Sunday, September 18, 2011

Interdependence and Oil in the Americas


Interdependence (which is not only a Buddhist term, but also an economic term) is a politically dangerous idea.

We are supposed to believe that we are not interdependent. Our survival and happiness are always our own. If you need something, you should buy it; that is the only way to be absolved of needing other people. The notion of common wealth, the idea of distributing services in a truly egalitarian manner, is offensive to the prevailing idea that we are all in it for ourselves. There can be alliances, but alliances exist to help isolated beings achieve their own success and happiness.

The idea that "we're all in this together" and interdependent is mocked and scorned, even as it becomes more and more evident to anyone paying attention to world events. The notion that ecological crisis and the structural flaws of capitalism will compel us to turn our attentions to something other than individual prosperity is deeply offensive to the prevailing order.

Which is why we at the Burning House are highly amused by the idea of Cuba striking oil.

Yes, it turns out Cuba is sitting on oil.

There is an interesting struggle going on in the Americas over this. Since it won't be covered well by U.S. media (except to scare the shit out of Florida) we'll take a moment to relate the story in progress.

Robert Sandels lives in Mexico and writes about Cuba for various publications, on-line and print. His article in the current Monthly Review addresses the U.S. reaction to the possibility that Cuba is poised to become an oil state. The article will be available for free on-line as of September 19, and if this topic interests you we recommend you read it here when it is posted tomorrow.

Back in 1997, an agreement between the United States and Mexico allotted part of the Gulf of Mexico as an "Exclusive Economic Zone" for Cuba. In 2005, it was discovered that this turf sits on top of oil. Quite a bit of it, as a matter of fact. Not enough to make it another Saudi Arabia; not enough even to be another Venezuela. But as Sandels reports, "finding reserves even at the lower end of the estimates would make Cuba energy independent, and eventually a net exporter."

Oops. Game-changing development.

You see, the rule is, seeking alternatives to capitalism is very very bad. Cuba is very very bad because socialism is very very bad, and Cuba must be made to suffer so that its people will believe socialism is very very bad. This is the logic of U.S. sanctions and the economic blockade against Cuba, which have endured for generations. Our policy in Latin America generally is to dominate our neighboring states, and punish them if they lean too far left. Just ask the people of Honduras.

If Cuba becomes an oil exporter, it can buy greater freedom from the U.S. policy and strengthen Petrocaribe, the oil alliance that has been building an alternative to U.S./oil industry dominance in Latin America and the Caribbean. Petrocaribe makes oil available to member states at affordable prices. It deals only with states, not with private oil corporations.

Naturally, the United States has responded to this by throwing up its hands, deciding to live and let live, disagreeing with Cuba's socialist path but announcing it would no longer seek to choke and punish the state, and instead allow it full freedom of self-determination.

Just kidding.

Actually, several members of the U.S. Congress are working on a strategy to avert Cuba's oil independence. The plan would employ several strategies:

  • Punishing foreign companies for investing in Cuban oil or cooperating with Cuban oil production.
  • Pressuring the Spanish government to pull Repsol, the Spanish oil and gas company, out of any Cuban operation.
  • Stalling the process by any means necessary, in hopes that the Spanish conservatives take over government in the coming elections.
  • Instilling fear of oil spills. We must protect Florida from oil spills! This is a devious strategy, since we welcome Repsol's drilling operations in our own waters. Cuban water is different, you see. It has socialist cooties.

Oil is dirty energy. It is non-renewable, getting more scarce and thus more expensive and dangerous to produce. We are arriving at the final chapter of what will be known as the Oil Age. It is an interesting development, however, to note oil's involvement in building an alternative to imperial dominance. Oil had made it possible to conceive of strategic alliances that seek to strengthen states and foster real trade between American and Caribbean states, rather than exploitation and plunder of the weaker by the stronger.

Trying to achieve success and happiness for a nation by means of relationships and shared wealth is very very bad. It completely contradicts the idea that our happiness and survival are a matter of individual fortune.

Oil is a limited resource for funding revolution -- and this is revolutionary: trying to build a working alternative to the historic model of imperialism and corporate exploitation. They will have to build an alternative that does not depend on oil indefinitely. Can it be done? The obstacles are formidable, and here at the Burning House we are not betting against the alliance of international corporations and capitalist states just yet.

Venezuela and Cuba are not all good or all bad, but they are "very very bad" because what they have done well is very upsetting to the established order. The notion that anything can be done well outside of the "free market" -- such as distributing health care or education to people in an egalitarian manner -- contradicts what we are supposed to believe about ourselves and others.

Who tells you what to believe?


[Photo: Cuban coastline. One day I hope to visit this shore freely and legally.]

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