Watching the World: Cuba’s oil idealism

Feb. 6, 2006
US energy executives met their Cuban counterparts last week in the first private-sector oil summit between the two countries.

US energy executives met their Cuban counterparts last week in the first private-sector oil summit between the two countries. The Cubans hoped to tout their country’s oil potential and enlist support in ending the 45-year-old US trade embargo.

The 3-day meeting, which kicked off on Feb. 2, was sponsored by the US-Cuba Trade Association (US-CTA), Valero Energy Corp., the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LDED), the Texas Port of Corpus Christi, and others.

Cuba’s delegation was led by Fidel Rivero Prieto, president of state oil company CubaPetroleo, while officials from the Cuban Ministry of Basic Industries and Cuba’s ministries of foreign trade, foreign investment, and foreign relations were also present.

Cuba’s potential

Cuba’s oil potential came to the fore in 2004 when Repsol YPF SA announced it had encountered high-quality oil in an offshore wildcat (OGJ Online, Oct. 12, 2005). Although the discovery wasn’t commercial, Repsol YPF said it would drill a second exploratory well.

That prospect has naturally raised the interest of other oil and gas people, especially in the US.

“Nobody wants to be left out, and the potential business in this new market for Louisiana companies is significant,” said Mike Olivier, LDED secretary.

Kirby Jones, president of US-CTA, said he would like to see the US government relax its sanctions for the energy sector as it did for food and agricultural products under a 2000 law allowing sales to Cuba on a cash basis.

Mutual interests

Leaving aside the involvement by major US oil corporations, both sides have an interest in seeing an end to the US trade embargo since much of the equipment needed to extract oil off Cuba is American.

But the chances of trade starting up any time soon are slim, especially given the Bush administration’s recent crackdown on Americans who have violated the embargo against Cuba, targeting a trip to Havana in July 2005 by a New York-based group called Pastors for Peace.

The US Department of the Treasury sent administrative subpoenas to more than 100 people who traveled to Cuba last summer with the activist group-a first-step enforcement action that reportedly could lead to fines of up to $65,000/traveler.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) applauded the measure. “I’m pleased that the Bush administration will be enforcing our nation’s laws regarding the embargo,” she said. “It is important to send a message to those who actively plan to break our laws that the response from the US officials will be robust and swift.”

CubaPetroleo’s Rivero recognized the intransigence behind such remarks, but he still insisted that the meeting would achieve some good. “We can begin the process to get to know each other, exchange contact information,” he said. “In this way, both of us will be prepared to discuss real business opportunities as soon as that becomes possible.”