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Cuba Hosts Regional Leaders at Oil Summit


Cuba is hosting a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders to discuss a Venezuelan-led oil partnership. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports officials say the deal has helped keep oil flowing to smaller nations, as global prices for crude have soared.

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro was absent at the meeting of leaders in the city of Cienfuegos, more than 200 kilometers southeast of Havana. Instead his brother and acting president, Raul Castro, gave a speech to a dozen heads of state, including those from Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Castro said the Petrocaribe oil alliance, launched in 2005, has meant that member states have enough fuel to ensure economic development and satisfy people's needs.

He also criticized the high demand for energy from industrial nations.

Castro said there is no doubt that growing consumerism in rich nations is having a devastating impact on the planet and will continue to do so unless held in check.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told delegates that the Petrocaribe project is partly aimed at countering outside pressure.

Mr. Chavez said member states are creating a new geopolitics of oil that serves the people's interests, and not those of imperialists or big corporations.

Members of Petrocaribe formally admitted Honduras. expanding the partnership to 17 nations. Under the program, member states can pay for Venezuelan oil and processed fuels over several years, instead of the typical period of days or weeks.

Jorge Piñon, a former president of Amoco Oil Latin America, says the deal has enabled smaller nations to acquire needed energy supplies, amid soaring prices for fuel.

He adds the oil deals have placed a new burden on Venezuela. "Instead of being indebted to a Chase, or Citi, or one of the big banking conglomerates of the world, or to the International Monetary Fund for that matter, all of these states are now today becoming indebted to Venezuela," he said.

Mr. Chavez said that Petrocaribe members' collective debt for Venezuelan oil is currently almost one point two billion dollars. He said some Petrocaribe members may be able to pay for Venezuelan oil with goods or social services. Cuba, for example, pays for some of its oil with medical care provided to poor Venezuelans by Cuban doctors.

Venezuela also has sent more than $166 million to Cuba to refurbish a Soviet-era refinery in Cienfuegos, which officials are inaugurating during the summit. Officials say the facility will process 6,500 barrels of oil a day and boost Cuban supplies of diesel, gasoline and jet fuel.

Piñon says the refinery will be a crucial resource in coming years, when Cuba plans to begin drilling in new offshore wells. "The benefit for Cuba is that it gives them additional refinery capacity in case any new oil is found in deep water off shore in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the waters between Cuba and the U.S. state of Florida contain at least 4.6 billion barrels of undiscovered oil.

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