Cuba announces France oil deal as Hollande urges end to US trade embargo
Havana says Total will explore in Gulf of Mexico as French president
promises to be ‘faithful ally’ to Communist-run country
Last modified on Tuesday 12 May 2015 03.30 BST
Cuba has announced an oil exploration deal with France in the Gulf of
Mexico after the French president, François Hollande, made a historic
visit to Cuba in which he called on the United States to end its trade
embargo on the Communist-run country.
French oil major Total signed an agreement on Monday to explore for
offshore oil with Cuban state oil monopoly CubaPetroleo (Cupet). Cuban
state-run television reported the exploration agreement without giving
On Monday Hollande said France “will be a faithful ally” to Cuba as the
country reforms its centrally planned economy and tries to re-enter the
global economic system.
Hollande’s one-day trip to Cuba on Monday made him the first French
president to visit the country since it became independent.
Along with a large contingent of French executives, he focused on
strengthening business and diplomatic relations five months after the
declaration of detente between Havana and Washington.
Hollande met with President Raúl Castro during his brief visit to the
The French leader said he also met for about 50 minutes with Castro’s
older brother, the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who talked about
climatic problems, agriculture and sanctions against Cuba. Hollande said
during an encounter with French residents in Cuba that Castro looked
physically “deteriorated” but that they had “an easy conversation”.
Top diplomats from Japan, the European Union, Italy, the Netherlands and
Russia have visited the island in recent months in bids to stake out or
maintain ties with an island that suddenly looks like a brighter
economic prospect amid warming US-Cuba relations.
Almost all have been accompanied by business people interested in Cuba’s
push to draw more than $8bn in new foreign investment as part of a
broader, gradual economic liberalization. The delegations are also
working to ensure that Cuba doesn’t forget its old friends in what
eventually could be a new era of increased business with the US.
In Washington on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that
President Barack Obama “has indicated that he does not envision a trip
to Cuba anytime in the near future. But I certainly wouldn’t rule it out
over the course of the next year”.
Speaking at the University of Havana, Hollande said: “France will do
everything it can to aid the process of opening Cuba and help get rid of
measures that have so seriously damaged Cuba’s development.”
Hollande’s address, in which he announced plans to increase academic
exchanges with Cuba and mutually recognize the other country’s
university degrees, was attended by First Vice-President Miguel
Díaz-Canel, the man widely expected to succeed Raúl Castro when he steps
down in 2018.
Hollande also met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega to award him the Legion of
Honor, France’s highest honor, and inaugurate a new building for the
Alliance Française cultural center in Cuba.
Shortly afterward, Hollande broke from his official schedule and walked
down Cuba’s elegant but crumbling Paseo promenade, chatting with
passersby and startling French tourists who took photos with him.
Hollande, who is on a tour of the Caribbean, was accompanied by five of
his ministers and nearly two dozen French executives, including
representatives of Pernod Ricard beverages, hotel company Accor, Air
France, supermarket Carrefour and the telecommunications company Orange.
Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and France are Cuba’s biggest trading
partners within the European Union, which is the island’s second-largest
economic partner with a combined $4.65bn a year in trade in food,
machinery and other goods.
A dozen foreign firms have explored in Cuba’s deep waters over the
years, sinking four wells but finding no oil.
Total has explored close to shore, drilling two wells in the early
1990s. They came up dry and Total left in 1995.
For over a decade, Cuba has asserted its exclusive economic zone off the
north-west coast holds more than 20bn barrels of undiscovered crude.
Last week Cuba unveiled new data it said confirmed there were billions
of barrels of oil beneath its Gulf of Mexico waters.
The US geological survey has estimated the region holds 5bn to 7bn barrels.
Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA and Russia’s state-run Zarubezhneft
still retain exploration rights, according to Roberto Suarez Sotolongo,
Cuba hopes the discovery of oil offshore will free it from dependence on
other countries, such as socialist ally Venezuela.
Source: Cuba announces France oil deal as Hollande urges end to US trade
embargo | World news | The Guardian –