On the front page of today’s New York Times Clifford Krauss presents an unlikely, but perhaps game changing, alliance in the campaign to end the United States half-century embargo on Cuba. As the island begins a period of domestic economic restructuring, it’s also preparing to open up deepwater oil fields just 50 miles off the Florida Keys next year – doing so with the help the Spanish company, Repsol. The implications for Cuba, according to the Times:
“Cuba currently produces little oil. But oil experts say the country might have reserves along its north coast as plentiful as that of the international oil middleweights, Ecuador and Colombia — enough to bolster its faltering economy and cut its dependence on Venezuela for its energy needs. “
But of growing concern to many, both inside and outside of Cuba, is what might happen in the event of a major oil spill, a la the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of this year. The Times says Cuba is “far less prepared to handle a major spill than even the American industry was at the time of the BP spill,” with “neither the submarine robots needed to fix deepwater rig equipment nor the platforms available to begin drilling relief wells on short notice.” Moreover, the US trade embargo on the island, say oil industry officials, would make the possibility of American-Cuba cooperation in the event of a spill a bureaucratic nightmare, if not impossible. Here’s Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a trade group which tries to “broaden bilateral contacts” to promote drilling safety, on why the embargo must go [Hunt was also part of a delegation which visited Cuba in August]:
“This isn’t about ideology. It’s about oil spills. Political attitudes have to change in order to protect the gulf.”
In fact, officials from both Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy participated in an energy conference on Cuba in Mexico City in 2006, where they met Cuban oil officials. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a frequenter to the island says he’s had a number of conversations with top executives from the oil industry, individuals he identities as “all Republicans who could eventually convince the Congress to make the embargo flexible in this area of oil spills.” And Richardson’s prediction: “I think you will see the administration be more forward-moving after the election.”
As the Miami Herald highlights this morning, the elements of scientific community are also jumping on the anti-embargo bandwagon. “A policy of isolationism doesn't benefit anyone. We have a selfish interest in talking with Cuba,” says David Guggenheim, the organizer of a conference on marine research and conservation that has brought together Cubans, Mexicans, and Americans to Sarasota, Florida this week.
And, on the Cuba side of things, there also appears to be a growing desire for collaboration around the issue oil development and its potential environmental impacts. Again, Lee Hunt of the drilling contractors trade group, speaking on August meetings he had with Cuban officials:
“Senior officials told us they are going ahead with their deepwater drilling program, that they are utilizing every reliable non-U.S. source that they can for technology and information, but they would prefer to work directly with the United States in matters of safe drilling practices.”
Of course, it’s not all altruism. There are other interests at work here in signing up perhaps the unlikeliest of allies in the anti-embargo campaign. Once more, the Times:
“Any opening could provide a convenient wedge for big American oil companies that have quietly lobbied Congress for years to allow them to bid for oil and natural gas deposits in waters off Cuba.”
For more on the issue of US-Cuba oil and energy cooperation, the Center for Democracy in the Americas has more. It too led a delegation of energy experts to Cuba last summer. And, according to CDA, a single sentence [and the notable absence of the United States from it] captures why what is happening in Cuba could peak “interest and concern”:
“Repsol, a Spanish oil company is paying an Italian firm, to build an oil rig in China that will be used next year to explore for oil off the shores of Cuba.”
To other stories:
· Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes met with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday. And according to the Washington Post this morning, Funes presented the secretary with a “$900 million Central American anti-drug-trafficking plan” which he’s asking the Obama administration to “help fund.” He has the support of Democratic congressman, Jim McGovern (D-MA) who called on his colleagues in Congress to provide additional backing to the Funes government on security issues. But the Post seems pessimistic that new monies will be allocated any time soon. “[W]ith the administration under pressure to cut costs, it may be difficult for the Central Americans to win more U.S. aid,” it says, cited an administration official. Nevertheless, Funes did suggest the formation of a US-Central American study group to explore the idea – which, according to the Salvadoran President, “would establish joint patrols by the countries' security forces and acquire new technology for sharing intelligence,” as well as “expand social programs to prevent young people from getting involved in drug trafficking.”
· Following yesterday’s damning AP report on the lack of US funds that have been disbursed for reconstruction in Haiti thus far, the State Department has made veteran diplomat Thomas Adams the “special coordinator to oversee Washington's reconstruction plans” for Haiti. The appointment has yet to go public, although Mr. Adams, according to DOS, has already started his new job.
· The Wall Street Journal looks at a “new push” from the US Justice Department intended to “stanch the flow of money to violent Mexican drug cartels and impound the assets of kleptocrats around the world.” The Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of DOJ is being “refashioned,” says the paper, hiring 10 new prosecutors and lawyers who will focus on issues of corruption, with a particular focus on Mexican cartels. In the Journal’s words, “The moves…represent a strategic shift in the department's role in the Mexican drug war,” as DOJ focuses additional energies toward targeting “U.S. financial institutions and professional criminals moving drug cartels' money.”
· Meanwhile, in Mexico, the AP reports that some 30 Gulf Cartel associates were detained by the Mexican Marines in two days of raids in Matamoros and Reynosa. In addition to the individuals, the military also is said to have confiscated “50 guns, 2 shoulder-fired rocket launchers, 21 grenades and ammunition.”
· The Santiago Times and IPS have a pair of reports on the Mapuche hunger strikers and the very controversial anti-terrorist law they were imprisoned under. The Santiago Times: “The strike, now approaching its 80th day, has put much of the country on edge and brought national and international coverage of Chile’s ‘Mapuche problem’ as never before.”
· Adam Isacson at Just the Facts addresses the case of Piedad Cordoba, dismissed from the Colombian Senate (and banned from political life for 18 years) this week for yet undocumented but alleged “collaboration” with the FARC.
· More than 150 academics have written to Georgetown University, calling on the university’s administration to “reconsider its appointment of former president of Colombia Álvaro Uribe as a visiting scholar.” NACLA with more.
· In Nicaragua, AQ says thousands of signatures were presented to the Ortega government this week by a group of women demanding the restoration of therapeutic abortion in the country. The signatures were collected in Europe by Amnesty International.
· Two opinions on drug legalization. Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, writes at CNN.com ahead of California’s vote to legalization marijuana (Prop. 19). His argument: “Even if Proposition 19 loses, it will only be temporary. Support for marijuana legalization is growing, and not just in California. Legalization will happen. It's just a question of how many lives and tax dollars will be wasted before it does.” And Jeffrey Miron, a Cato Institute senior fellow and Harvard professor, calls on conservatives to join libertarians and many liberals in making drug legalization their cause too. In the LA Times, a part of his interesting appeal: “Legalization would take drug control out government's incompetent hands and place it with churches, medical professionals, coaches, friends and families. These are precisely the private institutions whose virtues conservatives extol in other areas.”
· Finally, Dilma Rouseff and Brazil’s Sunday election. A report from the Washington Post and an opinion from Raul Zibechi, in the Guardian, both look at Dilma’s rise through the prism of Lula’s success, with the latter noting a few shortcomings of the outgoing president – among them an overreliance on export commodities to fuel growth (rather than strengthening the role of “value added” goods in the Brazilian economy), as well as still unacceptably high levels of economic and social inequality. Meanwhile, Newsweek’s Mac Margolis and FP contributor, David Rothkopf present some doubts regarding Dilma.