Florida residents and environmentalists are worried about Cuba’s plans to start prospecting for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, using a rig built in China and operated by Spain’s Repsol. So too some lawmakers. Thus, in part, new legislation proposed by Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior senator, and Robert Menendez, of New Jersey. Their new law would allow claimants to sue foreign companies responsible for any oil spill, and without limit.
Memories of the BP oil spill are clearly at work here. Yet this law is not so much an environmental measure. It’s more of a stick with which to beat Cuba – or rather, as the sponsors admit, to discourage companies from drilling for oil there. It’s not the first such initiative.
The real problem, of course, is not Cuba, or the fact it wants to explore for what look like some promising oil reserves – over 5bn barrels, according to the US Geological Survey. Rather, it is the embargo and the fact that, because of it, should there be an oil spill, US companies would not be allowed to step in and help with US technology.
Recent testimony by US officials suggests, however, that a number of licenses have already been pre-emptively awarded to some US companies, just in case. If so, that would be another sign (such as rising travel between the US and Cuba) of the gradual thawing of relations between the two countries – if not their governments.
Fifty years ago, the Cuban missile crisis almost brought the world to nuclear war and froze Cuban-US relations. It would be ironic if the Cuban “oil crisis” did the opposite today.