WASHINGTON, D.C.: The United States on Friday added Latin American adversaries Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as Russia’s Wagner Group, to a blacklist on international religious freedom, opening the path to potential sanctions.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Wagner Group was being designated due to involvement in abuses in the Central African Republic, where nearly a decade of bloodshed has had religious overtones.
“The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses,” Blinken said in a statement.
Cuba and Nicaragua were both newly designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” under the annual determinations, meaning that the two leftist-led states — already under US sanctions — could face further measures.
Blinken kept on the blacklist all Countries of Particular Concern from 2021: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Nicaragua’s increasingly authoritarian leader, Daniel Ortega, has clamped down on the Catholic Church since accusing it of supporting 2018 anti-government protests, which were crushed at the cost of hundreds of lives.
A bishop critical of the government, Rolando Alvarez, was put under house arrest in August with other priests and seminarians arrested on unspecified charges.
The designation of Cuba is the latest sign of pressure on the Caribbean island by the administration of President Joe Biden, which has largely shunned previous Democratic president Barack Obama’s Vatican-blessed effort to seek an opening with the longtime US nemesis.
In its latest annual report on religious freedom issued in June, the State Department pointed to violence and arrests of Cuban religious figures over purported roles in rare public protests, as well as restrictions on non-recognized Protestant churches.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter