Fifty years ago this month, the United States began the embargo on Cuba which continues to this day. But the country against which it was aimed is rapidly becoming a very different one to the alleged communist menace just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Under Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, it is in the throes of a second Cuban revolution.
For a sign of the change which is turning life on their island on its head, the people of Havana have only to peer into the night at the northern horizon. This month, Repsol, the Spanish energy company started drilling the first oil well from a massive and brightly lit rig, the lumbering Scarabeo 9, built in China for ENI of Italy. This morning it will still be grinding away seeking the billions of barrels of oil and the trillions of cubic feet of gas that the US government, among others, says lie under Cuba’s offshore waters.
The Spanish oilmen working on the structure, which has been towed halfway around the world amid US efforts to delay its progress, will be followed aboard by a succession of Norwegians, Russians, Indians and Malaysians.
Optimistic geologists reckon that within a few years the island ”“ long cursed by a lack of oil supplies, half of which it has had to import ”“ will actually be exporting the stuff. And it will be able to do so without the aid of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who has kept the island’s motors, power and air-conditioning going with his subsidised crude.
Also, at the fine harbour in Mariel, a few miles to the west of the Cuban capital, is another pointer to the future, the big island-changing harbour that Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant, is building with a large wodge of money provided by the booming South American nation.
The end of the first national conference of the Cuban Communist Party set the seal last month on changes that President Raul Castro had been building up to. Since he took over from his ailing elder brother, Fidel, in 2006, the new president, himself an octogenarian, has pushed ahead with measures which are turning the traditional Cuban lifestyle upside down by decreeing that the party will henceforward cease micro-managing daily life and confine itself to strategic matters.
Landscapers are working hard on matters of equally urgent national strategy. Fifteen more golf courses and new marinas are being laid out in Cuba and they can’t be finished quickly enough: golfers from abroad will even be able to lease chalets and timeshares. The island’s hotels are packed. European visitors are pouring in. After decades of US-imposed isolation from high-speed internet, Cubans and their visitors are finally beginning to receive it via a new cable laid from Venezuela.
Yet Raul’s strategies are not confined to big infrastructure projects; they reach down deeper into an effort to keep Cuban society together. Senior Cuban figures make no secret of the fact that even more important work has to be done to improve Cubans’ ideological outlook and the economic conditions.
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