Cuba ready to battle oil spill

Cuba is steadying itself for an
ecological and tourism crisis as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill appears to be
heading towards its pristine northern coast.

Authorities are preparing coastal
communities to respond to the first sign of black slicks and have brought in
Venezuelan experts to advise on damage limitation.

Patches of oil were reportedly
spotted 100 miles north-west of the island, prompting concern that gulf
currents will add Cuba to the list of casualties from the 20 April Deepwater
Horizon rig explosion.

Should oil reach Cuba it will be
the latest twist to decades of toxic diplomatic relations between Havana and
Washington.

“In Cuba, we have had small
spills involving tankers on our coasts, but we’ve never had to confront anything
of this magnitude,” General Ramon Espinosa, vice-minister of the armed
forces, said.

“Nonetheless we are
documenting and studying. We are preparing with everything in our power.”
It would be a disaster for Cuba if the spill hit, he added.

A relative lack of economic
development has kept the north Cuban coast – just 90 miles from Florida – a
haven for manatees, migratory sea turtles and sharks. White sand beaches are an
important draw for tourists who provide an economic lifeline to the communist
state.

Ramon Pardo, head of Cuban civil
defence, said Havana was taking all precautions. “The preparation of the
coast, vigilance, creating all necessary conditions, preparing the people who
live on the coasts that could be impacted.”

Officials said Cuba would rely on
expertise from Venezuela, an ally that has long experience of offshore oil
drilling and its environmental consequences, but that it was also willing to
talk to the US. Analysts said “oil diplomacy” could gift Washington
and Havana a rare chance to co-operate but details remain sketchy.