December 2012        

What if Cuba discovers oil?

In July 2009 the Venezuelan ambassador to Britain and Ireland, Samuel Moncada, spoke in Dublin. He addressed the role of oil in Venezuela’s economy and particularly noted the downside of such natural wealth. Among the issues mentioned was security and also the development of one industry at the expense of all others.
      For the last few years there has been speculation in the oil industry that Cuba may have a vast oil and gas field offshore. However, a well sunk by the Spanish company Repsol and a second deep-water exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico by PC Gulf, a subsidiary of Petronas of Malaysia, with Gazpromneft of Russia, did not produce significant finds.
      There is hope that Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, may be willing to take up the baton from Petronas and Gazpromneft. After all, what might not be a commercially viable find for the transnationals might still be sufficient to meet all of Cuba’s needs.
      One of the interesting aspects of the oil exploration in Cuba has been the pressure being put by the United States on oil companies involved in the work. The first line of attack was to question the safety aspect of the work. While all oil wells come with such concerns, the exploration has been carried out by some of the world’s leading companies. One wonders whether such concerns were voiced before the nearby BP Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010.
      A bizarre moment came early in 2011 when a rumour that a very large oil find was imminent, and American businesses, together with politicians, considered asking their government to lift the illegal trade embargo on Cuba—nothing like the possibility of making a fast buck to change a businessman’s “deeply held” political beliefs.
      Soon afterwards the American oil lobby found itself in a confrontation with the right-wing anti-Cuba lobby, and things reverted to what passes for “normal” in US dealings with Cuba. A bipartisan letter signed by thirty-four members of Congress threatened the Spanish oil company with prosecution under US law for daring to work with the Cuban government.
      There seems to have been very little discussion on the left about the consequences for Cuba of a major oil find. With a neighbour like the United States, and its unquenchable thirst for oil, surely the threat of invasion and the installation of a regime sympathetic to US interests is greatly increased, especially considering the recent histories of Iraq and Libya and the continuing attempts by Western powers to grab the rich oil fields of Iran.
      The best result for Cuba would seem to be to discover enough oil and gas for its own domestic fuel security. Whether the cost of extraction, both economically and environmentally, of such a find would make it viable is another question.

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