Authorities in Cuba denied entry to a conservative Spanish politician and two Dutch colleagues hoping to meet with dissidents, Spain’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday.
Cuba’s ambassador to Madrid, Isabel Allende, has been summoned urgently to explain what the Spanish government considers an “unacceptable” expulsion, the ministry said in a statement.
The incident threatens to ignite a diplomatic spat just days after Spain’s new Socialist government said it wanted to improve relations with Cuba and lead the European Union in changing its policies toward the communist-run island.
Jorge Moragas of Spain’s opposition Popular Party, travelling with two centre-right politicians from the Netherlands, was stopped on arrival Friday night at Havana airport and denied access to Spanish diplomats, including Ambassador Carlos Alonzo Zaldivar.
Spanish news agencies said the three were kept at the airport for two hours and threatened with arrest if they did not board a plane to return to Madrid, which they did.
Cuban authorities said Moragas was travelling on a tourist visa, which meant he could not conduct political activities, Spanish news reports said. The Spanish Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Moragas holds a seat in Parliament and is his party’s senior official for foreign policy.
Party president Mariano Rajoy said the incident was an insult to the Spanish people in general because Moragas represented them as a lawmaker.
Rajoy said the episode “shows that Cuba, the Castro regime, is nothing but a dictatorship in which dissidents cannot carry out any political activities.” He was referring to President Fidel Castro.
Trinidad Jimenez, Moragas’s foreign policy counterpart in Spain’s ruling Socialist Party, downplayed the affair. She said Moragas erred by not requesting the right visa before travelling to Cuba.
“The problem is Mr. Moragas’s lack of maturity, planning and seriousness. He does not know how to organize his trips,” Jimenez said.
Just this week the new Spanish ambassador to Cuba called the current relationship between Cuba and Spain “profoundly unsatisfactory.”
“We want to improve the situation,” Zaldivar said.
After a Cuban government crackdown of dissidents in the spring of 2003, European Union nations responded by unanimously agreeing to reduce high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba. Then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a conservative, was among the most outspoken critics of Castro.
They also decided to invite dissidents to national holiday celebrations at their embassies in Havana as a sign of support for the island’s internal opposition.
Zaldivar said these measures are of “doubtful practical utility” and that “it is just a matter of time” before policy changes are made.
“Spain wants to lead this process,” he said.