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U.S. imposes Magnitsky sanctions against Cuban officials over protest crackdown

The Biden administration on Thursday imposed new sanctions against Cuban officials allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.

Why it matters: The sanctions make up Biden's first significant policy response to the unrest in Cuba over widespread food and medicine shortages. The announcement came amid calls from Congress and Cuban Americans to increase pressure on the Communist government in support of the protesters.

  • The sanctions risk alienating progressives in his party who called on the president to retract the U.S. embargo against Cuba and instead return to the Obama-era détente with the country.
  • The officials were sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was initially created to curb human rights violations in Russia but was later expanded to include abuses around the world — including in China, Venezuela, Guatemala, Bulgaria and, now, Cuba.

The big picture: At least one protester died during protests against the Cuban regime, though the government did not disclose the cause of the person's death.

  • Hundreds of other demonstrators were detained or have disappeared since protests began, according to exiled Cuban human rights groups.
  • Millions of protesters are using an anti-censorship tool supported by the U.S. government to circumvent the island's social media blackouts.

Biden was criticized by Republicans and the South Florida Cuban community for not immediately publicly supporting the protests.

  • He did so a day after they ignited, saying they were a "clarion call for freedom and relief." The president called on the Cuban regime "to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment rather than enriching themselves."

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