Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Castro to consider veering to U.S.

winnerloser

FOX News Latino

Venezuela’s grim situation is impacting not only millions of households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has relied heavily on Chavismo’s generosity.

Cuba, a communist country with a weak economy, has alienated itself from the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay financially afloat. But Venezuela’s falling oil prices is causing Cuba to distance itself from the South American country.

So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by 19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top provider almost overnight.

Now with Venezuela’s wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive Havana closer to the U.S.

“Venezuela’s inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely be filled by the U.S.,” said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle to Fox News Latino.

“Cuba’s opening to foreign investment has been slow, but now they don’t have another option if you consider Venezuela’s grim situation,” said Felix Arellano, also an internationalist.

Venezuela and Cuba started strengthening ties soon after Hugo Chavez, a socialist and open admirer of Fidel Castro, came to power in 1999. The alliance, fueled by a close personal friendship, helped the Castro brothers keep the island afloat amid the Soviet Union domino collapse.

Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more than 50 percent of the island’s intake of oil at very preferential terms. In exchange, in 2003 Cuba started providing human resources to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez’s various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which focused on reducing analphabetism.

According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela.

This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefited both Castro’s and Chavez’s agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.

After Chavez died in 2013, his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro kept the close relationship with Fidel and Raul Castro — according to an FNL count, Maduro has visited Cuba 15 times since becoming president three years ago.

“The new economic scenario doesn’t mean that political relations between Cuba and Venezuela will turn sour,” according to foreign analyst Edgar Otalvora. “Ideologically, they will remain close,” he said, pointing at Raul Castro’s cautious speech before the National Assembly on July 8th.

However, Castro did turn heads when he acknowledged the repercussions that Venezuela’s deepening crisis is having on Cuba.

He said Cuba’s economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the year, half of what the government had planned for, due in part to “a certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Maduro and his government to fulfill them.”

“Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the Cuban economy,” Castro told the National Assembly.

Analysts say the severity of the financial and political crisis in Venezuela may force Cuba to change course sooner rather than later.

“Havana needs to also start drawing investments from Europe, Brazil, Canada and China,” Arellano told FNL. “The down part for the Castro brothers is that this might require political changes in the near future.”

As for the U.S., it is very likely Washington will keep pushing to increase its influence in Cuba regardless of November’s election outcome.

Continue reading Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Castro to consider veering to U.S.

One Woman’s Struggle for Freedom in Castro’s Cuba

Sirley Ávila

The Daily Signal

A slim Cuban woman speaks from a wheelchair at the front of the room.

The woman speaks softly for 10 minutes in Spanish, pausing at intervals to wait for her translator’s words. Her left arm ends at the wrist, and she cradles it in her right hand.

“My name is Sirley Ávila León. I am Cuban and reside in Cuba,” she says. “I was elected as a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba by my neighbors in June 2005, for the rural area of Limones.”

There is nothing about the woman’s appearance to indicate “dangerous political dissident.” But her wounds attest that Cuba’s communist regime sees things differently.

The scene was the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, where Sirley Ávila León last month received the organization’s Human Rights Prize.

For more than a decade, Ávila has been a splinter in the foot of the Cuban government, a low-profile but aggressive advocate for the rights of her family and her community.

Last year, Ávila nearly was murdered in a brutal machete attack—the work, she says, of state security thugs.

Now in Miami on a medical visa, Ávila, 57, is recuperating just as aggressively from the machete attack.
She spoke to The Daily Signal through translator John Suarez, international secretary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, who runs a blog called Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter. The interview took place in two parts between her medical appointments—and as she prepared to testify before Congress July 13 concerning Cuba’s cruelties and planned how to return to Cuba as quickly as possible.

Continue reading One Woman’s Struggle for Freedom in Castro’s Cuba

British tourist denied ‘last goodbye’ with dead wife in £20k Cuba medical bill row

Sheila Dumbleton with husband Ray
Sheila Dumbleton with husband Ray

Birmingham Mail

En español Marti Noticias

Widower talks for first time of ‘hell’ at losing Sheila Dumbleton during dream holiday on paradise isle

A grief-stricken pensioner said his wife was “left to die” in a Cuban hospital – because they could not pay a £20,000 medical bill.

