People arrest an anti-government protestor during a pro-government rally in Havana, Cuba, on July 11, 2021. On Thursday, the Biden administration imposed travel bans against eight Cuban officials for their repression of peaceful protesters who took to the street that day. File Photo by Ernesto Mastrascusa/EPA-EFE
Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The Biden administration targeted eight Cuban government officials with travel bans on Thursday on accusations they participated in the repression of protesters this past summer.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the unnamed officials were "implicated in attempts to silence the voices of the Cuban people through repression, unjust detentions and harsh prison sentences."
"These eight individuals include Cuban officials connected to the detention, sentencing and imprisonment of peaceful July 11 protesters," he said. "The United States took steps to enforce visa restrictions in response to Cuban government attempts to deny Cubans their freedom and rights through continued intimidation tactics, unjust imprisonment and severe sentences."
Thousands took to the streets of Cuban last July 11 to protest for economic reform amid a shortage of goods and medical supplies during the pandemic. It was the largest anti-government demonstration the communist country had seen in decades.
During the protests, U.S. government officials including President Joe Biden voiced support for the demonstrators while the Cuban government blamed the United States for being responsible for sowing the unrest.
Soon after, the United States imposed sanctions on top Cuban officials over the government's response.
According to the State Department, some 600 protesters across the island nation remain jailed following the protests, some experiencing worsening health conditions with no access to proper food, medicine or family.
"These visa restrictions reinforce the U.S. commitment to supporting the Cuban people and promoting accountability for Cuban officials who enable the regime's affront to democracy and human rights," Blinken said.
Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba's minister of foreign affairs, rejected the visa restrictions on Thursday.
"The U.S. government persists in the bad habit of trying to impose its will on other governments by means of unilateral coercive measures," he tweeted. "The announcement made today by the Secretary of State in no way alters Cuba's determination to defend its sovereign rights."