Doctoral candidate’s opinion yields ugly consequences in Cuba

When Arturo Lopez-Levy was a 22-year-old student at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana, Cuba, studying to be a Cuban diplomat, he learned a tough lesson: Expressing an opinion in a communist country can have grave consequences.

His opinion in a debate at the school: that Cuba should have joined U.S. troops in the first Gulf War.

The consequences: Cuban officials accused him of being “ideologically deviated from the Revolution,” expelled him from the school and put him in the Cuban Armed Forces to serve a year at Guantanamo.

Today, at age 39 and a PhD candidate at DU’s Graduate School of International Studies, Lopez-Levy talks openly about the experience.

“Cuba should have taken advantage of its membership of the United Nations Security Council and supported the war against Iraq in 1991,” he says. “Sending Cuban troops to the Gulf would have forced the United States … to coordinate actions with the Cuban armed forces … a good P.R. action against the embargo and [it] would counteract the image of Cuba and the U.S as perpetual enemies. The enemies of better relations between the two countries would have gone ballistic. I like that.”

After his year at Guantanamo, Lopez-Levy was allowed to finish his bachelor’s degree in international affairs and he became an officer in the Cuban government. But after three years he resigned because, he says, “I was not communist and didn’t want to [go through] the same process again if I expressed myself.”

Since then, Lopez-Levy has come to the U.S. and earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. In 2003, he came to DU.

But coming to the U.S. hasn’t guaranteed Lopez-Levy full-blown expression, either. In an ironic twist, the U.S. Department of State did not let him present a paper he had written on U.S. policies toward Cuba — a paper that earned him a first place prize from the American Academy of Diplomacy.

“Democracy is about exchanging ideas, but it seems that some people in America don’t subscribe [to] this view,” Lopez-Levy says. “I think the current state department was afraid of a possible reaction of Cuban extremists against a conversation with someone with my moderate views about Cuba and U.S policy towards the island.”

But he says he has no resentment. “The United States has been such a good country for me that I’ll be very unthankful to hold a minor discourtesy against this country.”

As for what Cuba might look like post-Castro, Lopez-Levy says the country is already gradually changing from a totalitarian regime to more “social pluralism” to a market economy with more religious liberties.

Despite the changes, Lopez-Levy says not to expect free and fair elections soon. “The current regime will survive the transition from Castro to his brother, Raul Castro,” he says. “Without Fidel’s charisma, Raul will make major economic reforms and some kind of political liberalization in areas like freedom to travel and to own private property, but this will strengthen the system in the short term.”

After he finishes at DU, Lopez-Levy plans to teach and work in U.S-Latin American relations.

“We need to make the 21st century a real American century with greater integration of U.S., Canada and Latin America,” he says. “And of course, Cuba, the most beautiful island, is always in my mind.”

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