The secretary general of the Organization of American States urged participating governments at the VIII Summit of the Americas to put more pressure on Cuba and “not allow a convenient indifference in the face of a dictatorial situation.”
“We cannot allow the Cuban people to continue to be oppressed by an infamous dictatorship, a dictatorship that carries the weight of decades of human rights violations … tortures and executions. We cannot allow that,” Luis Almagro said Thursday during a gathering organized by two organizations, Victims of Communism and CubaDecide.
“We have to be faithful to fundamental ethical values. Indifference in the face of dictatorship is to break the fundamental ethical values of policy,” the OAS chief added.
The remarks came on the same day that news outlets reported that Cuban leader Raúl Castro would not be attending the summit.
Almagro said Latin American countries have the tools to pressure the Havana regime because OAS regulations can be applied to Cuba even though the hemispheric organization suspended the island's membership in 1962.
“Cuba is only suspended from the OAS. The resolutions of the OAS still apply to Cuba because it is still part of the Inter-American system,” he said. “A suspension does not spare it from having to meet its responsibilities. That's why we demand democracy for Cuba and the application of the Inter American Democratic Charter.”
The OAS secretary general also endorsed the call earlier in the week by about 30 former heads of state and government from Spain and Latin America who urged the governments at the Lima summit to refuse to recognize the new Cuba government that is scheduled to be appointed April 19. Castro has said he will retire as president of the government but will remain at the head of the Communist Party.
“Let's continue to put pressure on the regime,” he said. “Let's not recognize the rules for succession that the dictatorship wants to impose on its people.”
The event where Almagro spoke also featured a video about Cuban activist Rosa María Payá and the death of her father, dissident Oswaldo Payá, in a car crash that was never fully clarified.
Payá said her father “gave his life for the cause of freedom for all Cubans, and we have been slowly learning that the freedom of Cubans also means freedom for Latin Americans.”
“I hope that the message sent by the former presidents … can be heard again at the Summit of the Americas, from the mouths of those who today have the power in the region and who continue in some way to try to stand aside, to avoid taking the bull by the horns and speaking the truth,” she added. “The reality is that it's time to put the brakes on the Castro influence over the region.”
The Cuban government's participation in the Summits of the Americas, launched by former President Bill Clinton, has long been surrounded by controversy. In 2012, ALBA member countries threatened to boycott the gathering unless Cuba was invited. In the last summit, held in Panama in 2015, Castro met with then-President Barack Obama but members of his delegation clashed with Cuban dissidents who attended a parallel summit of civil society groups.
Almagro also condemned the Cuban delegation in Lima for an outburst of screams and slogans on Thursday that forced him and civil society activists to move a meeting to a closed-off hall. The Cuban delegates shouted “liar” at Almagro and “down with the worms” at the Cuban opposition activists in the room.
“Today we had a very clear example of the levels of intolerance and how they want to silence the voice of dissidents in Cuba,” said the OAS secretary general.
“They brought intolerance to our system, brought the voice of hatred, the voice that certainly tries to drown other voices. They have tried to dismantle our own democracy, the functioning of the Summit of the Americas. And that we cannot allow,” Almagro said. “And we cannot allow that in Cuba. It would not be ethical.”
Havana's large delegation has complained to organizers of the civil society gathering, which until Thursday had kept Cuban government supporters and opponents apart to avoid confrontations.
The Cuban ambassador to Peru, Juan Antonio Fernández, told the island's state-controlled news media that the disruptive shouts and slogans Thursday were justified and complained that critics were hypocritical because “they are the same ones who decided not to have Venezuela here.”
“They talk about dialogue, about democracy,” he said, “but how can they do that when someone is not here?”