Author Archives: Lopez-Levi Arturo

Arturo Lopez-Levy and Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, “A Clash of Generations: U.S. 50 Year Old Embargo Meets Scarabeo 9”

Original from Infolatam:

Scarabeo 9, the semi-submersible oil rig contracted by the Spanish company Repsol completed its journey from Singapore to Cuba. Repsol’s rig will explore Cuba’s exclusive economic zone, an area in the Gulf of Mexico of about 112000 square kilometers. Oil exploration in the zone is being contracted to several foreign companies such as Venezuela’s PDVSA, Malaysia’s Petronas, and Vietnamese PetroVietnam. Cuba’s Ministry of Basic Industry estimates the oil reserves in the zone are between 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil. CNN GPS host Fareed Zakaria referred to Cuba’s total oil potential as between 5 billion and 20 billion barrels of oil.

The start of the oil exploration will not derail Raul Castro’s reform program. At a minimum, oil will not come from the offshore wells soon enough, while the reforms are needed immediately. The Cuban government needs to create jobs for the million and half workers that are supposed to leave the government sector in the next two years as part of the reforms program proclaimed last April by the Cuban Communist Party in its VI Congress. It must also alleviate critical situations of poverty in the five most eastern provinces, where unrest has been rising. With or without oil, the Cuban economy sorely needs to develop an environment in which businesses and individuals feel confident to invest.

The development of an oil based economy also poses a challenge for the anti-corruption policy President Raul Castro claims to support. The risk of potential backdoor deals and traffic of influence associated with the volume of oil profits cannot be contained without more transparency to hold corrupt or incompetent officials to account. To improve the quality of governance, the Cuban government must accelerate its opening to the best monitoring world practices and the training of its project managers, accountants, economists, and regulators. It must also lessen controls over the media and nongovernmental activities in ways that they can monitor and identify negligent and corrupt officials.

The impact on U.S.-Cuba relations:

In the early 1990’s, several studies of Cuban future scenarios (Edward Gonzalez and David Rondfelt’s “Cuba Adrift in a Post-Communist World”

of the Rand Corporation for instance) warned that a discovery of oil in Cuba would be a game changer for U.S-Cuba relations. Given the expectation that it will find oil in Cuba’s waters; the mere arrival of Scarabeo 9 strengthens Havana’s position versus Washington’s policy of isolation.

One must add that oil offshore exploration in Cuba has important implications in terms of U.S. national security, energy and environmental policies. Facing the danger of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Cuban American oil expert Jorge Piñón, associated with the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geo-sciences, recommended an industry wide license “allowing U.S. oil equipment and services companies to provide goods, services and personnel to oil companies operating in Cuba in the event of an emergency”.

At a minimum, Piñón suggested that CUPET, Cuban oil company be allowed to join the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) “in order to gain experience in deep-water drilling by the sharing of industry health, safety and environmental best practices through IADC conferences, training seminars, and technical publications in areas such as drilling and completion technology; standards, practices, legislation and regulations which provide for safe, efficient and environmentally sound drilling operations”.

The activation of the American business and environmental community about oil exploration in Cuban waters is already in motion. In December 2011, a joint delegation of the International Association of Drilling Contractors and the Environmental Defense Fund visited Cuba to explore ways to cooperate with Cuba beginning by common responses to potential spills. Last fall Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Mary Landrieux

(D-La) sponsored a bill to allow “U.S. citizens and residents to “engage in any transaction necessary” for oil and gas exploration and extraction in Cuba — “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” The bill passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with the support of The Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association (PESA).

Even in the “worst case scenario” for Cuba of a Republican victory in 2012, historical precedents such as the lifting of the embargo against Vietnam allow us to predict that the pro-embargo lobby doesn’t have the spine to stop the push of the American petroleum lobby. The opening of Agricultural trade with Cuba in 2000, showed how a mobilized and well-funded American farmers community defeated the pro-embargo lobby in a matter of two years. In the last decade, food sales to Cuba averaged $350 million a year. The trade peaked in 2008 at $ 700 million. If Scarabeo 9 discovers oil, the potential profits of American trade and investment in Cuba will easily exceed the agricultural trade revenues.

