“What are you waiting for?” the first words of our editor-in-chief after the New Year vacation were namely those, “you, Boltikov, have 3 hours for packing. You go to Cuba right now.”
“Come again? To Cuba? But there is no oil… “
“There is!” the editor-in-chief interrupted me, “Spain’s Repsol-YPF and Canadian Sherritt International Corp. are already there. The international companies solve the issues of the large investments. It is known that the enormous deposits are discovered there. Your goal is to learn how true this information is and whether the Russian companies will manage to participate in the Cuban projects. And finally, after a hours-long flight I set my foot on Fidel’s land…
My old friend Vyacheslav Grekov, who has his own business in the island, took me from the airport. He was trying to bring me up to date while driving to his home.
“They have found oil here after all,” Vyacheslav said, driving his minivan, “the first deposits offshore Cuba have been discovered in the 1990s, but there was not much oil and it had a bad quality. Until now the crude oil had been imported from Venezuela. However, they say that the newly discovered oil fields are equal Venezuela’s in volume of crude reserves, but to develop them there is a strong need in skilled workers, experts, good equipment and so on. And the Cubans again rely on us, the Russians…
,As I found out later with the help of the diplomatic corps, today Venezuela is the only oil supplier of Cuba, and it delivers over 90 thousand barrels of oil per day for a price which is considerably below the global ones.
However, the Cubans do not want to depend on anybody, even on their soul brothers. Therefore they try to find their own rich vein of crude oil.
In the Russian representative office I was also told about the Cubans’ habits and the national spirit of the island.
“Well, the Cubans are the nation that treats everyone very good. They are calm, always smiling people, and you will see it by yourself. There could not be such phenomenon like fascism, or any nationalistic actions.”
“But have some changes happened in Cuba after the USSR’s collapse?
“Our Russian office had been constructed in the form of a sword, implying that the Soviet system found a lodgment here. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union when Russia had almost brought to nothing the economic cooperation with the country, the Cubans have called our building «stab in the back of revolution ». But the Russians are loved here anyway and not only for the political and economical support in old days … This is the Cubans’ mentality”
Modernization is Revolución
When I settled in the house given me with courtesy of the locals, took a shower and had the things shelved, I was presented to my personal guide of Cuba.
“Claudia Rubindiciles”, a brown-skinned plumpish girl is extending her hand to me.
Noticing that I’m confused by her Russian without noticeable accent, she continues: “You can call me Klava, as I was called by my Moscow teachers in the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia.”
After having a little rest in the open minibar, we started our journey, namely to Santa Cruz, a small town of Matanzas province, located in 100 km to the east from Havana where the daily oil production amounts to 85 thousand barrels, which is the half of the domestic oil needs of Cuba. We are passing the first oil refinery. We can see the associated gas flaring on the background of palm trees.
“We heard that Sr. Putin banned the practice of associated gas flaring”, Claudia said apologetically, “But at the moment we have no money to reequip all factor
Nearby the refinery we see the first oil pump and stop the car.
“The equipment isn’t new,” I shook my head sadly, inspecting the vintage equipment.
“What can we do,” sighs my guide, “Oil exploration in Cuba has been started since the middle of the 1970s with the help of the Soviet experts. The equipment has almost never been updated since those years, both in the refineries and in the oil fields… But if we can kindle the Russian companies’ interest in our new fields, than the situation will change very soon, I think. Today the government tries to do its best to make the oil production the leading industry of our economy.
However, not everything is so bad. We try to make something by our own forces …
Later I was told that Carlos Lahe, the Cuba’s Council of Ministers’ Executive Committee Secretary, had declared that the reconstruction of the refinery in Cienfuegos, constructed by the Soviet experts will be completed by January 2008. According to him, the enterprise will process 65 000 barrels of oil per day. The reconstruction is being carried out by two companies, the domestic firm Cuba Petroleo and Venezuela’s state energy major Petroleos de Venezuela since 2006.
“The complete overhaul of the factory, including installation of the new equipment, is coming to an end these days,” continued Claudia, driving out of the territory of the factory, “If you stay here for three more days, you will see it all with your own eyes”.
After the dinner the air becomes intolerably hot, that neither the conditioner, nor the open car windows can help. And а question comes suddenly in my mind: “If Cuba has a tropical climate, and there is no need for heating buildings and houses, why does it need so much fuel?”
“Well, fuel oil is needed for the all Cuban sugar factories to function,” Claudia Rubindisiles said, “it is needed for the power production, too. And, of course, the motor fuel is necessary for the motor vehicles, which is the main transportation mode in the island…” Here our conversation was interrupted by the local road officers, who motioned us to pull to the side of the road and stop.
We stop. Claudia gets out of the car and starts speaking with feeling, adding some explicit gestures and shaking her wide hips.
