17:23 GMT03 March 2021
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    New economic sanctions on Cuba by the Trump administration and a decline in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced financial reforms in the new year, including eliminating the dual currency system, in a bid to encourage national production over imports.

    The US Treasury announced on Friday it had imposed new sanctions on Cuba, targeting the country's interior ministry for "serious human rights abuse." The move comes days after the US returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

    According to a news release, the Treasury targeted both the ministry itself and Interior Minister Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

    The Treasury cites the alleged torture and inhumane jailing of Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, founder of the dissident umbrella group Patriotic Union of Cuba, which Havana has claimed receives funding from the US State Department.

    The sanctions prevent "all transactions by US persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property," including "making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person."

    In November 2019, the US specifically sanctioned then-Interior Minister Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo for ostensibly "arbitrarily arresting and detaining thousands of Cuban citizens and unlawfully incarcerating more than 100 political prisoners in Cuba” and claiming the Cuban government supported “gross violations of human rights in Venezuela." The move inhibited Gandarilla's ability to travel. He passed away in November 2020, according to TeleSUR, at which time Álvarez was appointed to replace him.

    Returned to State Terror Sponsors List

    On Monday, the US State Department added Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, from which it had been removed in 2015. "The Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and subversion of US justice," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, possibly not realizing that the president of Cuba is Miguel Diaz-Canel.

    Pompeo asserted that the Cuban government "has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers, while many Cubans go hungry, homeless, and without basic medicine," justifying his remarks by claiming that the Cuban government refused to extradite members of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) who traveled to the island in good faith in 2017 for historic peace negotiations that ended 53 years of armed struggle.

    The news release also claimed that the Cuban government has long given refuge to Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army who was questionably convicted in 1977 of murdering a police officer and later escaped from prison and now on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. However, Shakur was also in Cuba when the country was removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list in 2015.

    An Island Staple of US Politics

    US President Donald Trump long courted the support of the conservative Cuban-American community, much of which is settled in southern Florida, after fleeing the island, helping Trump to win the state in the November 2020 election. With his administration in its final days, it has been in a rush to push through a slew of "midnight" regulations and changes, which have spanned foreign and domestic policy goals, from economic sanctions to civil rights rollbacks.

    The US has maintained an embargo against Cuba since 1960, barring nearly all trade with the socialist country and making travel to and from the island difficult. In 2019, all but a handful of countries at the United Nations voted to condemn the blockade for its "incalculable humanitarian damages" and calling it "a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of human rights" and noting it "qualifies as an act of genocide under Articles II (b) and (c) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide." Only the US and Brazil voted against it, while US allies Colombia and Ukraine abstained.

    Related:

    Petition Against US Sanctions on Cuba Addressed to ‘President’ Joe Biden
    Cuba Condemns US Designation of ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’
    US Imposes Controls on Military Exports to Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Commerce Dept. Says
    Tags:
    Interior Ministry, sanctions, Cuba
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