, HAVANA, Feb 23 – A Cuban dissident group awarded a prize to the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who was denied a visa to accept it in person.
The Cuban authorities denied visas to Almagro and other foreign dignitaries invited to witness him receive the Oswaldo Paya prize, named after a dissident who died in 2012 in a car crash under mysterious circumstances.
But some 50 people, including opposition activists, journalists and diplomats, crowded into the Havana home of the dissident’s daughter to award Almagro the prize in his absence.
“We are happy to do this with those who were able to make it,” said 28-year-old Rosa Maria Paya, who leads a group called the Latin American Network of Youths for Democracy.
In her living room, decorated with a Cuban flag and a poster of her father, were two empty chairs — one for Almagro and other in honor of the late Chilean president Patricio Aylwin, who was also recognized.
Black plaques bearing Oswaldo Paya’s face were placed in each seat.
Almagro, Aylwin’s daughter Mariana, and former Mexican president Felipe Calderon all were blocked from traveling to Cuba for the event.
The Americas’ only Communist government denied them visas for what the Cuban foreign ministry called “an open and grave provocation against the government” of President Raul Castro.
Given this bid to “create domestic instability… the government decided to deny visas to the foreigners linked to these matters,” the ministry said.
Almagro, a Uruguayan diplomat, has been a sharp critic of Venezuela’s leftist government, Cuba’s closest ally.
“We hope that this aggression, this vulgarity on the part of the Cuban government toward the guests… is met with a response from the members of the OAS and other democratic governments,” Paya said.
Paya’s father Oswaldo was a recipient of the European Union’s Sakharov prize in recognition of his work advocating democracy and political freedoms in Cuba.
He was killed when a car he was riding in went off a road and into a tree. The government blamed the driver, saying he was speeding, but the family and another occupant of the vehicle say it was deliberately run off the road.
Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, and has declined to return despite having been readmitted in 2009.
Since Cuba’s suspension, the only OAS secretary general to visit the island was Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean who attended a Latin American summit in Havana in 2014.