The United States has barred eight Cuban government officials from entering the country, accusing them of being implicated in the repression of peaceful protesters last July.
In a statement on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the targeted Cuban officials of being involved “in attempts to silence the voices of the Cuban people through repression, unjust detentions and harsh prison sentences”.
The top US diplomat pointed specifically to the treatment of Cuban protesters who took to the streets in July in a wave of unprecedented demonstrations against rising food prices, medicine shortages, and other socioeconomic issues on the island.
“These eight individuals include Cuban officials connected to the detention, sentencing, and imprisonment of peaceful July 11 protesters,” Blinken said in the statement, which did not name the Cuban officials.
The July protests were the largest in Cuba since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.
Thousands took to the streets in anger over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of protesters were arrested.
The travel bans are the latest actions against Cuba imposed by the administration of President Joe Biden, who has largely followed his predecessor Donald Trump’s highly criticised policies towards the island.
The US administration previously spoke out in support of the Cuban activists while praising the anti-government protests.
The Cuban government has accused Washington of fomenting the recent wave of unrest in hopes of destabilising the country, and it also blamed crippling US sanctions for the dire economic conditions many people are facing.
“The US government persists in the bad habit of trying to impose its will on other governments through unilateral coercive measures,” Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a tweet on Thursday.
“Today’s announcement by the Secretary of State does not alter by one iota Cuba’s determination to defend its sovereign rights.”
In November, more planned demonstrations fizzled amid the detention of several Cuban opposition figures and laws banning protests. In response, Blinken announced travel bans against nine Cuban officials for what he said were similar actions against protesters.
Blinken said on Thursday that some 600 Cuban protesters remain in detention, including some who have seen their health conditions deteriorate and do not have access to proper food or medicine.
“The United States continues to use all appropriate diplomatic and economic tools to push for the release of political prisoners and to support the Cuban people’s call for greater freedom and accountability,” he said in the statement.