Ray Dumbleton said he was even banned from saying a last goodbye to his beloved Sheila, his soulmate of 34 years, as her body lay alone .

The 67-year-old, from Frankley , said his ordeal was like “hell on Earth”.

He said: “If you think of a World War Two scene, then that might just start to come close.”

Sheila died in hospital in Holguin, Cuba, after falling ill on the sixth day of what had been planned as the couple’s ‘dream holiday’.

Despite taking out ‘gold cover’ travel insurance, she was unable to claim for her medical treatment and was left with a £20,000 medical bill.

Now, her distraught family have been ordered to settle her medical bill to pay and must also find an extra £7,000 to bring Sheila’s body home.

“It felt that, as soon as the hospital knew we couldn’t pay, they left her to deteriorate,” Ray said.

“All the doctors kept saying to us was ‘payment, payment’ but we didn’t have the money to give them.

“The conditions in that hospital were horrendous – something I find hard to put into words. There were dead bodies left uncovered. It was as if they didn’t care about people’s dignity. They wouldn’t even allow me to see my wife’s body and pay my last respects to her. They just kept saying it was Cuban law. I will never get that chance again. They have broken my heart, I kept saying: ‘Forget Cuban law, I want to see my wife’. But they would not allow me that last moment with her. I felt powerless over there. At one point they even threatened to put me into prison if I carried on demanding to see her. As soon as Sheila died, it felt like they couldn’t get me out of the country quickly enough. It was like nothing I had ever seen before – I was treated like a VIP, ushered straight through customs and there were no security checks. Now, I am glad to be back home but I will cannot rest until Sheila is back here with her family. The only saving grace was that I did meet some lovely people out there and without them, I probably would not have got through this ordeal.”

A spokesman for White Horse Insurance Ireland, with whom the couple had travel insurance, said: “We were very sorry to hear of Mrs Dumbleton’s circumstances. Regrettably, as Mrs Dumbleton’s medical history was not disclosed, her claim was not covered by her insurance policy.”

Relatives launched a fundraising drive when they discovered Sheila had fallen ill and would be unable to claim on her insurance.

A GoFund me campaign was launched to pay the medical bill and bring her home alive – but she died before the target could be reached.

“We have raised more than £4,000 already, so if it’s just the £7,000 then we could probably do it,” said daughter Erica McCleary.

“But we still don’t know if they will allow us to bring Mum home without paying the medical bill. I cannot begin to say how generous and kind people have been after reading about our story. We have had complete strangers offering us large amounts of money. One person even offered us their life savings just so that we can get Mum’s body home. We just want Mum home with us so we are able to grieve properly, as a family. It’s good to finally have Ray home with us after him being stuck out there for a month but we need to be allowed to grieve properly. This whole process has been a nightmare and it’s still not over. We managed to go out and see Mum when she first fell ill but we were not allowed much time with her. and we didn’t really feel like she was being cared for properly.”

Sheila became a great-grandmother while she was in Cuba but never got to meet her first great grandchild.

Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite U.S. ties

damas1

The Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer

One year after Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on July 20, 2015, Cuba’s human rights situation is much worse. It’s time for Latin America and the U.S. to stop clapping, and demand that Cuba’s dictatorship start allowing fundamental freedoms

On the first anniversary since Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C., one thing is clear: The reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties — which I have cautiously supported in this column — has not helped improve by one iota Cuba’s human rights situation. On the contrary, human rights abuses have worsened.

This is not a conclusion based on random anecdotes from the island, but the result of a well-documented report just released by the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the island’s oldest and most respected non-government, human-rights monitoring group.

According to the commission, short-term political detentions have gone way up so far this year, from a monthly average of 718 last year to a monthly average of 1,095 during the first six months of this year. The number of political detentions skyrocketed during the months before and after President Barack Obama’s visit to the island in March, the monthly figures show.

