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Trump sanctions Cuba’s interior minister and security agency, ramping up pressure on island

Ministry of the Interior of Cuba with flag (Martin Abegglen/WikiCommons)

The Trump administration sanctioned Cuba’s interior minister and the agency overseeing the island’s state security apparatus Friday in a final push to punish the island’s government before leaving office.

The U.S. Treasury Department accused Brigadier General Lázaro Alberto Álvarez Casas of “serious human rights abuses” in making the designation. Also sanctioned is the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the prison system, police and state security agency.

“The Cuban regime has a long history of human rights abuse,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to address the dire human rights in Cuba and elsewhere around the world.”

The new sanctions come after four years of Trump administration policies steadily escalating pressure on the island, which the outgoing president sees as a “malignant actor” in the region. In the final days of his administration, he is ramping up the pressure on the island. Earlier last week, he added Cuba to the state sponsors of terrorism list, a move seen as politicized by his critics.

The measures could pose an extra hurdle for President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to take a different course on Cuba.

In a statement on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Interior Ministry, known by its Spanish acronym, MININT, and its state security agents monitor and arrest the Cuban government’s critics. Pompeo mentioned the case of José Daniel Ferrer, a well-known Cuban dissident who was arrested in 2019 and kept in a MININT prison where he suffered abuse and did not receive medical attention, the statement said.

“Today, the Cuban regime holds more than 100 political prisoners and Ministry officials have overseen the torture of many of those detainees,” Pompeo said.

The Treasury Department sanction freezes any U.S. assets. The list includes individuals and companies sanctioned for drug trafficking, terrorism, human rights violations, and other crimes. Companies or individuals under U.S. jurisdiction cannot engage in transactions with those blacklisted.

In addition to the Treasury Department sanction, the U.S. government also castigated the Cuban minister under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which carries similar implications.

Pompeo accused Álvarez Casas of being “an accomplice in harassing and monitoring journalists, dissidents, activists, and members of civil society groups, including more recently members of the San Isidro Movement.”

Álvarez Casas replaced Julio César Gandarilla Bermejo as the head of MININT after his death in November. Previously he was the agency’s deputy minister. The State Department prohibited Gandarilla Bermejo from entering the United States in November 2019, due to his role in ongoing repression in Venezuela and Cuba.

The new sanctions could hamper future cooperation between U.S. federal agencies and MININT, which also includes a Cuban Coast Guard branch. In 2016, during a brief thaw in relations under then-President Barack Obama, a MININT delegation visited U.S. military installations in Key West.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce also declared Cuba — and other countries like Venezuela, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea — as “foreign adversaries” as part of a Trump executive order “securing the information and communications technology and services.”

The order allows the Commerce Department to prohibit transactions. It is not clear how the rule — which does not go into effect for another six months and is subject to public comment — might affect Cubans until all the details are released. But experts believe it could affect private Cuban programmers who outsource their services to companies in Miami.

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(c) 2021 Miami Herald

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