The U.S. State Department has announced new visa restrictions on Cuban officials linked to what Washington says is Havana’s ongoing repression of opposition voices in the small Caribbean nation.
In a statement released Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said nine high-ranking officials from Cuba’s Interior Ministry and armed forces are no longer welcome in the United States after they helped target journalists and activists gathering earlier this month for pro-democracy protests.
Plans for a “Civic March for Change” on November 15 fell through after the Cuban government arrested key dissidents and surrounded the homes of the protest’s organizers ahead of the march, calling their actions “counterrevolutionary,” Reuters reported. Cuban cities were quiet that day despite calls on social media to gather in the streets against President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Those who did turn out were shouted down by Díaz-Canel’s supporters or arrested.
In a statement issued ahead of the protests, Blinken called for the Cuban government to listen to its people’s demands. After Cuban security forces blocked journalists, activists and organizers from showing up to the march and arrested those who did, the State Department released another statement, this time condemning the island’s “repressive regime.”
These new visa restrictions are the strongest actions taken by the U.S. since November 15. In Tuesday’s announcement, Blinken said the nine sanctioned officials were responsible for attempting to “silence the voices of the Cuban people through repression and unjust detentions.”
“These visa restrictions advance our goal of supporting the Cuban people and promoting accountability not only for regime leaders but also for officials who enable the regime’s assaults on democracy and human rights,” Blinken said in the statement. “The United States continues to use all our diplomatic and economic tools to push for the release of political prisoners and to support the Cuban people’s call for greater freedoms and accountability.”
In July, Cuba saw its largest anti-government protests in decades, according to Reuters. Many people remain imprisoned after police and military forces cracked down on the peaceful protests, according to the New York Times.
Then and now, the Cuban government blames local unrest on the United States.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla tweeted Tuesday that Cuba would “reject foreign interference.”
“The US is still wrongly presuming that our government will allow it to provoke social destabilization in Cuba,” Rodriguez wrote. “The hostile measures announced today do not alter that determination.”