Monday, January 28, 2008

No boundaries

Florida Senator Bill Nelson has a way to stop exploration for oil in Cuba’s Gulf waters: declare that the maritime boundary between the United States and Cuba is void, threaten U.S. sanctions against executives of foreign companies involved in exploration in Cuban waters, and apply those sanctions against the executives’ families too.

And the horse they rode in on.

This part of the Senator’s “ongoing effort to protect Florida’s coast from the ravages of oil drilling,” as a press release from his office put it, is found in S. 2503, a bill introduced last January (and in the previous Congress too) with no cosponsors.

The U.S.-Cuba maritime boundary is the result of a 1977 agreement (described here, pdf) that was never ratified by the Senate. Every two years since, including during the current Administration, the United States and Cuba have exchanged diplomatic notes that renew their commitment to the agreement, and to the boundary.

The Senator’s bill would nullify this agreement. Maybe there’s a lawyer out there who knows whether Congress can do this. One certainly wonders why the Senator doesn’t get the Senate to bring up the agreement for ratification, and vote it down.

Regardless, outside the legislative arena, the Senator is now asking President Bush not to make a new two-year commitment to the maritime boundary agreement. His staff was told that the note to that effect was sent but not yet received, according to an oil industry publication, and he asked the President to recall the note in a January 23 letter.

The Senator has good reason for concern. He notes that, “as the Gulf Stream flows, an oil spill or other drilling accident would desecrate [!] part of Florida’s unique environment and devastate its $50 billion tourism-driven economy.” And he is probably right to calculate that if his recommendations were followed, there would be enough uncertainty and fear of sanctions that foreign oil companies might abandon Cuban projects.

But one can question the effectiveness of his approach. The Senate has shown no interest in his bill. The Bush Administration might think it reckless to abandon a fair, split-the-difference maritime boundary that governs fishing, energy, and any other economic activity. Absent the agreed boundary, there would be overlapping claims of 200-mile exclusive economic zones. That could have unpredictable results – Hugo Chavez and PDVSA, I hope you’re not listening – that might not benefit Florida, much less the U.S. national interest.

If this were any country but Cuba, the United States would be talking to its neighbor about environmental issues and emergency preparedness. Indeed, American companies might be involved in the exploration – the same companies whose deep-water platforms and rigs were destroyed in the Gulf of Mexico during Katrina and other hurricanes, without a major spill.

But this is Cuba. Grand gestures will do just fine.

1 comment:

Val Prieto said...

All Cuba has to do is pony up the cash they stole, and maybe, perhaps, if it aint too much trouble, release a political prisoner or two. Not much to ask for, if you ask me, in order to reap all the wonderful rewards that the lifting of the emabrgo will bring.