Nonetheless, Lopez Levy said he sees increased space for criticism since Raul Castro fully took over the presidency from his older brother in 2008.
Indeed, two economists at the state-run Center for Cuban Economic Studies have suffered no public reprisals for a blunt article in a Roman Catholic Church magazine earlier this year that said the reforms were insufficient.
The Communist Party newspaper Granma has taken to running a weekly, two-page section of letters to the editor that's full of complaints about bureaucracy and suggestions on managing the economy.
But there are limits, and the line is hard to judge for even the most loyal.
Esteban Morales, an intellectual who often appeared on state television to criticize the United States, was was expelled from the Communist Party after he denounced high-level corruption in a column last year. After an outcry among Cuban intellectuals, Morales was reinstated.
Oliva, a soft-spoken, bespectacled 62-year-old, said he tries not to dwell on his expulsion. Instead he takes solace in painting, which calms the shaking in his hand from Parkinson's disease.
Oliva has not been prevented from selling his work or kicked out of the powerful Artists and Writers' Union. Even Culture Vice Minister Fernando Rojas has promised to continue working with someone he called "a man of the revolution" and "one of our greatest artists." But Oliva said doesn't expect his workshop to reopen anytime soon, since he plans to keep speaking his mind, even to foreign journalists.
"I'm going to continue having conflicts one way or another," Oliva said.
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