Rosa María Payá, the daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, was briefly detained on Sunday at Panama’s airport and threatened with deportation to Cuba if she caused any public disturbances at the Summit of the Americas, according to an account she gave on Twitter.
Payá was released after being questioned and her personal items were subjected to a careful review by authorities, in what was later described by the Foreign Ministry of Panama as “a bureaucratic error.”
The incident caused alarm in South Florida, with some activists expressing fear that other Cuban dissidents traveling to Panama to make their voices heard at the summit may also be subjected to mistreatment in the Central American country.
Payá, whose father died in 2012 in what Cuban officials portrayed as a single-car crash, reported on Twitter that officials of Panama’s National Security intercepted her as soon as she exited the plane.
According to her account, an agent told her: “You’ll be deported to Cuba if you cause any disturbance, you carry a banner … Go to your country to cause riots.”
“Now they put me in detention, say they are checking my documents. I’m somewhere in the Tocumen Airport,” Payá, 26, said in Spanish on Sunday afternoon from Panama.
In other short messages, Payá also expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which her personal items were being reviewed by the Panamanian authorities.
“They checked everything that I had in my bag, even my underwear. At one point he took from my sight my personal agenda with all my notes,” she said.
The arrest sparked much interest in social media, motivating activists and other personalities to contact Panamanian authorities to advocate in her favor.
Panama's former ambassador to the Organization of American States, Guillermo Cochez, said he called National Security Director Rolando López to request the Payá’s release.
“They applied procedures that to me seem inadequate. I reported it to the foreign minister, I reported it to the president,” Cochez said in a brief telephone interview.
Hours later, when Payá had been released, the foreign ministry issued a statement regretting the incident.
"The foreign ministry apologizes for the bureaucratic mistake made and has taken steps to ensure that it does not reoccur,” it said.
Cuban dissidents were invited to participate in the Summit of the Americas, where Cuban leader Raúl Castro also plans to participate.
Ruben Castillo, Panama’s coordinator of the Forum of Civil Society and Social Actors of the Summit, confirmed in recent days to el Nuevo Herald that organizers decided to send invitations to dissidents despite Cuba placing restrictions on the groups.
“The Cuban dissidents and other groups of civil society in Cuba will be represented,” Castillo said. “We will make efforts so that everyone has representation and make a dignified debate.”