The Way Forward:

Sooner or later, we will read an op-ed by a pro-embargo lobbyist explaining that all this is a campaign by the Cuban government to entice the American business community, and that the only way forward is for the United States to fight with the companies that dared to explore oil fields next to our shores, respecting international laws and showing goodwill to our government but refusing to go along with the Cuban American right wing lobby in Southern Florida. It will insist that there are neither reforms nor reformist elements to nurture by engaging Cuba.

Here is a better course: The Obama Administration, which wasted a year since Repsol-YPF contracted the platform in China, should instead include Cuba in all regional cooperation efforts to design mutually beneficial hemispheric energy and environmental protection policies. To pursue such a goal and protect Florida and Gulf coast, the American and Cuban government should begin negotiations to train their officials for coordinated responses against accidents in the Florida Straits and protect their installations against any potential terrorist attack, from enemies of the United States or violent Cuban exile groups.


To nurture economic reform and anti-corruption initiatives in Cuba’s dealing with the oil industry, is clearly in the national interest of the United States. Since American companies contracting overseas are regulated by the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, by far a more restrictive anti-corruption legislation than any of the countries involved in Cuba’s oil industry, President Obama can argue that it is in U.S. national interests to license American oil companies to contract any oil related activity in Cuba, beginning by environmental protection. This is legal within the framework of the Helms-Burton law.

A secure and stable world oil market is a fundamental United States national security interest. All serious predictions by American academic and intelligence community are forecasting the globalization of energy demand and an increase in world demand for oil by 20% or more over the next two decades, mainly in emerging markets. The risks of disruptions of oil extraction, refining or transportation, and oil spills are always present. Washington should not postpone anymore an urgent discussion about the convenience and the opportunity costs of refusing to engage Cuba’s oil industry.

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado

Arturo Lopez-Levy

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Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, 2011 Conference Proceedings

ASCE, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy has just published the Proceedings of its 2011 Conference. The Proceeding include a wealth of information and analyses. All articles for 2011 and indeed all the Conference proceedings for the last 21 years are freely available on the ASCE Web Site

Below is the Table of Contents for the 2011 Proceedings with all articles hyper-linked to the original ASCE source.


Conference Program

Table of Contents

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Cubans Test Official Limits on Criticism

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba (AP) — Pedro Pablo Oliva was the kind of model citizen the Cuban government wants to show the world.

Oliva proclaimed his loyalty to Fidel Castro’s revolution, his support for its goal of social equality and his gratitude for cultural largesse that nurtured his
development into an internationally celebrated painter and sculptor. He even
did a turn as a delegate in the regional assembly of the western province of
P nar del Rio. But when Oliva criticized harassment of dissidents and suggested there might be room for a party other than the Communists, he was abruptly expelled from the assembly, accused of counterrevolutionary behavior. He found himself with no choice but to shutter his home-based community workshop after the government withdrew its support.

President Raul Castro has called on Cubans to openly air their opinions as his government tries to revive the struggling economy with economic reforms. But officials have sent mixed signals about where it draws the invisible frontier between loyal criticism and what they consider to be dangerous attacks on the system.

A prominent socialist intellectual who made a sharp attack on corruption at high levels found himself booted out of the Communist Party for months. But in another case, officials just seemed to shrug when two state economists
criticized the country’s economic reforms as insufficient.

And while Oliva was punished for denouncing attacks on dissidents, when famous singers Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez did the same, their comments prompted debate in official media but no reprisals.

“It’s a very difficult question to know where the line is, because the line depends on the moment,” said Arturo Lopez Levy, a Cuban-born economist who lectures at the University of Denver.

