The new actions target National Revolutionary Police force Director Oscar Callejas Valcarce, 63, his deputy, Eddy Manuel Sierra Arias, 48, and the force itself.
Separately, the United States is seeking ways to provide Internet access or wireless phone access for Cubans to get around government censorship.
“We’re increasing direct support for the Cuban people by pursuing every option available to provide Internet access, [to] help the Cuban people bypass the censorship that’s being mandatorily imposed,” Biden said as he welcomed several Cuban American activists to the White House on Friday.
“You always know something’s not going well when a country will not allow, not allow, their people to be engaged and be on the Internet and being able to make their case known around the world,” Biden said.
The administration has talked to private sector companies about ways to offer wireless LTE services, a senior administration official said Friday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving strategy.
The administration has explored using satellites or offshore balloons to provide Internet access. Providing help to connect activists to the Internet or encrypted communications means trying to go around the Cuban government and probably also means that it could block the offered services.
Biden said the United States is also trying to find ways to help Cubans receive money from relatives or friends overseas. Known as remittances, the money has been a mainstay of middle class life for many ordinary Cubans but has also been a side benefit for the Havana government.
“I have directed the State Department and the Treasury Department to provide me within one month recommendations of how to maximize the flow of remittances to the Cuban people without the Cuban military taking their cut” through state-controlled banks, Biden said as he sat with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and others Friday. Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants, is a sometime critic of fellow Democrats on Cuba policy.
Biden said the United States had “brought to bear the strength of our diplomacy, rallying nations to speak out,” an effort that resulted early this week in a statement signed by 20 governments. But most of the United States’ closest European allies, as well as Canada, declined to participate, preferring to conduct their own diplomacy with Cuba.
A meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the Cuba “situation” in the Organization of American States was postponed when a quorum could not be gathered and some members questioned whether Cuba, which is not a member, was within their remit.
Biden said his administration was “expanding assistance to political prisoners and dissidents,” an apparent reference to $20 million contained in his budget proposal for democracy promotion and humanitarian aid to the island, primarily distributed through nongovernmental organizations.
Biden had imposed a first round of sanctions on Cuban government officials and entities last week over alleged human rights violations against peaceful protesters. At least one protester died during the largest street demonstrations in years, and hundreds were detained.
The measures, under the Global Magnitsky Act, target those determined to be “perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and corruption.” They block all assets under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit any dealings with those sanctioned by any U.S. person.
Both individuals sanctioned Friday were designated because of their role in the police effort to “suppress and attack protesters” during the July protests, a statement from the Treasury Department said.
Members of the force, a division of Cuba’s Interior Ministry, were “photographed confronting and arresting protesters in Havana, including the Movement of July 11 Mothers, a group founded to organize families of the imprisoned and disappeared,” beating and arresting a Catholic priest defending young protesters in Camaguey, beating minors among the protesters and using “clubs to violently break up peaceful protests across Cuba.”
Last week, similar sanctions were imposed for the crackdown against Cuba’s defense minister and Interior Ministry Special Forces known as “Black Berets.”
The global version of the Magnitsky Act, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who was arrested and later died in a Russian prison after investigating official fraud, expanded a law first passed in 2012 aimed at Russia to cover international human rights abuses.
The substantive impact of the sanctions is likely to be small, as few of those affected are known to have resources or dealings with the United States, which has embargoed all trade and most financial transactions with Cuba for decades. But the administration wants to “layer on sanctions . . . to make sure we are keeping these individuals in the spotlight, not just in the international community” but in Cuba itself, the administration official said, “so people know the United States is supporting and trying to defend them.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner,” the official said.
The meeting and efforts to help demonstrators represent Biden’s most significant public engagement on Cuba since taking office, and come as hundreds of Cuban Americans have gathered daily outside the White House to demand a more forceful response. Among them are demonstrators calling for a U.S. military intervention to depose the Communist government, an action the Biden administration has ruled out.
Cuba is a difficult issue for Biden and for Democrats in general. President Donald Trump won Florida in 2020, a critical battleground state, after he had accused Biden and other Democrats of being socialists on the Cuban model and of catering to the dictatorship in Havana. President Barack Obama attempted a diplomatic outreach to Cuba late in his presidency, arguing that decades of an economic embargo and political ostracization had not persuaded the Cuban regime to change.
Although Biden ran on a promise of largely restoring the more open relations with Cuba that Obama enacted but Trump rolled back, he encountered stiff resistance from some in his party, particularly Menendez and Democratic Party officials concerned about the Hispanic vote in Florida in upcoming midterm elections.
While the administration hesitated, the protests in Cuba — and the harsh government crackdown that followed — pushed it away from any intention to reestablish ties with Havana.
“Democrats are weak on Cuba, having perpetuated the lies and anti-American propaganda being told by the communist regime,” Republican National Committee communications director Danielle Alvarez said in a statement Friday.
No Republicans were among the guests for Biden’s meeting Friday, which included several Cuban American celebrities and activists from Miami but none of the most influential conservative Cuban American power brokers.
Among those who came was Yotuel Romero, a Cuban-born singer and Grammy award winner. He was part of a group of both Miami and Cuba-based rappers that last February released the song “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life), which became the anthem of the protests.
The title is a play on the Cuban revolutionary slogan “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death).