The United States imposed sanctions on the Cuban police force and two of its leaders on Friday in response to the Havana government's crackdown on protesters as President Joe Biden prepared to meet Cuban American leaders at the White House.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the sanctions were a reaction to "actions to suppress peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11."
Treasury said that targets of the sanctions were two Cuban police force leaders as well as the Cuban interior ministry's national police force.
Biden's late afternoon meeting comes as the politically important community calls for more support for protests in Cuba that represent the biggest populist outpouring against the Havana government in decades. Biden had promised additional sanctions against Cuban leaders, a move backed by many Cuban Americans.
Biden was expected to provide an update on U.S. efforts to provide wireless communications to the Cuban people as well as attempts to allow remittance payments from Americans to Cubans without the Cuban government benefiting from the money, a senior administration official said.
In addition, Biden will discuss plans to augment U.S. embassy staff in Cuba to provide more assistance to the Cuban people, the official told reporters on a conference call.
The protests erupted this month amid Cuba's worst economic crisis since the fall of its old Soviet Union ally and a record surge in coronavirus infections. Thousands have taken to the streets, angry over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities' handling of the pandemic.
Florida's 1.5 million Cuban Americans voted heavily for Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, and earning their support is crucial for Biden's Democratic Party to clinch the swing state in the 2024 presidential election.
Last week, the U.S. Treasury announced sanctions on Cuba's defense minister and an interior ministry special forces unit over allegations of human rights abuses in the crackdown on anti-government protests this month.
Biden said at the time that more sanctions would be coming against "individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people." Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill urged more measures.
Participants in Friday's meeting were to include Yotuel Romero, lead singer of Cuban hip hop group Orishas and author of "Patria y Vida" a song that has become the anthem for the protesters; Ana Sofia Pelaez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
"I think if Biden has a successful Cuban policy that is able to put the regime on the defensive and provide concrete support to Cubans, that will benefit him with voters in Florida," said John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. "If the regime collapses on his watch, that could be a game changer."
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