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Feb 22, 7:13 PM EST

Cuban dissidents honor OAS secretary-general denied entry


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AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

HAVANA (AP) -- A group of Cuban dissidents on Wednesday recognized the secretary-general of the Organization of American States for defending human rights in their country even though the government denied him entry to attend the ceremony.

About a dozen dissidents and diplomats from the U.S., Czech Republic and Sweden honored Luis Almagro at the home of the late democracy activist Oswaldo Paya, who died in a 2012 car accident.

Paya's daughter Rosa Maria invited Almagro to receive the prize from her group in Havana. She has accused the Cuban government of causing the wreck, a charge the government denies.

Almagro sent dissidents a letter saying that the OAS's only interest is to help move Cuba closer to the values and principles upheld by the organization in relation to democracy and human rights. He also said his intention is not to evaluate Cuba's internal politics.

In his letter, Almagro said the Cuban government told him it was astonished he was involved in what it called "anti-Cuban" activities. He also said he hoped the government would not retaliate against the group.

The communist-run government also denied entry to former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and former Chilean Education Minister Maria Aylwin, both of whom were invited to attend the ceremony.

On Wednesday, the Cuban government released a statement saying Paya intended "to launch a grave, open provocation against the Cuban government, generate internal instability, hurt the image of the country and, at the same time, damage the progress of diplomatic relations between Cuba and other countries."

Cuba has not belonged to the OAS since 1962. It considers the organization an instrument the U.S. government uses to pressure countries that do not follow its policies.

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Andrea Rodriguez is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

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