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Prominent Cuban dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe dies at 72


Oscar Manuel Espinosa Chepe, a dissident Cuban economist whose work was censored by the government, died in Madrid on Monday at age 72 after battling chronic liver disease and cancer, his wife, Miriam Leiva, announced on Facebook.

Three years ago, dissident Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe turned down an opportunity to fly to Spain for treatment of a chronic liver disease after Havana officials told him that he would not be allowed to return to the island. This year in March he was finally promised that he would be permitted back home and received the necessary medical treatment in Spain.

“He sacrificed his health and his life for Cuba, and we owe him a great debt,” said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, an old friend, dean of Cuban economists and professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. “Oscar was one of the best-informed Cuban economists,” Mesa-Lago said. “His columns surprised me because with all the difficulties that he faced, they were always well documented, objective and insightful.”

Oscar Espinosa Chepe was born Nov. 29, 1940, in the central province of Cienfuegos and along with many of his generation was infused with revolutionary fervor following Fidel Castro’s 1959 Cuban Revolution. He graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Havana in 1961 and began a career of mid- and high-ranking posts in the government, including as counselor to then-Prime Minister Castro in the ‘60s and later as head of the powerful Office of Agrarian Reform. Mr. Espinosa also was a member of the State Committee for Economic Collaboration, specializing in a handful of Soviet bloc nations, and did a stint as Cuba’s economic attache in Yugoslavia. He took up a position at the National Bank of Cuba upon his return in the 1980s but increasingly found himself at odds with government policy.

According to Mr. Espinosa’s account, in the early 1990s, after voicing disagreement with the country’s economic policies, he was denounced by a colleague, publicly sanctioned and ultimately fired. From his later writings, it was clear that Mr. Espinosa believed the Communist government wielded excessive control over the economy, and he was a strong critic of corruption and bureaucracy.

He reinvented himself as a writer about the Cuban economy, publishing articles and books in the United States, Spain and elsewhere, and doing some work for Radio Marti — U.S.-funded broadcasts aimed at Cuba that Havana bitterly objects to as an intrusion on its sovereignty. Mr. Espinosa also vocally opposed the U.S. embargo and economic sanctions against the island, saying it gave the Cuban government an excuse for its shortcomings and the restrictions it placed on Cubans.

Espinosa is survived by his wife, independent journalist Miriam Leiva, who was forced from her job with the Foreign Ministry at the same time as Espinosa lost his government job. While Espinosa was imprisoned his wife became a founder of the Ladies in White, an organization of female relatives of political prisoners.

Reuters, Miami Herald, Washington Post