(Anna Mahjar-Barducci)Human rights activists had high expectations for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s first official visit to Cuba last January 30. Rousseff visited Cuba just few days after the international media reported that Brazil was distancing itself from Iran over the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses. Further, just a week before her arrival to Cuba, the Brazilian government gave a visa to a Cuban opponent and blogger, Yoani Sanchez, raising hopes that Rousseff would show some support to dissidents. Many therefore thought that the Brazilian president would have taken a public stand against human rights violations perpetrated by the Castro’s dictatorship, but that turned out to be just wishful thinking.
Although Rousseff once said she “prefer[red] a million critical voices over the silence of the dictatorships,” in Cuba the Brazilian President preferred business. Rousseff refused to meet Yoani Sanchez or other Cuban dissidents, and focused in promoting bilateral trade. The Americas Society website reports that trade between the two Latin American countries increased 31% from 2010 to 2011, reaching $642 million last year. The Brazilian government is opening a $350 million credit line to Cuba to finance food purchases, and another $200 million to purchase agricultural equipment. Moreover, Brazil’s development bank, Odebrecht, is investing in the Cuban sugar industry and also helping to finance an $800 million plan to renovate the port of Mariel, hoping to transform it into one of the most important hubs in Latin America that could be of use to Cuba’s nascent oil industry. The Miami Herald‘s Cuban Colada blog stated that Cuba confirmed the presence of reserves of up to 20 billion barrels of crude oil in waters off the Gulf of Mexico; and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras is negotiating with Cuba for offshore exploration rights. Oil was evidently more attractive than human rights. Reuters sarcastically commented that Rousseff made her first visit to Cuba with capitalism on her mind.
Rousseff, who was a leftist guerrilla fighter inspired by Fidel Castro’s communist revolution, nevertheless found the time to criticize the US prison camp at Guantanamo and the US trade embargo against Cuba, but apparently felt it was not relevant to discuss the condition of dissidents in Cuba. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the Cuban government relies on beatings, short-term detentions, forced exile and travel restrictions to repress virtually all forms of political dissent. In January, the Cuban dissident Wilman Villar died in custody after a 50 day hunger strike. The Buenos Aires Herald mentioned that Villar’s death created pressure on Rousseff to raise human rights issues with Cuban leaders, but that she was unlikely to do so publicly.
Reuters notes that Rousseff’s trip to Cuba was made just before a visit in Washington set for next month, and mentioned that the decision raised some eyebrows, given Brazil’s recent confrontations with the United States over trade. Brazil’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world. In the last few years, in spite of the world’s crisis, Brazil’s GDP kept growing at an average rate of more than 5%. As the seventh largest economy by GDP, with a population nearing 190 million, Brazil understandably aspires to become a world power and a regional giant. The last two Brazilian presidencies, however, former President Lula da Silva’s and Rousseff’s, have coupled this legitimate aspiration to an ideological confrontation with the US.
The Americas Society website suggests that Brazil’s strategic trade and investments in the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the developing world, are part of the government’s global strategy. Matthew Taylor, a Brazil specialist at the American University’s School of International Service, commented that Rousseff’s policy is to grow Brazil’s “soft power” on the international scale to raise Brazil’s role in the world. As Taylor told the Wall Street Journal, “Brazil is taking on a bigger role in the hemisphere in terms of aid and finance.”
Brazilian commentators, however, mentioned that precisely because Brazil is becoming a raising power, it would have been better for Rousseff not to visit Cuba at this moment. The visit actually provoked strong criticism both in Brazil and worldwide. The Brazilian diplomat Marcos Azambuja wrote that if Brazil wanted to do business with Cuba, he should have sent high government officials, but that Rousseff herself should have not gone. “A [Presidential] visit to Cuba has its price to pay,” he wrote, mentioning that even if Rousseff’s intentions were only to do business, the end result is that she paid tribute to the failed policies of the Cuban regime.
(IMAGE VIA AJ)
I know all my right wing readers are looking for me to fry a Communist, but I’m not going to do that. Castro’s response is correct, and I’m shocked that I agree with her. Toleration of Evil is a crime… is the well known quote from the Socialist Thomas Mann that Conservatives love to quote,,, and it is true. Castro’s argument was sound, but Cuba’s proportions are all off. The Castros have tolerated plenty of intolerance… and that is why theory is all bunk. Do I need to detail the amount of intolerance that the Castros have tolerated? It would be endless. Today the Castro family tolerated Shia controlled Iran for starters. and while Fidel has attempted to make ammends with Jews and Homosexual… it is all words. That is what the Castro people are. Monsters out of theory.
Mark Tapscott Editorial Page Editor
President Obama and his Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have all but shut down the U.S. oil and natural gas industry drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but foreign powers like China, Cuba and Venezuela aren’t hesitating to move in to take advantage of America’s bureaucratic paralysis.
