Brazil plans to sign oil deal with Cuba

Campaign News | Thursday, 30 October 2008

Brazil's state-run oil company plans to sign an agreement with its Cuban counterpart for deep-water exploration that would allow it to produce oil on the communist-run island, part of a two-day visit by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva beginning late Thursday.

Lula da Silva was coming to Cuba after attending the IberoAmerican summit in El Salvador.

Cuban authorities said he would preside over a signing ceremony between Brazil's Petrobras and Cuba Petroleo on Friday.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma reported that both sides would "sign a contract for the production of hydrocarbons," but there were no further details.

The Brazilian Embassy in Havana referred reporters to Petrobras, but a company spokeswoman said she was not authorized to provide more information or to be quoted by the foreign news media.

During an interview at the United Nations on Wednesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Cuba "will sign in the presence of President Lula a very important agreement [for] oil exploration in deep water."

Cuba relies on foreign partners to produce 60,000 barrels of oil a day, but earlier this month, Cuba Petroleo exploration manager Rafael Tenreyro Perez told reporters that offshore reserves have the potential to produce 20 billion barrels of oil, more than double the previous estimate.

Accompanying Lula da Silva will be agricultural experts from a small farmers association who will help island officials begin large-scale soy farming operations on land once used for growing sugar. They said the aim is eventually to have more than 100,000 acres of soy planted on the island.

Brazilian officials have hinted in recent months that they would like to see their country become nearly as important a trade partner for Cuba as Venezuela and its socialist president, Hugo Chavez, who ships nearly 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day to the island at favorable prices.

Perez Roque said such a goal "would be possible only if President Lula and the Brazilian government make a very strong effort."

"But I can assure you that in the past [several] years, economic relations and political relations between Brazil and Cuba really have been increasing," he said. "Trade, investment, are growing."

Lula da Silva was scheduled to meet privately with President Raúl Castro on Thursday evening. There was no official word on whether he would visit Fidel Castro. The ailing, 82-year-old ex-leader has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

When Lula da Silva came to Cuba in January, the pair met behind closed doors, after which Cuban official media released images of the encounter that provided one of the few hints about Fidel Castro's health released this year.

Lula da Silva's trip comes hours after his country announced it was shipping up to 45,000 tons of rice and 2,000 tons of powdered milk to help hurricane victims in Cuba, Haiti, Honduras and Jamaica.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike tore through Cuba barely a week apart in late August and early September, damaging nearly 450,000 homes and dealing a serious blow to food production and infrastructure.

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