Thursday, December 27, 2012

VOXXI: Cuba ends 2012 looking for oil and with Castro brothers still in power

Cuba ends 2012 looking for Oil and with Castro brothers still in power
W. Alejandro Sanchez
December 26, 2012

The structure of the Cuban government is unlikely to change in 2013 as the Castro brothers appear to remain firmly in power and continue to search for oil.

Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba who ruled the island for five decades, has been nominated to run for a position in the Cuban Parliament in the upcoming February 2013 elections. The move is largely a symbolic one, since Castro, despite no longer being head of state, still enjoys a great deal of influence within the Cuban government and is regularly consulted on state affairs. In other words, Castro hardly needs an official government position to be influential in Cuba’s decision-making process.
Regardless of this, given Castro’s frail state, it is unclear if the man will be able to actually take his seat in the National Assembly when elected (it is hard to imagine that he would not be). If he is not well enough to assume his parliamentary seat, there may be an agreement allowing him to choose someone to replace him.
Meanwhile, Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, continues as president of the island nation, although that apparently has not prevented him from also being nominated as a municipal representative in the upcoming elections. The structure of the Cuban government is unlikely to change in 2013 as the Castro brothers, in spite of their advanced age (both are in their 80s), appear to remain firmly in power. It will be interesting to see what developments the New Year brings to the island. Of particular interest are economic and international affairs, particularly those regarding the U.S.

Castro brothers, economics and the continuous search for oil

The nomination of the Castro brothers to the Cuban Parliament, considering that they have jointly ruled the island since the 1950s, is slightly bizarre to say the least. Nevertheless, it is clear that the island, under Raul Castro’s rule, has evolved from Fidel’s Cuba. This is particularly true when it comes to the economy. Under Raul, the island’s Communist government has taken some steps to modernize its socialist economy, particularly by allowing the appearance of privately owned businesses. The head of state has declared that “today, nearly 40 thousand Cubans have licenses to have autonomous work or small businesses.”
An interesting development that may further affect the Cuban economy is the plan announced by the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft to utilize a Norwegian oil platform as means of continuing to search for deep-water oil deposits in the Cuban sea. For years there have been diverse reports about exactly how much oil Cuba possesses, but so far the numerous explorations have yet to find wells that yield commercially viable quantities of the liquid gold. If Cuba were ever able to actually find and produce massive quantities of oil (it claims to have up to 20 billion barrels while other analyses give a more modest number) this would be a huge turning point for the Cuban economy. But until this happens, the island will remain at the mercy of Venezuela, which, under Hugo Chavez’s rule, has essentially given thousands of barrels of oil to the island as a gift.
This brings up another issue as President Chavez’ deteriorating health, exemplified by his recent trip to Cuba for a new operation to deal with his cancer, should have put the Cuban government on alert as a non-Chavez government may not be so willing to essentially give away oil. Fortunately for Havana, Chavez’s health seems to be improving, which means that Cuba will continue to enjoy more essentially-free Venezuelan oil during the immediate future, at least until it discovers some of its own.

Relations with the US have yet to improve

Even though U.S. President Barack Obama has not fully lifted the embargo on the island during his first term in office, many Cubans and Americans hope that he will do so during his second term. Such a development would go a long way in improving U.S. diplomacy, and not only with Cuba but also with the rest of Latin America. During the Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, several heads of states protested the fact that Cuba had not been invited to take part in the high-level meeting because Washington opposed their participation. Despite the positive benefits that the United States would garner from such a move, it is still unlikely that President Obama will fully lift the embargo due to congressional political barriers.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama stated during an interview with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that he still had his mind set on closing the U.S. naval base detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While not related with the embargo, closing Guantanamo’s controversial prison would be a huge victory for the Obama administration and be influential for U.S.-Cuban relations.

Cuba in 2013

2013 should be an interesting year for Cuba. If the Russian drilling team finally finds enough oil to make it commercially viable to extract, it would signify a critical influx of cash into the Cuban economy. This development, which may be a long shot since past drilling explorations have not been successful, comes at an important time for the island. The Castro brothers remain in power, but the historically protective and state-run Cuban economy continues to liberalize, albeit at a snail’s pace.
Fortunately for the Cuban government, it will continue to enjoy several regional allies thanks to Hugo Chávez’s improving health (which will mean more oil to Cuba ) and the near certainty that leftist Rafael Correa will be re-elected in Ecuador’s 2013 Presidential election. Regarding the U.S., Obama’s re-election might signal improved relations, but Havana is going to have to do its part as well. Liberalizing the economy is important, but so is stopping unwarranted arrests such as that of the 19 opposition activists, members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), who were arrested in March or theactivists that were recently detained in early December. The discovery of oil, the emergence of privately-owned businesses and better diplomatic relations with its neighbors (i.e. Washington) are all important issues for Havana, but so should be maintaining a healthy relationship between the government and the citizenry.

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