Global Post reports preparations are moving forward for six wells in an area off the Florida coast in which U.S. experts have estimated could contain five billion barrels of oil. The Cubans are moving to tap into this potential energy bonanza with extensive aid from China, which built the massive drilling rig, and Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, which is providing drilling and production expertise.
A Spanish firm, Repsol, with partners in Norway’s Statoil and Italy’s Saipem, will oversee the operation. For more from Global Post, go here. Not by coincidence, the latest data on U.S. drilling activity shows a continuing decline in the number of rigs in operation. The Washington Post reports this morning that another 10 units stopped operating, leaving a total of 1,958. Most of the newly idled rigs are in Texas.HAVANA, Cuba — Somewhere between here and China, a hulking, hungry oil rig dubbed “Scarabeo 9” is making its way across the oceans, preparing to put a very controversial hole deep in the Gulf of Mexico.
To nervous Floridians, even its name suggests “scare,” or “scar.” It will puncture the sea floor in Cuban-controlled waters just 60 miles off the Florida Keys, not far from a protected coastline where offshore drilling is banned under U.S. law.
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U.S. geologists believe there may be 5 billion barrels of oil down there. Cuban studies estimate the total at four times that, enough to put the island on par with mid-size energy exporters in the region like Ecuador and Colombia.
A major oil strike could rescue Cuba’s struggling socialist system from its financial woes, giving the Castro government access to new credit and a potentially lucrative industry.
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Having conducted test wells in the area before, Spanish energy company Repsol and its partners are now bringing the Chinese-built Scarabeo 9 to a site off Cuba’s northwest coast, where it aims to drill as soon as November at a depth of more than 5,500 feet, deeper than the blown-out well that spewed 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf last summer.
That disaster has added to anxiety about Cuba’s exploration efforts, but it has also intensified calls for U.S. officials to engage the Castro government on spill prevention and contingency plans.
A high-level delegation of U.S. oil-spill experts traveled to Havana this week to meet with Cuban officials. It has urged the Obama administration to cooperate with the Castro government on a joint-response plan that could avert environmental catastrophe for both countries.
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The delegation included William Reilly, co-chair of the presidential commission that investigated last year’s spill at the Deepwater Horizon rig, at the well known as Macondo.
“The fact that Cuba is about to drill six wells in the next two years, some of them very deep, deeper than Macondo, in places we wouldn’t allow it if it were in our waters … you better believe that the United States has an important interest in that,” Reilly said.
“The Cubans have never regulated this industry, they don’t have familiarity with it, but they are doing things to get ready for it,” he added. “We want to make sure the Cubans have got the lessons we learned, and get a sense of what they do need — that the U.S., in its own interest — would help them get.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a long-time Castro foe, criticized the delegation’s visit, saying it gave “credibility” to Cuba’s attempt to become “the oil tycoons of the Caribbean.” Other lawmakers have also urged retaliatory measures against Repsol.
But experts say with Cuba moving forward, the U.S. should help them do so as safely as possible. Some of the industry’s leading safety-equipment providers and cleanup contractors are nearby along the Gulf Coast, but the U.S. trade embargo bars them from doing business with the island.
In recent months, Cuban authorities have given minimal information about their drilling plans, but the U.S. delegation gave new details into the project.
The fact that the drilling rig was built in China should not raise concerns, said delegation member Lee Hunt, president of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors, a trade group. As many six other rigs already working safely in the Gulf of Mexico were built in the same Chinese shipyard, Hunt said.
“It has the latest generation of equipment,” said Hunt.
American trade sanctions against Cuba prohibited the use of more than 10 percent U.S. technology in the rig’s construction, but Hunt said the Norwegian-designed platform will have an American-made blowout-prevention system that is more advanced than the one which failed on the Deepwater Horizon.
While Cuban oil officials will manage and regulate the operations, the engineers and crews doing the actually drilling will be composed of experienced international oil workers, said Hunt. An Italian firm, Saipem, will be operating the rig, and Repsol’s partners include Statoil, a Norwegian company that he and others praise as a world leader in safe deepwater drilling.
When asked how closely U.S. oil companies were following Cuba’s drilling plans — and if they might be angling behind the scenes for access to its waters — members of the delegation said it would depend on the size of the find.
If the deposits hold close to 20 billion barrels, as Cuban geologists claim, that would probably attract some interest, said delegation member Richard Sears, a former vice president and deepwater drilling specialist at Royal Dutch Shell.
For now, though, Sears said, U.S. firms will likely prefer to work in parts of the world with proven hydrocarbon reserves and fewer political hurdles than Cuba. “The challenge for any company is how you allocate resources,” he said.
“Do I want to fight political and public-relations battles?” said Sears. “Or do I put my resources into other parts of the Gulf of Mexico where I have well-established leases?”