During the first six months of this year, there have been 6,573 short-term political detentions in Cuba, which — if they continue at their six-month rate — would be a significant increase over last year’s figure. There were 8,616 documented short-term political detentions last year, 6,424 in 2013, and 2,074 in 2010, says the commission.

In addition to the rise in short-term detentions, the number of peaceful opponents who have been sentenced to longer terms in prison or labor camps over the past year has risen from about 70 to more than 100, the commission says.

“The civil and political rights situation has worsened over the past year, no doubt about it,” commission founder Elizardo Sánchez told me in a telephone interview. “In terms of [Cuba’s] domestic politics, the reestablishment of ties hasn’t had any positive impact.”

Sánchez added that “after Obama’s speech in Havana, which was very good, the government started a campaign to discredit the U.S. president, which was started by Fidel Castro himself. They hope to erase the memory of Obama’s speech from Cubans’ memory, and to continue improving ties with the outside world, while maintaining an iron fist at home.”

José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the Human Rights Watch monitoring group, agrees that there has been no improvement in Cuba’s human rights scene since Cuba reopened the embassy on July 20, 2015. But Vivanco, who like Sánchez supports the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban relations and the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, said it would be a mistake to expect that the normalization of bilateral ties will lead to less political repression on the island.
“Neither the opening of embassies nor the eventual total dismantling of the U.S. embargo will change the nature of the regime or bring about democratic and human rights improvements in Cuba,” Vivanco said. “Only effective and strong pressure from democratic leaders in the region and outside the region will achieve that.”

My opinion: I fully agree. It’s time for the Obama administration and Latin America’s democracies to cut the celebrations over the reestablishment of U.S. diplomatic ties and the end of the Cold War in our region. That’s old news by now.

Instead of extending the fiesta indefinitely, it’s time for Latin American democracies to denounce the region’s oldest military dictatorship. (It’s not mentioned in most articles on Cuba, but the island’s president, Gen. Raúl Castro, is a military dictator who alongside his brother Fidel Castro has overseen thousands of political executions and has not allowed a free election, political parties or independent media in almost six decades.)

Enough is enough! There is no excuse for Cuba to increase political repression at a time when Obama is dismantling what’s left of the U.S. embargo on the island, allowing U.S. cruise liners and commercial planes to ultimately carry tens of thousands of Americans to Cuba — their numbers rose by 84 percent over the first six months this year — and the first Sheraton hotel to open its doors in Havana.

It’s time for Latin America and the world to stop the clapping, and publicly demand that Cuba free political prisoners, stop the beatings of peaceful political opponents, and start allowing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and free elections. It’s time for Cuba’s octogenarian military dinosaurs to go.

 

Cuba’s Healthcare Scam

The Lab Believe it or not, this is the Laboratory! Gracias Fidel!
The Blaze, by Humberto Fontova

“Cuba has made significant contributions to health and science,” recently declared Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

The occasion was the signing of a “memorandum of understanding to encourage cooperation between the two countries on health matters to build on each other’s knowledge and experience, and benefit biomedical research and public health at large.”

Tell it to Tuvalu, President Barack Obama and Secretary Burwell. Tuvalu is a group of Pacific islands north of Fiji formerly belonging to Britain when known as the “Ellice Islands.” The natives seem like perfectly charming people.

But despite its charm, Tuvalu is not known as a particularly advanced place scientifically-speaking–and yet its natives recently gasped while witnessing the medical practices of a place even more primitive in its medical practices: Cuba.

“Cuba’s contribution to medical education in the region has been welcomed by many Pacific countries,” according to a recent story from Radio Australia (the Aussie version of NPR, hence liberal in outlook.) “But some are finding that doctors who’ve studied in Cuba need extra training when they return home. Tuvalu finds Cuban-trained doctors need skills gap filled.”

Back in 2008, you see, Tuvalu fell for the Castro-regime/United Nations/mainstream media propaganda mantra about Cuba’s “free and fabulous healthcare” and eagerly sent 22 promising Tuvaluan students to medical school in Cuba.

