Cash-Strapped Cuba Presses Drive to Strike Black Gold

12/19/2012, 3:39 p.m.

"Cuba will allow a Norwegian platform to being offshore drilling off the north-central coast in the coming days, part of an effort to build income from the subsea oil industry. State-run oil company CubaPetroleo announced that the platform Songa Mercur had arrived in the area, and would create the country's deepest offshore oil well as a part of exploratory drilling. The statement was given via state-run newspaper Ganma, and detailed a partnership with Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft, who leased four blocks of Cuban land for drilling in 2009.

"The new well has the objective to determine the oil and gas potential of that sector in our country," CubaPetroleo wrote. "Its results must contribute to the knowledge of the area where it will be drilled, as well as all of North-Central Cuba."

In November, a Russian official confirmed that the country would spend around $126 million on offshore drilling in Cuba. The Norwegian company Songa Offshore AS will handle the drilling, with intial results expected in May. Successful drilling would prove extremely profitable for Cuba, a country with well documented energy struggles. Divided into 59 blocks, Cuba has leased out 22 to foreign companies. If exploratory drilling goes well the struggling communist state could see a sudden reversal of fortune.

United States officials have expressed concern over the environmental safety of the drilling exercises, due to Cuba's inexperience in the oil drilling industry. In its announcement, CubaPetroleo said that the Songa Mercur had been inspected for safety, and that international firm ModuSpec had inspected it to ensure that less than 10 percent of the parts used on the platform are American, a testament to the 50-year US Embargo.

Becoming energy independent would release Cuba from strained relationships with Venezuela, and falls in line with new president Raul Castro's plans to reduce the amount of money spent on imports.

Mandela Hospitalized Again, World Prays

Special to the Informer from the Houston Forward Times

People around the world are praying for the health of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela as he remained hospitalized since last weekend for reasons that have not been publicly announced.

Widespread reports say the 94-year-old justice icon is doing well, but Associated Press described concerned Sunday morning worshipers at Soweto's Regina Mundi Catholic Church as praying for the Nobel Laureate, a symbol of freedom and democracy around the world. The church "once served as a major rallying point for anti-apartheid activists," the AP described.

The country of 50 million people, as well as people around the world, awaited word of his condition this week as an announcement from current President Jacob Zuma said only that he was admitted to a hospital in Pretoria for tests "consistent for his age" and that he is "comfortable." Zuma reportedly visited President Mandela in the hospital Sunday, causing even greater concern since he did not visit during his last hospitalization for a minor surgery in February.

Additional information was being added early this week.

"There is no cause for alarm ... He [Mandela] is in the hands of a good medical team," said presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj on Monday, according to GIN. An update on Mandela's health will be relayed once his doctors update the presidency, Maharaj added.