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United States sanctions Cuba's defense minister for supporting Nicolas Maduro

Jan. 2 (UPI) -- The Trump administration imposed sanctions Thursday against Cuba's minister of defense, accusing him of committing human rights violations and propping up embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement the United States sanctioned Leopoldo Cintra Frias, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, and his children, Deborah Cintra Gonzalez and Leopoldo Cintra Gonzalez, due to his command responsibly in committing "gross violations of human rights," barring them entry into the United States.

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"Today, We designate Cuba regime official Leopoldo Cintra Frias for his involvement in gross violations of human rights and use of violence to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela," Pompeo said on Twitter. "We will promote accountability for those who abuse human rights, wherever they may reside."

Pompeo said MINFAR, alongside the Venezuelan military and intelligence officers, has been involved in torturing and subjecting Venezuelans who oppose Maduro "to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment."

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"As minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, Cintra Frias bears responsibility for Cuba's actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela," Pompeo said, accusing MINFAR of attempting to dismantle Venezuela's democracy through "terrifying Venezuelans into submission."

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The United States is one of more than 50 countries that back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's claim to the helm of the country after Maduro's 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate.

Since then, the United States has been applying political and economic pressures on states and entities it accuses of supporting the Maduro regime.

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"The international community can clearly see how fearful Cuba is of democracy - both for its own citizens and Venezuelans," Pompeo said. "We strongly encourage other governments and international organizations to continue promoting accountability for the Cuban regime for its involvement in violations or abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba, Venezuela and beyond."

The sanctions come after Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary of state for Latin America, told the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald last week that the United States would continue its maximum pressure campaign on Cuba.

"Stay tuned, there will be more actions aimed at restricting their sources of income," he said.

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