act.

“We’ve made clear over the last week that addressing this moment was a priority for the administration and for President Biden,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The move comes after the White House announced earlier this week that Biden had ordered his administration to take several steps to raise pressure on the communist regime after thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana and other cities across the island earlier this month to protest food shortages and high prices during the coronavirus crisis.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had been tasked with exploring sanctioning Cuban officials who committed human rights violations against peaceful protesters in Cuba.

Other steps included the State Department creating a working group to review U.S. remittance policy to ensure that money that Cuban Americans send home makes it directly into the hands of their families without the regime taking a cut.

Biden also ordered a review of the viability of increasing staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The White House is hopeful that a boost in staffing could help it better facilitate civil society engagement following one of Cuba’s biggest antigovernment demonstrations in recent memory.

Matt Korade contributed.