Almagro was to travel to Cuba to receive an award named in honor of the late Oswaldo Payá, who was a strong opponent of the Cuban Communist Party.
The award was issued by Latin America Youth Network for Democracy (Red Latinoamericana de Jovenes por la Democracia in Spanish) , which is led by Payá’s daughter, the renowned Cuban activist Rosa Maria Payá. Almagro wrote Rosa Marie Payá a letter explaining that the Cuban consulate would not give him a visa because the purpose for his visit was deemed to be an “unacceptable provocation.”
OAS was founded in 1948 to promote cooperation among its 35 independent member states. Cuba, while still a member state, was excluded from participation in 1962 because the island’s current government was “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system.”
Cuba’s suspension was lifted during OAS’s 39th General Assembly in 2009 after former President Barack Obama began talks with Raúl Castro. In order for Cuba to be readmitted into the organization, it needs to comply with the treaties signed by other member states. Raúl Castro’s regime has repeatedly expressed disinterest in becoming a full member.
Almagro wasn’t the only high-profile attendee denied entry into Cuba. News sources say former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, former Chilean Minister Mariana Aylwin, and some members of Youth for Democracy were also denied visas.
Restricting the attendance of these dignitaries has reportedly caused outrage across Latin America. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray wrote on Twitter that Calderón’s presence on the island does not affect its inhabitants or the ruling government, and that “[Mexico] lament[s] the decision.”
Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda also called Cuba’s decision “highly hostile against Mexico.” Mexico has maintained close ties with the Cuban government; President Enrique Peña Nieto was even asked to provide an eulogy at Fidel Castro’s funeral last month.
The Cuban Embassy in Chile reportedly called the ceremony a “provocation against the Cuban government” that is being organized by an “illegal anti-Cuban group . . . in order to generate internal instability and . . . affect our diplomatic relations with other countries.”
Rosa Maria Payá, the activist whose daughter leads the award, currently lives in Miami with her mother, Ophelia Acevedo. She is working with other activists to promote the Cuba Decide campaign, an initiative seeking a binding plebiscite to transition the current Cuban government into a pluralistic democracy. She traveled to Cuba specifically to attend the ceremony.
The award ceremony, which was held on the morning of February 22 at the Payá home in Havana, was ultimately attended by 50 people, including U.S. and European diplomats, with reporters and a strong police presence. The prize that Luiz Almargo was unable to accept in person is called the Oswaldo Payá Prize after Rosa Maria Payá’s father, an activist who advocated for, among other rights, the right to free speech. He was killed in a 2012 car accident.