Read the Rest of the Article: Cubans Test Official Limits on Criticism

Pablo Milanes: Testing the Limits?

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Arturo Lopez-Levy: “Change In Post-Fidel Cuba: Political Liberalization, Economic Reform and Lessons for U.S. Policy”

Arturo Lopez-Levy

Here is the Hyperlink: Arturo Lopez Levy,Change In Post-Fidel Cuba: Political Liberalization, Economic Reform and Lessons for U.S. Policy” New America Foundation, May 2011,

Executive Summary:

This report explores the historic reform process currently underway in Cuba. It looks first at the political context in which the VI Cuban Communist Party Congress took place, including the Cuban government’s decision to release a significant number of political prisoners as part of a new dialogue with the Cuban Catholic Church. It then analyzes Cuba’s nascent processes of economic reform and political liberalization. To conclude, it discusses the challenges and opportunities these processes pose for U.S policy toward Cuba.

In his essay “Change in Post-Fidel Cuba”, Arturo Lopez-Levy, (a lecturer and PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and also a graduate of the Carleton University-University of Havana Masters Program in Economics!) presents a wide ranging survey and careful analysis of economic and political changes in Cuba since Raul replaced Fidel in 2006, organizing his analysis around the pivotal Sixth Party Congress of April 2011.  Lopez-Levy tries hard to be even-handed and objective in his analysis. He succeeds well, though virtually no-one anywhere on any of the various political spectrums relevant to Cuba will be pleased with all of his assessments. His knowledge of Cuba at this juncture of its history is deep. He is particularly well qualified for undertaking such an analysis not only on the basis of his knowledge of Cuba and also given his academic work. His examination of Cuba’s political situation, the reform process, and US-Cuba relations is worth serious attention.

On the whole, Lopez-Levy is optimistic that the economic reform process, still in its initial phases, will be pragmatic, deep-cutting and irreversible but possibly excessively gradualistic.  He sketches the various elements of policy change that are slated for implementation and that will lead to a more decentralized and marketized economic framework that should help unleash and harmonize the economic creativity of Cuban citizens.

He is also optimistic that meaningful political liberalization will occur and indeed characterizes the regime under President Raul Castro as “Post-Totalitarian” – following some works of Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan (Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation, Baltimore: John

Hopkins University Press, 1996.) In Lopez-Levy’s words (p. 13), “Totalitarian practices have softened.” This obviously indicates that the author judges that practices indeed were totalitarian under Fidel and that they continue, though now somewhat “lighter”. (Political prisoners were released and independent critics have not been imprisoned.)

Lopez-Levy seems ready to be quite critical of Fidel but tends to give Raul the benefit of the doubt in a number of cases.  His euphemistic characterization of Fidel’s dictatorial rule is in fact damning if also humorous.

“By virtue of his historical leadership, Fidel Castro, in and of himself, embodied the minimum number of votes needed to establish a “winning coalition” in Cuban politics.”

But Lopez-Levy seems to want to find good things to say about Raul. For example,

“As Raul Castro hinted in his inaugural speech to the VI Party Congress2, this reform process will occur in tandem with political liberalization and the emergence of a Cuba more open toward the outside world.”

He also rather generously explains Raul’s selection of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as First  Vice-President, and Second Secretary of the PCC as follows:

The decision to promote Machado (one year older than Raul)  to the second in command, first in the government, and now in  the Party, can be explained by two factors: 1) the triumph of the alliance of military leaders and provincial party czars as the dominant force in Cuban elite politics (versus government bureaucrats and Fidel’s appointed ideologues), and Raul Castro’s conviction that Fidel’s policy of promotion of young cadres “by helicopter”, not in a step by step Leninist fashion was a mistake.

