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Cuba, Oil Diplomacy and the Southern Tip of Florida

U.S. lawmakers spent most of this week lobbing insults at the Cuban government while assessing the risks of an offshore oil spill about 90 miles from the southern Florida coast.

Spanish energy company Repsol is leading an exploratory drilling campaign in Cuban waters and, rightfully so, many wary U.S. lawmakers are still shell-shocked from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Considering Florida relies on tourism for a substantial part of state revenue, it's no wonder Florida's Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said Cuba can't be trusted with protecting regional waters from an oil spill. But if more than 50 years of sanctions against the Cuban government hasn't persuaded the Castro regime to listen to Washington, it's highly unlikely it'll start paying attention before black gold is struck. Rather than rattle sabers at the Communist government, perhaps a degree of détente is in order, if only to protect the southern U.S. coast.

Coastal communities in the U.S. south are still reeling from the damages incurred from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Powerful ocean currents rushing through the narrow waters separating Cuba from the southern tip of Florida means conventional clean-up operations might not work.  As seen with the recent oil spill from the break-up of the cargo vessel Rena off the New Zealand coast, however, rough seas can also help disperse oil spills to some degree.

Offshore oil estimates for Cuba vary between 5 billion to 9 billion barrels, depending on which agency from which government you research. And it's likely to be a couple of years before any sort of commercial development gets underway. The Cuban government probably lacks the response capability should a major spill occur and it's not like the Castro regime can call on the U.S. Coast Guard to help in the event of a catastrophe like the 2010 oil spill. It should go without saying, however, that there's been only one incident as severe as the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, Repsol did provide assurances to U.S. officials that it was responsible and, ladies and gentlemen, Florida's Rep. David Rivera said a readiness plan is "a responsible and necessary precaution."

Yet that's about where the pragmatism ends. Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wants to deny a U.S. visa to anyone helping the Cuban government with their offshore ambitions and Rivera later said Repsol would pay and pay dearly if it screwed things up off the coast of Florida.

So what if Cuba plans to explore its offshore oil reserves? There are some schools of thought in conflict resolution circles that welcome unsavory elements into the proverbial fold on the premise that, by doing so, they're forced to adhere to the normative benchmarks of acceptable behavior. By excluding them, the thought process goes, they're more likely to put up a fight. Despite the best the United States has to offer, including pushing the world the closest it's ever been to nuclear war, the Castro regime has sat unchanged off the southern tip of Florida for longer than some of the people reading this article have been alive. Ros-Lehtinen complained about the "dangerous oil drilling scheme.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com




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