Cuban Government Denied Luis Almagro Entry

The Cuban government denied Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), entry into the nation on February 22 because of perceived anti-government statements. Almagro had been invited to receive the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy’s Oswaldo Payá Prize, named for an activist that was allegedly killed by the Cuban regime.

The Cuban government claimed to block Almagro’s entrance because of his recent attacks on regional leftists governments despite his former defense of socialist movements in Latin America such as Chavez’s Venezuela. However, since becoming the Secretary General of the OAS, he has taken a more conservative stance, describing Nicolás Maduro as a dictadorzuelo, or little dictator. Almagro has also called for regime changes in leftist governments such as Nicaragua and Bolivia. Recent pronouncements like these signaled a shift in Almagro’s position in terms of socialist countries in Latin America and seem to serve, in the Cuban view, as the primary factor in rejecting Almagro’s entrance.

The decision to reject the Secretary General is consistent with previous Cuban policy. In defending its decision to reject Almagro, the government argued that the OAS represents an extension of the United States’ imperialist project to destabilize governments that do not fit with their capitalist intentions. Previously, the country has refused to join the OAS although the ban on their inclusion was lifted in 2009.

This particular denial is not an isolated incident, however. Apart from Almagro, Cuba also blocked the ex-president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, and an ex-Chilean senator, Mariana Aylwin, from entering the country because of their intent to attend the Latin America Youth Network event.

It would not be unreasonable to suggest that barring individuals entry into one’s country as a result of their political affiliations is inconsistent with the democratic transition many predicted would be occurring in Cuba. After former President Barack Obama functionally lifted the Cuban embargo in 2016, analysts believed that the increased revenue and access to the internet throughout the country would lead to increased autonomy and pave the path for democratic protests and shifts.

These shifts, however, have not occurred. Apart from the denials of entry, the regime, absent of Fidel Castro, continued many of the practices that some have labeled as anti-democratic. The government prohibits the existence of other parties and maintains control over all domestic institutions. The successes of several other democratic projects in Latin American countries were largely dependent on some degree of internal pluralism, which Cuba is actively blocking.

Although Cuba agreed to some reforms to maintain the current détente with the United States, it continues to jail dissidents, claiming that they must be mercenaries hired by foreign powers. For example, during Obama’s last visit to the island, protesters from a group called Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) were arrested after peacefully demonstrating for democratic reforms. For now, the future of democracy within Cuba remains unclear as the new regime adjusts to a political environment without the influence and input of Fidel Castro. The decision to block Almagro is symptomatic of a larger strategy being employed by the Cuban regime to silence criticism and maintain their authoritarian grip on power—actions antithetical to democratic norms.