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U.S. – Cuba Engagement in the Gulf: Lessons from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Are we prepared, what’s at stake, and where should the Obama Administration go from here?
As BP struggles to staunch the undersea gusher opened by its Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20 - dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of light crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day - there's a renewed focus on prevention and mitigation of disasters like this one.

There's one part of this equation that few have considered before now: What if this spill had happened in Cuba's Gulf waters, where the U.S. embargo prevents American companies from operating, and American personnel from traveling? Given a recent report that a Spanish company may be drilling in Cuba's portion of the Gulf by the end of 2010, we asked our panel of experts to consider the risks and offer their recommendations for what action the U.S. should pursue now to protect our shared environment.

Jorge Piñon, a Visiting Research Fellow with the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University and former president of Amoco Oil Latin America argued that if we are concerned about Cuba's stewardship of the Gulf, we should be helping Cuba achieve energy independence from Venezuela by working with them ourselves. Robert Muse, perhaps the preeminent expert on the sanctions against Cuba, went further, arguing that President Obama has tremendous leeway in setting rules for dealing with the island nation. "Virtually any response" to an oil disaster or the threat of such a disaster is possible. He said that setting preemptive administrative rules facilitating the free flow of specialists and equipment from the United States to Cuba would not only be sound policy, it would also -- given the importance to Florida's economy of the Gulf -- be good politics.

Brian Petty of the International Association of Drilling Contractors reported that his organization secured a Treasury Department license to travel to Cuba, not to look into new business, but to educate Cuban authorities and regulators about the latest technology in disaster mitigation. The Department has not been an easy partner to work with -- they denied an earlier license application (in 2009) and have insisted that the IADC complete their travel by August. But this is a good sign that the Obama Administration considers this a vital interest. Dan Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund stated what should be obvious by now: The State Department and the Cubans should not only be talking, but they should bring together technical experts who can help us be better stewards of the environment. "It's time for a pragmatic approach," said Whittle. "It's time to depoliticize the environment."


featured speakers
Jorge Piñon
Visiting Research Fellow, Florida International University Cuban Research Institute
former President, Amoco Oil Latin America

Brian Petty
Executive Vice President
International Association of Drilling Contractors

Dan Whittle

Cuba Program Director
Environmental Defense Fund

Robert L. Muse
Muse & Associates


Anya Landau French
Director, U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative
New America Foundation

Event Time and Location

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - 9:00am - 10:15am
New America Foundation
1899 L Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

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