Is the discovery of oil going to rescue Cuba’s Communist regime?
A political prisoner is reportedly near death and 16 other activists remain in police custody following the latest crackdown on the Ladies in White and other dissidents, in the run-up to a rare congress of the ruling Communist party.
Independent journalist Guillermo Farinas (left) and other activists were arrested last Sunday during a protest in Santa Clara to demand the release of Yasmín Conyedo and her husband Yusmari Rafael Álvarez Esmori, dissidents jailed on Jan. 8.
Some observers believe the ruling party is also jittery about Pope Benedict XVI’s forthcoming March 26-28 visit to the island.
The authorities will be aware that some observers consider John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland as a catalyst for the eventual downfall of Soviet communism. Václav Havel described the event as “a miracle” and said the Pope’s contribution was more significant than any action by Western or Soviet leaders.
The ruling party has embarked on a cautious reform process – permitting the establishment of small businesses, the sale of private homes and slashing public sector jobs – in an effort to revive a stagnant, statist economy. According to a Brookings Institution paper, Cuba is dependent on the fuel subsidies and several billion dollars in financial aid it receives each year from Venezuela.
But drilling starts next week in a Cuban portion of the Gulf of Mexico that is expected to yield billions of barrels of oil and equivalent amounts of natural gas – a potential lifeline for the one-party state.
“The discovery of even modest amounts of oil would be significant for Cuba,” said Ricardo Torres Perez, deputy director of Havana University’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy. “Cuba would become less energy dependent and might eventually become an energy exporter; new credit and foreign investment would materialize, along with refining and service jobs.”
Cuba: the next case study for demonstrating that oil and democracy don’t mix?