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A Cuban-Canadian rights group is formally requesting that Ottawa slap sanctions on officials in Cuba for Havana’s repression of demonstrators at a July, 2021, protest.

Democratic Spaces, founded and directed by Michael Lima, a Cuban-Canadian, is filing a request with the Department of Global Affairs’ sanctions policy and operations co-ordination division on Monday morning. Mr. Lima is a human-rights activist and researcher.

“Levels of repression in Cuba today are the highest in two decades,” Mr. Lima said.

This application is supported by Cuba Decide, a group founded by Cuban activist Rosa Maria Paya that seeks a plebiscite on the future of Cuba, a single-party authoritarian state. Her father, famous Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, died in 2012 in a car accident.

On July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in dozens of cities, from Havana to Santiago, calling for President Miguel Diaz-Canel to step down, in what international media called the biggest anti-government demonstrations on the Communist-run island in decades.

The protests erupted amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, its old ally, and a record surge in coronavirus infections, with people voicing anger over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.

The government’s reaction was “brutal, systematic repression and censorship,” according to Human Rights Watch, an international rights group. What followed, it said, constituted “human-rights violations against well-known government critics and ordinary citizens,” as well as “harassment, arbitrary detention, abuse-ridden prosecutions, beatings, and other cases of ill-treatment that in some cases constitute torture.”

Cuban authorities “routinely subjected many of those detained to brutal abuses, including gender-based violence, in detention, and prosecuted dozens in trials that violated basic due process guarantee,” Human Rights Watch said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who once praised former Cuban authoritarian leader Fidel Castro as “remarkable” and a “larger than life leader who served his people,” nevertheless publicly criticized Havana in July, 2021. He said Canada was “deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protests by the Cuban regime” and condemned “the arrests and repression by the authorities of peaceful demonstrators.”

Canada did not follow up with sanctions, however.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s office offered no explanation Sunday after being asked why Canada has not imposed sanctions on Cuban officials.

Spokesman James Emmanuel Wanki only noted that Canada has expressed “deep concerns over the violent crackdown on protests in Cuba,” and said Ottawa stands “with the people of Cuba in their aspiration for democracy.”

Mr. Wanki said of particular concern are Havana’s “repressive measures against peaceful protesters, journalists and activists, and arbitrary detention.” He said Canada also condemns Cuba’s “harsh sentencing” of protesters.

Madrid-based Prisoners Defenders, a rights group, has estimated that between 2,000 and 8,000 Cubans were detained by authorities after the protests.

It also said that as of Oct. 31, 1,027 persons, including 34 minors, are still missing or detained since the July 11 protests.

Mr. Lima and Sarah Teich, one of the lawyers assisting with this application, note that Canada has followed tough criticism of other authoritarian governments with sanctions.

They point out that Canada has imposed “numerous targeted sanctions on Chinese, Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan officials in response to their commission of gross human-rights violations” in those respective countries.

“Sanctions often follow condemnation when it’s meaningful condemnation,” Ms. Teich said. She’s working with human-rights lawyer David Matas on the application.

The request to Global Affairs asks Canada to apply targeted sanctions on 10 Cuban government officials, including Mr. Diaz-Canel, who it alleges are “responsible for gross violations of human rights, particularly in the aftermath of the July 11, 2021, protests.”

Others it suggests are Alvaro Lopez Miera, a Cuban army corps general and Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and Lazaro Alberto Alvarez Casas, the division general of the minister of the interior. The United States has applied sanctions on nine of these 10 people. It has not slapped sanctions on Cuba’s President.

The complainants also ask Canada to place sanctions on two entities: the Black Berets brigade of Cuba’s Interior Ministry, which Human Rights Watch named in its reporting on the crackdown, as well as the Red Berets, also called Prevention Troops, of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces. The United States has slapped sanctions on both groups.

“The United States has used its Magnitsky legislation to impose a variety of targeted sanctions on Cuban officials and entities with responsibility for the human-rights violations in the aftermath of the July 11 protests. Canada should do the same and impose targeted sanctions,” Mr. Lima and his colleagues said in the letter.

Human Rights Watch said its research indicates that the July, 2021, demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful. “Many protesters chanted ‘Liberty!’ or ‘Motherland and life,’ referencing a song performed by Cuban artists that repurposes the Cuban government’s old slogan, ‘Motherland or death,’ and criticizes repression in the country,” the group said.

With a report from Reuters

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