But upon their return with those medical degrees, as Radio Australia explains:

“the [Tuvaluan] government is concerned about their level of practical training … So the Education Department is planning to send returning [from Cuba] Tuvalu doctors to Kiribati [a nearby primitive island] for a special internship, as the department’s pre-service training officer Atabi Ewekia explains.”

In brief, the incompetence of Cuba-trained doctors is such that they will be essentially “de-programmed” in a medical school where, a mere two generations ago, medicine was probably the province of witch-doctors with bones through their noses.

And, thanks to Obama, the U.S. taxpayer will soon pay for the Cuban trainers of those Cuban doctors who so desperately needed de-programming to share their “significant contributions to health and science” with U.S. health professionals and researchers.

Unbeknownst to most Americans, pre-Castro Cuba boasted the 13th lowest infant-mortality on earth –ahead of France, Belgium, West Germany, Israel, Japan, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Castro’s Cuba, on the other hand, is ravaged by diseases long-eradicated in Cuba (Dengue, Cholera) and of her “doctors” fortunate enough to escape, the overwhelmingly majority flunk the exam given in the U.S. for licensing as doctor’s assistants.”

So let’s have a closer look at one of the U.S. media’s favorite veritable “go-to-people” on Cuban healthcare (besides Michael Moore) Gail Reed. The Huffington Post proudly carries her as a contributor and recently quoted her on the very issue at hand:

“This [the HHS-Cuba deal] is a win-win for Americans and Cubans! We’re now one step closer to a safer, healthier future for people in both countries.”

Huffington Post describes Gail Reed as “Founder of Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, a U.S. non-profit promoting cooperation among the U.S., Cuban and global health communities, where she is currently Research Director.”

Sounds pretty innocuous, no?

But for the past 35 years Havana resident Gail Reed has also been married to an officer of Cuba’s Directorio General de Intelligencia (spy service) named Julian Torres Rizo.

This KGB-trained apparatchik recruited Reed back in 1969 when she visited Cuba as a member of the (DGI-created) Venceremos Brigades of “starry-eyed” U.S. college kids. Obama’s future “neighbors” Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, by the way, served as recruiters for these Venceremos Brigades. This was an important function for the famous couple as leaders of the terrorist Weather Underground.

Not that any American viewers imbibing her reports on the marvels of Cuba’s healthcare and the wickedness of the U.S. “blockade” of her adopted country in those “mainstream” media organs might have guessed any of Gail Reed’s background.

This Traitor Belongs in Jail, Not Free in Cuba

anabelenmontes

The Wall Street Journal, by Devin Nunez

Montes spied on her own country for Castro, doing much damage, yet Obama may soon liberate her.

The Obama administration is reportedly in secret negotiations with Cuba that would result in the release from federal prison of one of the most damaging American spies in U.S. history. Such an extraordinary gesture would be preposterous for many reasons.

Ana Belén Montes, who is serving a 25-year sentence as part of a 2002 plea deal, was a U.S. Justice Department official with a top-secret security clearance when she was approached by Cuban intelligence agents in 1984. At the time the Cuban regime ran a pervasive spying program against the U.S., as it still does today, though then it often acted in conjunction with the Soviet Union. A devoted sympathizer of radical Latin American regimes, Ms. Montes quickly agreed to spy for Havana, thus beginning a 16-year-long betrayal of the U.S.

As I conveyed in a July 12 letter to President Obama, it is difficult to overstate the damage caused by Ms. Montes’s treachery. In May 2012, Michelle Van Cleave, the former head of U.S. counterintelligence who oversaw completion of the damage assessment on Ms. Montes, told Congress that her activities likely “contributed to the death and injury of American and pro-American forces in Latin America,” and that she compromised other, broader intelligence programs.

Nevertheless, press reports indicate that the Obama administration is considering releasing Ms. Montes to the Castro regime as part of a prisoner swap for American fugitives from justice now sheltered in Cuba.

This exchange would be part of the administration’s campaign to normalize ties with Cuba, which has included restoring diplomatic relations, loosening sanctions and removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Hopes that the Castro regime would reciprocate by granting basic freedoms to the Cuban people and releasing political prisoners have gone unfulfilled.

