The Biden administration has announced new sanctions against Cuba's national revolutionary police and its top two officials as the US looks to increase pressure on the communist government following this month's protests on the island.
The Police Nacional Revolcionaria and the agency's director and deputy director, Oscar Callejas Valcarce and Eddie Sierra Arias, were targeted in the latest sanctions announced by the Treasury Department.
"We hear the cries of freedom coming from the island. The United States is taking concerted action to bolster the cause of the Cuban people," said President Joe Biden.
Biden made the remarks at the start of a White House meeting with Cuban Americans.
The administration says it is considering a wide range of additional options in response to the protests, including providing internet access to Cubans, and has created a working group to review US remittance policy to ensure that more of the money that Cuban Americans send home makes it directly into the hands of their families without the government taking a cut. Biden added that more sanctions were in the offing.
The White House meeting comes almost three weeks after unusual July 11 protests in which thousands of Cubans took to the streets in Havana and other cities to protest shortages, power outages and government policies. They were the first such protests since the 1990s.
The Cuban regime deployed the PNR to attack protesters, the Treasury Department said in a statement. The police were photographed confronting and arresting protesters in Havana, including members of the Movement of July 11 Mothers, a group founded to organise families of the imprisoned and disappeared, according to Treasury.
In Camagüey, a Catholic priest was beaten and arrested by the PNR while he was defending young protesters, according to Treasury. PNR officers also beat a group of peaceful demonstrators, including several minors, and there have also been documented instances in which the PNR used clubs to break up peaceful protests across Cuba, Treasury said.
Among the Cuban American activists meeting with Biden was Yotuel Romero, one of the authors of the song "Patria y vida!" which has become a kind of anthem for the protests, said an official.
Others present included L. Felice Gorordo, CEO of the company eMerge Americas; Ana Sofía Peláez, founder of the Miami Freedom Project, and Miami's former mayor, Manny Díaz, and Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
White House officials said Biden would discuss the new sanctions as well as ways to potentially establish internet access for the Cuban people.
Internet access is a sensitive issue in Cuba. In the days before the recent protests, there were calls on social media for anti-government demonstrations. Cuba's government said anti-Castro groups in the United States have used social media, particularly Twitter, to campaign against it and blamed Twitter for doing nothing to stop it.