“They thought that you were a foreign tourist, and it’s forbidden to take pictures of the strategic objects,” senora Rubindiciles explained to me, sitting back in the car, “I told them that you were Russian, our friend…”
The road officers are waving back, as we go further, coming across Che Guevara's huge images and the anti-American posters. “Che is the hero of all Latin American nations. If you had arrived earlier, I would have bring you to the feast of “los campesinos” (“campesinos” is the Spanish for “peasants” –– editor’s note): to the World’s Festival of Che in Bolivia. There you could understand what revolution is. With the breakdown of the USSR many people expected the fast collapse of the Fidel's regime in the country as a consequence. But the Cuban communists will always find a way out of it.
We let the oil transport pass by and drive up to a small farm. We see a barely dressed and quite flamboyant Cuban get out the house and come to us.
“This is Raul, he is an engineer and at the same time the farmer,” explains Claudia, “My old friend.”
My guide is telling him who I am and where I came from, so the Cuban smiles and then let me come under the shed, slapping me on the back. We sit down on a bench, which looks just like our Russian country benches by the huts. Raul serves a smelling liquid, a local tonic drink.
“Under the results of the geologic exploration,” he slowly starts to talk, “the Cuban part offshore the Gulf of Mexico has the similar quality to the one where the Mexicans extract crude oil; so Cuba has a chance to discover at least four big deposits of oil, and of a high quality.
“And how much oil do you plan to extract?” I asked.
Raul takes a sip, closes his eyes and, enjoying his every word, replies: “It was reported that Cuba including its offshore territory has not less than 9 billion barrels (about 1,3 billion tons) of the high-quality oil.
The production cost will amount to $30-35. And, taking into account the current prices, it will make a great profit for the national economy. It can dramatically change the geopolitical situation in the region.”
“But, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, the Cuba’s proved oil reserves do not exceed 259 million barrels?” I put a word in his speech, “Moreover, Venezuela’s oil reserves amount to 75.27 billion barrels, and Russia’s ones to 74.4 billion barrels!”
“Yankees can write everything,” Raul explains, making a wry mouth, “They’ve written nothing about huge Brazilian reserves in their Factbook, because they know that they won’t be able to win the Brazil’s tender bid for exploitation.”
Noticing mistrust on my face, Raul suddenly stops being relaxed, and, jumping to his feet, begins to convince me, sawing the air with his hands.
“Look, as soon as information about our oil reserves was revealed, the Spaniards, the Canadians and others flood the island. The Spanish energy concern Repsol-YPF has been bringing its drilling eqipment to develop Yamagua deposit of the 1,6 billion bpd capacity. The Canadian Sherritt International Corp. has already invested $1,25 billion to Cuba in order to strengthen hand in the industries of nickel, cobalt and oil and gas production. Only you, Russians, still ponder over the necessity of entering our market.”
Breathing out, Raul sat down and turned his face away to the declining sun. Here I understood that all the Cubans are like children: short-tempered and touchy, but at the same time very kind and ready to give away the shirt off their back. Although there is no need in shirt here…
“Excuse me,” Raul continues, calming down, “I just love Cuba with all my heart and I don’t like when somebody does not believe in my country. If the data about resources appear to be true, we won’t be able to develop such an expensive industry, because we are short of money and the field experience. Therefore we welcome Russia and its industry.”
While flying to the Island of Freedom, I expected to see a totalitarian world where everything is subject to dictatorship.
In fact I met a great number of absolutely free and always smiling people.
“To each his own," an old Cuban said in one of the Havana’s small restaurants. "Some people need money to be happy, others need authority. It’s not our business. Personally, I’m happy to live near to my friends, drink a cup or two of warmer-upper at dinner and respect the land of my ancestors. We are not rich, but free."
As I said, the Cubans are like children. They are pretty satisfied with their quiet, steady life with a two-hour fiesta at noon, a rather short working day, and the free medicine, recognized to be the one of the best in the world. The phrase « Fidel, thank you for being with us», which is repeated by many Cubans, is always said sincerely and heartily. But to understand it, you have to hear yourself.
At the end of the trip I was initiated into the Cubans. It is almost the same (with a slight difference) as the initiations into Siberians or taiga geologists in Russia. Yes, you guessed right: I had a headache on my flight back to Moscow.
The Cubans believe in the blue bird of happiness, today it turned into an oilbird. And, who knows, maybe they will catch it.
At present Zarubezhneft oil company studies any possible lines of cooperation with the Cuban companies in oil and gas sector.
Zarubezhneft has the operational experience in this country already. In the 1984-1989s the company’s experts provided technical assistance to the Cuba’s oil and gas companies in carrying out of the oilfield works concerning development, construction and exploitation of oil fields, offshore geophysical researches, well stock efficiency upgrading and also carrying out of scientific researches and project works.