The abundant incentives that President Obama offered to get Iran last year to sign a nuclear deal have already shown how far this administration will go to curry favor with hostile powers. As we saw in 2014 with the trade of five dangerous Taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—now arraigned on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan—this president has odd ideas about what constitutes a beneficial prisoner swap. Even so, releasing Ms. Montes cannot be tolerated.

In the past, the U.S. has deported or traded captured foreign spies, but it is extremely rare to trade American citizens who have betrayed their country. Doing so would be especially egregious in these circumstances. The American government should not pay the Castro regime a bribe, in the form of a released American spy, in hopes of advancing normalization.

Ms. Montes’ release would send a dangerous message that convicted spies may be able to secure a deal through the foreign government that employed them. Potential traitors to this country should know that betraying America will bring harsh penalties, without exception or the potential for a get-out-of-jail-free card.

“Prison is one of the last places I would have ever chosen to be in, but some things in life are worth going to prison for,” an unrepentant Ms. Montes wrote to a relative, the Washington Post reported in 2013. If releasing American traitors from prison is the cost of “normalizing” relations with Cuba, then clearly that price is too high.

Mr. Nunes, a Republican from California, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

House approves bill with clauses that strengthen Cuba sanctions

diazbalart

The Miami Herald

The strengthened restrictions are included in the text of a budget bill approved last week after two amendments to remove restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba were withdrawn by their sponsors.

The budget bill for 2017 financial services and general government spending has been approved in the House of Representatives with several clauses that strengthen sanctions on Cuba.

The clauses limit “people to people” exchange trips, prohibit the use of funds for trafficking in confiscated property, restrict financial transactions with entities tied to the Cuban military and forbid the granting of trademark rights and intellectual property with businesses or properties confiscated by the Cuban government.

The strengthened restrictions are included in the text of the budget bill that was approved last week after two amendments to remove restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba were withdrawn by their sponsors — Representatives Rick Crawford and Mark Sanford, respectively.

Sanford withdrew his amendment after acknowledging he did not have the support of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Crawford also withdrew his amendment but only after receiving a commitment by the House leadership representatives from Florida to start looking for a long-term solution to remove restrictions on cash payments for the purchase of U.S. agricultural products.

“I’ve gotten commitments from leadership and my friends from Florida that there will be a proper path forward,” Crawford said during the plenary session.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart confirmed that agreement was reached with Crawford “…to come up with a solution that meets the needs of our farmers … but that does not jeopardize our national security or support the Castro regime, its military or its intelligence services.”

Diaz-Balart refuted reports that Crawford’s amendment had enough support to pass.

“Once again, the groups allied with the interests of the Cuban dictatorship who for years have been saying that there is no support for sanctions, have been unmasked in the House’s floor,” he said.

Following the announcement of the agreement, the organization Engage Cuba, which lobbies to lift the embargo, had issued a statement claiming that “the momentum for changing our Cuba policies has shifted, and even the most outspoken opponents of lifting theCuban embargo have realized that their position is no longer tenable.”

Diaz-Balart refuted that claim: “There is bipartisan support in the House to strengthen sanctions against the regime and reject the policy of appeasement of the dictatorship,” he said, adding that the passage of the budget bill “contains multiple clauses to strengthen sanctions.”

Lawmakers seek to ground Cuba flights pending security review

passengers

The Hill

Commercial flights to Cuba could begin as soon as this fall, but some lawmakers are seeking to ground service until Congress knows what type of screening equipment is installed at the island’s airports or whether suspected terrorists could use Cuba as a gateway to enter the U.S.

A group of House members — who were denied visas to visit Cuba and assess airport security risks themselves — is backing legislation that would halt air service to Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducts a thorough investigation of the security protocols at all of Cuba’s 10 international airports.

The measure also would require an agreement that grants TSA agents full access to inspect Cuban airports with direct flights to the U.S. and permits federal air marshals on flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

Bill sponsor John Katko (R-N.Y.) hopes the TSA report will shed light on basic questions like whether Cuban airports screen bags for bombs or hire drug dealers as employees. He said it’s particularly alarming that Congress does not know answers to its questions, considering recent attacks on jetliners have been linked to airline employees.

