U.S. hits Cuba with new sanctions over human rights, Venezuela

FILE PHOTO: Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is imposing new sanctions on Cuba over its human rights record and its support for Venezuela’s government, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday.

In a statement, the department said it will restrict Cuba’s access to commercial aircraft by revoking existing licenses for aircraft leases to Cuban state-owned airlines and denying future applications for aircraft leases.

The United States will also expand sanctions to include more foreign goods containing U.S. content and impose additional restrictions on exports to the Cuban government, the statement said.

“This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime – that they must immediately cease their destructive behavior at home and abroad,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the statement.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded in a post on Twitter, denouncing the move as “additional economic blockade measures evidencing moral bankruptcy of an internationally isolated policy promoted by a corrupted government.”

In a separate statement, the U.S. State Department criticized Cuba for its detention of dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, calling on Havana to disclose his whereabouts, treat him humanely and release him without condition.

Ferrer, a prominent figure who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was detained in Santiago de Cuba on Oct. 1 after a police raid on his home, which is also the group’s headquarters.

Cuba’s government does not typically discuss police activity, including the detention of dissidents, who Havana dismisses as provocateurs funded by the United States.

Reporting by Eric Beech and Makini Brice in Washington and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Daniel Wallis