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Thursday, Oct 02, 2014
Editorials

Protect Florida from Cuban drilling

Published:

Even the most zealous defender of the Cuban embargo should see it makes no sense to block the shipment of oil-drilling safety equipment to the island nation.

After all, as the Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reports, Cuba plans to begin exploratory drilling next year. Should an accident occur, it could quickly taint Florida’s shores, particularly the Keys.

That is why former Florida Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, an embargo supporter, wants Congress or the administration to adopt an exception to the trade ban so the United States can sell drilling safety equipment — it manufactures the best in the world — to Cuba.

It is unfortunate that Cuba would even drill in waters where a spill could quickly jeopardize the fragile Florida Keys. Indeed, not drilling in the region would be an impressive show of goodwill to the United States. But that is unlikely.

Cuba, which depends on Venezuela for its oil, is desperate for its own energy supply.

Other Cuban oil exploration efforts have come up dry. The island nation plans to try deep-water sites that are more risky to tap.

Of course, even modern safety equipment provides no guarantee against an environmental disaster, as the Deepwater Horizon disaster showed, but it greatly diminishes the odds of a devastating spill.

Opponents say that providing the equipment would aid the repressive Cuban government and make drilling a certainty.

They believe that because there is only one Italian rig now eligible to drill in Cuba under the embargo, the exception actually would enable Cuba to develop more rigs.

But that stance ignores the likelihood this desperate socialist nation would pursue the project on the cheap.

Jose Pinon, the former president of Amoco Oil Latin America now at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, told Guzzo that Cuba could get the job done by building a makeshift rig with outdated parts.

The United States then would pay the consequences for Cuba’s recklessness.

As Graham told Guzzo: “The initial exploratory drill is the most susceptible to accidents. BP was an exploratory drill. Is Cuba in a position to do that inherently dangerous process with the equipment available to them under the status quo?

“We think the answer is no.”

We believe the Cuban embargo has outlived its usefulness. In 50 years it has failed to undermine the Cuban government and now serves mostly to give the Castro brothers a scapegoat to blame for their disastrous policies.

More trade with the United States and exposure to free market vitality would likely be more effective in advancing the cause of freedom in Cuba.

But it is understandable that many Cuban-Americans remain wary of any move that might benefit Cuba’s socialist leaders, who have a history of exporting revolution and now are supporting tyranny in Venezuela.

The sad reality is that Cuba appears intent on drilling, with or without proper precautions. Selling it safety equipment is not about aiding Cuba. It is about defending Florida’s fragile coast.

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