“You’ve got a potential nightmare on your hands,” Katko, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, said at a roundtable with a small group of reporters on Tuesday. “It may turn out there’s nothing to worry about, but we don’t know. And that’s the concern we have.”

Katko says the legislation has the support of leadership and some Democrats, which increases its chances for passage as either a suspender or as part of a larger spending package this fall.

But the bill could face an uphill battle in the Senate, where a committee overwhelmingly approved lifting the travel ban with Cuba, as well as in the Obama administration, which has been pushing to normalize relations with its former Cold War rival.

In February, the Transportation and State departments signed an agreement to reestablish scheduled air service between the U.S. and Cuba, although traveling to the island for tourism is still prohibited.

The Department of Transportation recently approved eight airlines to start flying to Havana and six airlines to travel to other cities on the island as early as this fall.

“This is coming at breakneck speed,” Katko said.

Under Katko’s bill, air service to Cuba could not take place until the TSA details the country’s airport screening equipment, canine program, security personnel training, airport perimeter security, access controls and employee vetting process.

The TSA would also be required to assess whether a suspected terrorist could use Cuba as a gateway to enter the United States in its report, which would have to be independently audited by the Government Accountability Office.

Katko said Congress has been stonewalled by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban government in seeking answers to its questions.

He worries that opening commercial air travel with Cuba will create new opportunities for terrorists. Katko said fake Cuban passports have been “showing up all over the Middle East.”

“If you think about an American airliner, with an American flag on the tail, you think ISIS doesn’t see that as a great target, a great PR win, if they can get a bomb on a plane?” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a lead sponsor of the legislation, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “And if there is not screening of baggage, and you’ve got people making $5 dollars a day handling the baggage, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see a scenario where somebody could put a bomb on the plane.”

Katko pointed out Cuba could not benefit from a House-passed Federal Aviation Administration bill allowing the TSA to donate excess screening equipment to foreign airports because of the existing trade embargo.

Supporters of Cuban air travel argue that charter services have been offering flights between the U.S. and Cuba for years without terrorism incidents, and airports already must comply with a set of international standards.

But lawmakers maintain that more than 100 daily commercial flights are a different dynamic than charter flights, while international standards may not be high enough.

“International standards, that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Katko said. “That’s a baseline, it’s not a big hurdle.”

Venezuela’s energy woes spread to its closest ally: Cuba

A watchman uses his phone's light at a condominium's checkpoint during a power cut in San Cristobal, in the state of Tachira, Venezuela, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez.

CNBC

Venezuela’s falling crude output and financial woes have left it struggling to maintain a 15-year-old oil assistance program to its closest ally, Cuba.

State-run oil firm PDVSA has slashed its exports to Communist-run Cuba this year, according to the company’s internal trade data, seen exclusively by Reuters.

The shift signals an unraveling of the oil diplomacy pioneered by Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez and helps explain why Cuba, which generates electricity from fuels, recently ordered some joint ventures and state-owned firms to reduce power usage.

It also comes as Cuba improves its relations with the United States after decades of antagonism and a U.S. economic embargo while Venezuela, mired in triple-digit inflation and acute product shortages, is in a prolonged standoff with Washington.

Cuba, long reliant on Venezuela as its top energy supplier, has received some 53,500 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from PDVSA this year, a 40 decline from the first half of 2015, according to the company’s data.

When it was flush with cash from oil exports, Venezuela’s socialist government won political support in Latin America and the Caribbean by sending oil on advantageous terms to allies.

Cuba, which receives some 4 percent of Venezuela’s total oil exports, has been the biggest beneficiary of the program and until this year was spared the fallout from PDVSA’s growing cash flow problems, which already undermined oil supplies to Uruguay, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Curacao.

