WASHINGTON – Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro said on Wednesday that the Cuban government denied him permission to enter the island to receive a human rights prize created to honor late dissident Oswaldo Paya.
Almagro explained in a letter to Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria, that the Cuban consulate in Washington informed him last Thursday that he would not be granted a visa and that Cuban authorities considered the purpose of the visit to be an unacceptable provocation.
The OAS secretary-general also said the government in Havana had accused him of involvement in anti-Cuban activities.
Almagro had planned to receive an award and participate in a tribute to Paya organized by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, whose president is Rosa Maria Paya.
“My only additional concern is to ensure there’s no type of repression or reprisal against the event’s organizers,” the OAS chief said.
Cuban immigration officials also denied entry to former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who had been invited to the same event.
Cuba has been brought back into the OAS fold in recent years.
In 2009, the OAS revoked Cuba’s long suspension from the regional body; in 2014, Almagro’s predecessor, Jose Miguel Insulza, became the first secretary-general to travel to the island in five decades; and in 2015 the Caribbean country participated for the first time in a Summit of the Americas.
Cuba, a member of the OAS since its founding in 1948, was suspended in 1962 – at the height of the Cold War – after its revolutionary government identified itself as Marxist-Leninist.
Paya, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, died at the age of 60 in a car accident on July 22, 2012, while traveling from Havana to the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
Cuban authorities blamed the crash on the driver of the vehicle carrying Paya, but the Paya family contends that the Cuban security services were involved in the dissident’s death.
Paya emerged as a leading opposition figure in 2002, when he delivered more than 10,000 signed petitions calling for a referendum on democratization to Cuba’s parliament.
He was also honored that year with the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.