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Russia Resumes Oil Shipments to Cuba, Helps Fill Venezuelan Breach

HAVANA (Reuters) — Russia has begun shipping large quantities of oil to Cuba for the first time this century, sources said, as supplies to the island from crisis-wracked Venezuela have dwindled.

A Russian oil tanker with 249,000 barrels of refined products is due to arrive in Cuba on May 10, according to Reuters shipping sources and others, bringing back memories of when the Soviet Union supplied all of the Communist-run Caribbean island’s energy needs.

More tankers apparently will follow.

Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, announced on Wednesday it had signed an agreement with Cuba’s state-run Cubametals to supply 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel fuel, without providing further details.

The news is sure to raise eyebrows in Washington as its tense relations with Moscow continue, despite President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to improve them.

The Russian company has already become a concern for the United States. Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) last year used 49.9 per cent of its shares in its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo (with a refinery being refurbished by the Chinese at Baby Beach in Aruba), as collateral for loan financing by Rosneft.

According to Jorge Pinon, an oil expert at the University of Texas at Austin, the Cuba deal is equivalent to around 1,865,000 barrels and valued at $105 million US at current prices.

In comparison, Russia reported it shipped oil products to Cuba from 2010 through 2015 valued at $11.3 million US.

Cuba consumes 22,000 barrel per day of diesel and 140,000 barrels per day of oil products.

“It is very clear that Cuba is diversifying its long-term supply contracts in the event that its October 2000 subsidized oil agreement with Venezuela is terminated,” Pinon said.

Cash-strapped Cuba struggled with long blackouts and fuel shortages after the fall the Soviet Union, but the rise of the late Venezuela leftist President Hugo Chavez quickly solved the crisis at the turn of the century.

Since then Cuba has relied on Venezuela, an OPEC member, for about 70 per cent of its fuel needs, including oil for refining and re-exports.

But socialist Venezuela’s subsidized shipments have fallen by as much as 40 per cent since 2014. Potential new suppliers usually want cash because of Cuba’s poor credit rating.

Electricity and fuel rationing to state companies began a year ago, and more recently there have been gasoline shortages.

A change of government in Venezuela, which has been experiencing daily protests, would directly threaten the agreement.


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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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