Venezuela has partially offset the smaller crude shipments to Cuba by boosting exports of refined products such as fuel oil, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

But overall shipments to Cuba, including both crude and products, still declined 19.5 percent to 83,130 bpd in the first half of this year. 1/8Link to graphic on Venezuela’s monthly oil exports to Cuba: http://tmsnrt.rs/29kux9r 3/8

It is unclear if Cuba is looking to secure new sources of supply amid the shortfalls. The barter arrangement for Venezuelan oil has been a huge boost to Cuba’s economy and it would have to pay much more in the open market.

Meanwhile, PDVSA has been scrambling to limit its own purchases of expensive light crude and naphtha needed to dilute its extra heavy Orinoco crude, and is opting to keep more of a medium crude known as Mesa 30 at home to use as a diluent.

Mesa 30 has for long been the main crude received by Cuba. The oil now arriving is heavier, making it harder for Cuban refineries to produce the ideal mix of fuels for its economy, according to a source with the Cuba-Venezuela commission that oversees their treaties.

Venezuela has the world’s largest crude reserves though output has declined in recent years because of underinvestment. Given a slump in oil prices and a mounting economic crisis at home, PDVSA is straining to keep up investment and production.

Numerous oil analysts believe the OPEC country’s oil output this year will fall to its lowest level since a devastating strike at PDVSA in 2002 and 2003.

FALLING REVENUE

PDVSA said this month its sales revenue fell more than 45 percent in 2015. Despite Venezuela’s long track record of paying its foreign debts, there are growing concerns among Wall Street investors over whether it will be able to pay PDVSA’s and the country’s bondholders.

Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino said there is no significant decline in production, but output is already well off a peak of 3.24 million bpd in 2008. In May, it reported output of 2.37 million bpd, almost 460,000 bpd less than two years ago, according to publicly-available OPEC data.

PDVSA did not respond to requests for comment.

Heavy oil makes up a growing portion of Venezuela’s ailing production while the output of lighter crudes that can be used as diluents to turn extra heavy crude into exportable blends is falling sharply.

Production of Mesa 30 crude and other grades used as diluents has fallen by 40,000 bpd so far this year to some 395,000 bpd, according to a source at PDVSA and companies monitoring Venezuela’s output.

That has forced it to drastically cut exports of lighter grades and import expensive diluents.

Some of the medium and light foreign crudes PDVSA imports at its Bullenbay terminal in the Caribbean have instead been redirected to Cuba, according to PDVSA’s internal data.

In 2015, PDVSA sent 2.6 million barrels of Angola’s Girassol and Russia’s Urals crudes to Cuba. This year, the firm has opted to send Cuba heavier Venezuelan grades, such as Leona and diluted crude oil (DCO).

Less Venezuelan supply means Cuba will have little or no surplus oil or fuel to export, as it has done in the past.

“Cuba has been able to produce a surplus of gasoline and jet fuel, which it can export to the international market to generate hard currency,” said Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at University of Texas at Austin.

“It would not have that luxury once it has to pay hard cash for the crude oil.”

Dozens injured as severe weather batters Cuba

waterspouts

ALJAZEERA

A series of waterspouts move onshore, injuring at least 38 people and causing significant damage to houses.

A clear-up operation is under way in Cuba after a series of powerful waterspouts slammed into the country’s south coast, injuring dozens of people and destroying several homes.

Waterspouts are tornadoes which move over water. They are often weak and fairly harmless, but sometimes they can be powerful and cause significant damage if they come onshore.

Witnesses in Playa Caimito, on the island’s south, filmed the waterspouts as they formed off shore, with some people reporting seeing as many as seven churning columns of air.

The waterspouts then slammed on to the coast, hitting Playa Caimito where they destroyed 14 homes and damaged six more.

As the storm raged, 38 people were injured, six of them seriously.

Resident Madelin Barban told the Reuters news agency that she had a narrow escape.

“My children and I were inside my home and thank God, my neighbour put my children under the bed. I was in the living room, with all the rubble on top of me. It was horrible.”

Powerful thunderstorms are common in Cuba at this time of year. The day after the storms battered Playa Caimito, Cuba’s capital Havana was also hit by damaging winds that were gusting up to 87 kilometres per hour.

Most storms hit the island during the rainy season, which runs from May to October. It is rare, however, for so many waterspouts to be reported at one time.