The author’s own position on the political monopoly of the Communist Party of Cuba, sanctified by Article Five of the Cuban Constitution, does not seem clear. Lopez-Levy does speak supportively of political liberalization and refers to Fidel’s monopoly of the votes. But nowhere that I can see does he raise the over-arching central political issue and confront what he labels Raul’s “softer totalitarianism.”

The New America Foundation’s U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, directed by Anya Landau French, seeks to take advantage of recent developments to redirect U.S.-Cuba policy towards a more sensible, mutually beneficial relationship. Learn more at


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Cuba-US Relations

Cuba-Estados Unidos: tan lejos, tan cerca

Reconfiguración de las relaciones de los Estates Unidos y Cuba, Jorge I. Domínguez, Profesor. Universidad de Harvard.

Enemigos intimacy. Paradojas en el conflicto Estados, Unidos-Cuba, Rafael Hernández, Politólogo. Revista Temas.

Cuba y los Estados Unidos en  las esferas de la defensa y la seguridad, Hal Klepak, Profesor. Royal Military College of Canada.

La seguridad nacional de Cuba frente a los Estados Unidos: conflicto y ¿cooperación?, Carlos Alzugaray Tret, Profesor. Centro de Estudios Hemisféricos y sobre Estados Unidos, Universidad de La Habana.

El terrorismo y el acuerdo anti-secuestros en las relaciones de Cuba con los Estados Unidos, Peter Kornbluh, Investigador. National Security Archive, Washington, DC

La política de la Unión Europea en el triángulo Cuba-Estados Unidos-España, Susanne Gratius, Investigadora. Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE), Madrid.

La Unión Europea y su papel en las relaciones Estados Unidos-Cuba, Eduardo Perera Gómez, Investigador. Centro de Estudios Europeo. Universidad de la Habana

Estados Unidos-Cuba: potenciales implicaciones económicas de la normalización, Archibald R. M. Ritter. Profesor. Universidad de Carleton, Ottawa.

Las relaciones económicas Estados Unidos-Cuba. La normalización pendiente. Jorge Mario Sánchez Egozcue, Investigador y profesor. Centro de Estudios Hemisfericos y sobre Estados Unidos, Universidad de La Habana.

Cuba, su emigración y las relaciones con los Estados Unidos, Lorena G. Barberia, Investigadora. Universidad de Harvard.

Los Estados Unidos-Cuba: emigración y relaciones bilaterales, Antonio Aja Díaz, Historiador y sociólogo. Centro de Estudios Demográficos, Universidad de La Habana.

Corrientes académicas y culturales Cuba-Estados Unidos: temas y actores, Sheryl Lutjens, Investigadora. Universidad del Estado de California, en San Marcos.

La diplomacia académica: los intercambios culturales entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos, Milagros Martínez Reinosa, Profesora. Universidad de La Habana.

“Cuba and the United States, Resistant to sticks and carrots: The difficulty of pressing for change in a police state”, The Economist, Nov 19th 2009


Brookings Institution, Cuba: A New Policy of Critical and Constructive Engagement, April 2009

ARTURO LÓPEZ-LEVY, Reflexiones sobre la reconciliación nacional, Espacio Laical 2/2009

THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Press Secrectary, FACT SHEET: REACHING OUT TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE April 13, 2009

Anya Landau French, Options for Engagement: A Resource Guide for Reforming U.S. Policy toward Cuba. The Lexington Institute, Washington DC, April 2009

Brookings Institution, Florida International University, and Cuba Study Group, “Cuban American Opinions Concerning U.S. Policy Toward Cuba and the U.S. Election”, a poll gauging public opinion among Cuban Americans in south Florida on December 2, 2008.

Cuban Research Institute, Florida Internationa University, COMPARISONS AMONG EIGHT FIU/CUBA POLLS, 1991-2007

Richard A. Figueroa, “Calle Ocho and the Embargo: The Evolution of Cuban American Views on US-Cuba Policy”, [1], ARI Nº 140/2004, Real Instituto Elcano, Madrid- 20.9.2004

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