U.S. condemns Cuba for keeping dissidents away from Peru summit

People walk past a mural in Lima, Peru, Thursday, March 22, 2018.
People walk past a mural in Lima, Peru, Thursday, March 22, 2018. AP

The United States condemned the Cuban government Tuesday for blocking opposition and independent activists from traveling to Peru for activities that are part of the VIII Summit of the Americas being held this week in Lima.

“The State Department has received numerous and credible reports that the Cuban government blocked, and continues to block, members of independent civil society from traveling to Peru to participate in the Summit of the Americas,” the department said in a statement.

“The United States condemns these actions,” the statement added. “We urge the Cuban government to facilitate the full and solid participation of its citizens in the Summit by allowing free and unrestricted travel, a universal human right.”

Several activists, including punk musician Gorki Avila and Carlos Amel Oliva the Unión Patriótica organization, have complained that the Cuban government blocked their departure from the island. Religious activist Felix Yunier Llerena tried to fly from Miami but did not receive a Peruvian visa.

Lawyer Pedro J. Fuentes-Cid, former political prisoner and vice-coordinator of exile activist group Encuentro Nacional Cubano, said that the Peruvian Foreign Ministry refused his request for accreditation.

The State Department statement said Cuban authorities blocked the activists from traveling using arbitrary stops at airports, brief detentions and home visits to warn them that they would not be allowed to leave the island.

“They are being very aggressive,” said activist Rose Maria Payá, president of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, as she left one of the gatherings of civil society representatives meeting Tuesday alongside the summit.

Network members have bodyguards and coordinate their movements to try to avoid potential clashes with members of Cuba's official delegation.

Hours before President Obama landed in Cuba, Cuban officials arrested some 50 protesters of a key dissidents group, the Ladies in White..

Cuba's official media recently published several articles attacking Paya and the network, which have urged the Organization of American States and the international community to refuse to recognize the appointment of a successor to Cuban ruler Raúl Castro, expected April 19.

The official Cubadebate online site published a letter Monday, allegedly written by Paya to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, in which she branded Latin American presidents as “corrupt” and accused former Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of allowing himself to be “manipulated” by the U.S. government.

Paya said the letter was “totally false.”

The Cuban delegation issued a statement on its arrival Sunday saying that is members, “representatives of the youths, students, workers, peasants, cooperative members, private business people, intellectuals, academics, religious and professional leaders, among others, will participate in parallel gatherings and the Summit of the People with a great sense of responsibility and constructive spirit in order to contribute the experiences of the Cuban revolution.”

The official delegation also claimed to represent “the true civil society in Cuba” and vowed that it “will not share any space with mercenary elements and organizations that are financed from abroad and answer to the interests of a foreign power with a clear agenda of subversion and violence.”

Despite the heated rhetoric, so far there's been no repeat of the violent clashes set off by the official Cuban delegation during the last Summit of the Americas, held in Panama in 2015. The Peruvian government and OAS officials have structured the activities with an eye to keeping the two groups apart and avoid clashes.

“It does not make sense that Nicolás Maduro's invitation was withdrawn, but Raúl Castro was invited,” said Cuban opposition activist Antonio Rodiles, who flew to Lima from the United States because he expected the Cuban government would block him if he tried to leave from Havana.

“They brought their shock troops, but they are not going to do much more because this is not the right time. It's a delicate time,” he said.

“All these activities and slogans are not important here, but they are really for the image that will be projected inside Cuba,” said opposition activist Ailer Gonzalez.

In a videotaped private meeting with Communist Party members, Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel lashed out against Cuban dissidents, independent media and embassies of several European countries, accusing them all of supporting subversive pro