Cuba News

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered a note to U.S. authorities Jan. 19 denouncing the violations of human rights in the treatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo Naval Base. The Cuban government was acting on information provided by FBI agents based at Guantanamo and the International Red Cross. The notes called for an immediate end to “torture and inhuman conduct.”

In a statement the next day, the ministry said, “With this hypocritical conduct, the government of the United States has demonstrated the falsity of its own public statements and once again has lied to the government of the Republic of Cuba, to its own people and to the international community by concealing the horrific acts of torture, cruelty and humiliating and denigrating treatment committed on prisoners detained on the Guantanamo Naval Base.”

In the wake of its Afghan and Iraq wars, the Bush administration has been holding some 550 persons from 40 countries at Camp Delta, part of the U.S. Guantanamo complex. Wayne Smith, the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, noted in the Feb. 2 Atlanta Constitution the hypocrisy of U.S. officials demanding fair trials and the release of so-called political prisoners in Cuba while consigning prisoners at Guantanamo to endless detention, uncharged and untried.

Cuba based its protest on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Torture. It accused the United States of violating the 1903 Cuba-U.S. treaty that gave the U.S. use of the Guantanamo Bay site. Cuba claims that the agreement affirms Cuba’s ultimate sovereignty over the area and that, by installing a prison there, the Bush administration has violated Article II of the treaty. That provision authorized the United States to do “all things necessary to fit the premises for use as coaling and naval stations only, and for no other purpose.”

Cuba reminded the U.S. government of its assurances in January 2002 that foreign prisoners transferred to Guantanamo would receive humane treatment.

The UN Latin American and Caribbean Group recently invited Cuba to join the “Situations Group” of the UN Human Rights Commission. The Situations Group will soon be dealing with accusations of U.S. human rights violations both in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. The perennial U.S.-Cuba face-off before the commission would appear to be taking on new dimensions.
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Cuba finds offshore oil

Oil imports still account for about half of Cuba’s energy needs despite efforts to capture natural gas emanating from oil deposits and new extraction techniques applied to old oil wells. Cuba’s oil, taken from wells along the north coast, is thick and is suitable mainly for power generation, not fuel production.

Last fall, the Spanish company Repsol found offshore oil 19 miles north of Havana. The find was small, but the oil was of good quality, and Repsol announced that it would continue exploration. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists listed this among the “significant finds” of 2004. The Chinese oil company Sinopec has signed an agreement to produce oil in western Cuba.

Then, in December, Cuba announced that exploration conducted as a joint venture with Canadian companies had turned up an offshore oil field east of Havana, estimated at 100 million barrels — enough to cover more than three years of Cuba’s oil imports. The oil there is heavy but is of better quality than the oil Cuba now uses for power generation.

Cuba’s expansion of its own oil production capabilities represents significant progress towards its twin goals of economic independence and freedom from restrictions imposed by the U.S. blockade. The possibility of expanding domestic oil production occurs as international bonds are being forged that are reminiscent of support systems in place during the Soviet era.

Agreements Cuba signed with Venezuela Dec. 14 assure the island of predictable, reasonably priced oil supplies for years to come. China, too, is well on the way to becoming a major trading partner for Cuba and source of financing and technical support for industrial development projects.

Despite the continuing and intensified blockade by the Bush administration, Cuba posted a 5 percent rate of economic growth for 2004.

— W.T. Whitney Jr.