By Samuel Rubenfeld
Friday, August 13, 2021
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday sanctioned two Cuban interior ministry officials and a military unit, as hundreds remain detained following protests last month on the island.
Since the beginning of the protests, the Cuban government dispatched security forces to suppress them, deploying units from the Cuban Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and the Cuban Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), according to the Treasury.
The protests came amid shortages of food and medicine, as Cuba faces down a wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Internet, which has exploded in use in recent years in Cuba, played a key role in shaping public perception of both the protests and the Cuban government’s response, according to observers.
Hundreds of dissident artists and opposition activists remain behind bars, including some of Cuba’s most prominent dissident leaders, according to media reports. Some Cubans are finding new ways to speak out amid the repression, the Miami Herald reported.
The sanctions announced Friday are the latest in a series in response to the Cuban crackdown. With limited exceptions, the U.S. maintains its embargo on Cuba and all Cuban nationals are blocked regardless of whether they appear on a sanctions list, the Treasury said Friday.
Romarico Vidal Sotomayor Garcia, chief of the MININT political directorate, and Pedro Orlando Martinez Fernandez, who leads the political directorate of the Policia Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR), were each designated Friday. The PNR, a unit of the MININT, was sanctioned late last month. Cuban Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera and the Brigada Especial Nacional del Ministerio del Interior (SNB), were each designated last month as well.
Also sanctioned Friday was the Tropas de Prevencion (TDP), a unit of the armed forces commanded by MINFAR and functions as military police, the Treasury said. TDP soldiers have been deployed during the protests and in one instance was involved in a violent engagement, according to the Treasury.
The designations follow the release earlier this week of a fact sheet by the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce that highlighted the exemptions and authorizations within the embargo that support the provision of Internet and related telecommunications services to Cuba.
“The guidance and licensing information issued today reiterates and clarifies that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may engage in certain transactions that support the ability of Cuban people to seek, receive, and impart information, especially at this critical moment in Cuban history,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Among other things, the exemptions authorize the export of mobile phones, television and radio receivers, and consumer software, as well as fee-based communication services such as email or messaging platforms, social networking and domain registration, according to the fact sheet.