Now there is at least one more incentive to change course. With its huge potential for producing clean, renewable, sugar-based ethanol, Cuba represents a significant source of energy that will remain unavailable to American consumers unless we undo the embargo. Agricultural experts have estimated that Cuba could eventually provide more than 3 billion gallons of fuel annually, perhaps even more when new technologies for extracting energy from sugar cane waste (known as "bagasse") come online -- placing the island third in world ethanol production, behind the U.S. and Brazil. Given the relatively small demand for auto fuel in Cuba, nearly all of that ethanol would be available for export to its nearest neighbor.
Today the Cuban government manufactures only nominal amounts of ethanol, mainly because of government policies favoring table sugar and rum instead. Fidel Castro reportedly feels that using cane for fuel instead of food is a capitalist crime against the poor. Having ceded power to his brother Raúl, however, the aging ruler may no longer control economic policy -- and Raúl is widely viewed as the more flexible and pragmatic Castro. A revitalized ethanol industry in Cuba would have an enormous ready market only 90 miles away. It is also worth noting that sugar ethanol not only seems to burn cleaner than the kind made from grain but could also
reduce pressure on food prices. (Besides, everyone would be better off eating less sugar.)
Now, I confess that I don't know much about Cuba's resources, sugar or otherwise. I do, however, know somethings about geopolitics. Imagine what would happen to our geopolitical standing if an energy crisis forced us to lift a ban with an enemy of more than half a century. What sort of message would that send to other enemies like Iran? To be fair to Conason, he wants to lift the ban with Cuba, energy crisis or not. Thus, the energy crisis is nothing more than a red herring to achieve other ends. That said, let's take a look at how disingenuously and dishonestly he comes to this conclusion.
Listening to the mouthpieces of the oil industry on talk radio and cable television -- as well as in the Bush White House -- one gets the impression that we must start drilling in America's coastal waters immediately. If only we unleash the oilmen to explore and exploit, then the price of gasoline will start to fall, the scheming petroleum cartel will collapse, and the United States will be independent once again. And if we don't unleash the oilmen, then the Chinese communists will siphon off all the oil from the coast of Cuba before we can even launch a rowboat into the Caribbean.
None of that is true, of course. Producing oil from new offshore wells requires decades, and even when those resources come online they will have little impact on world prices, according to the government's own studies. Fouling our shores with clots of tar will bring us no closer to freedom from foreign oil in the near, medium or long term.
First, drilling off shore doesn't require decades of wait but rather a couple years or less. Second, the oil market is being driven by emotion not supply and demand. The mere serious attempt by the U.S. to produce domestic energy would have a significant effect on oil prices.
Furthermore, whatever difficulties we would have in bringing drilled oil to the market, it would still be a significantly shorter time than developing any alternative energy and having that come to market. There is nothing more disingenuous than someone that claims that off shore drilling will take a long time to have an effect and then proposes some sort of alternative energy that is a figment in their own imagination.
I have nothing against ethanol made from sugar. We have already seen it work brilliantly in Brazil. On the other hand, no alternative energy is anywhere close to being ready be marketed on anything close to a mass scale.
Of course, this is really not about energy independence. Rather, this is about Conason's obsession with blaming America for an ill in the world. Even if that means excusing a dictatorship and weakening our own geopolitical position by making a significant geopolitical concession because we are facing an energy crisis.
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