SANTIAGO Cuba stoked tensions across Latin America on Tuesday by blocking a former Chilean minister and one of Mexico's ex-presidents from travelling to the island to attend an award ceremony hosted by political dissidents.
Chile said it was recalling its ambassador to Cuba for consultation and asking the Cuban government why Mariana Aylwin, a former education minister and daughter of an ex-president, was blocked from entering Cuba on Monday night.
Aylwin was travelling to the island to receive a prize on behalf of her father. The event, planned for Wednesday, was organised by the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, a group opposed to the Communist government.
Cuba opposes anything that legitimises dissidents, which it claims are funded by U.S. interests. The government is bracing for a tougher U.S. approach to the island under President Donald Trump.
"Exercising the right (to travel between nations) should not be interfered with, especially given that Chile has recognised the feats of various figures in Cuban history and politics," Chile's Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement.
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon tweeted on Tuesday that Cuban immigration prevented him from boarding a flight from Mexico City to Havana to attend the same meeting.
Aylwin was prevented from checking in to her flight in Chile's capital, Santiago, apparently at the request of the Cuban authorities, she told journalists on Tuesday.
Calderon, from Mexico's conservative National Action Party, ruled Mexico from 2006 to 2012 and improved relations with Cuba, which had been severely tested by his predecessor.
Mexico's foreign ministry said on its Twitter account that it "regretted" Cuba's decision to block Calderon's entry.
The group, known as JuventudLAC, has also invited Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba in 1962 for being Communist. It agreed in 2009 to lift the ruling, but Cuba declined to rejoin the Washington-based group, which it deems an instrument of its former Cold War foe the United States.
"The behaviour of the Cuban government is deeply gross, vulgar and rude," Rosa Maria Paya, the group's leader and daughter of dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in 2012, told Chilean media.
"We have all received information that (invited guests) are receiving pressure from the Cuban government."
Mariana Aylwin is seen as an ideological leader of the most conservative segment of Chile's centre-left ruling coalition. Her father was Chile's first democratically elected president after the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Santiago; Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)