Cuba’s Energy Future:
"Strategic Approaches to Cooperation, Edited by Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, Brookings Institute, 2010. "
A book review by Nicholas Newman 04 December 2010
Cuba’s Energy Future is written by a team of policy makers, scholars and analysts at Washington’s Brookings
Institute, led by Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado. This book, poses the challenging question what steps can Cuba take to
achieve both short term and long-term energy sustainability and self-sufficiency. The often-complex solutions are
based on three alternative scenarios of little change, some reforms and a full liberalisation of the Cuban economy
will surprise many readers not familiar with the Cuba's energy sector or the developing world.
As a regular writer and researcher on energy matters, including the geopolitical issues that affect countries in
the Caribbean. What is clear is that Cuba has much in common with its fellow neighbouring states, including the
vital failure, inter alia, to maintain adequate levels of investment in its energy sector.
From reading this book, it becomes clear that many of the issues that I have written about in other Latin American
countries energy sectors equally apply to troubled Cuba. This is especially the case of major oil exporters Mexico
and Venezuela, which have not suffered from decades of American sanctions. What is clear from reading this book is
too often Havana has used the excuse of American sanctions for their energy policy mistakes, which have resulted in
energy shortages on the island.
In Cuba’s case, the situation described by this book, confirms my own view that it is in America’s interest to end
its trade embargo with Cuba. In fact, there are a number of strong economic and energy security cases for
Washington to improve its relations with Havana. This book provides a well-argued and evidence backed logical case
of why trade sanctions are against America’s own interest.
In the oil and gas chapter by JB Pinon and JB Alvarado, it is argued that developing Cuba’s capacity to increase
crude oil and petroleum products output is vital in offsetting the declining output from America’s traditional oil
suppliers of Mexico and politically unstable Venezuela. The US Geological Survey conservatively puts Cuba’s
probable oil reserves at a least half that of Alaska, with the advantage of not having the environmental and
technological difficulties of developing the North Slope fields of Alaska. What is clear from this chapter is Cuba
has a great potential to dramatically increase its crude oil and petroleum products output, which is being held
back by the American trade embargo. Though, what many readers will find impressive is despite American trade
sanctions, Cuba with the help of major non-American energy companies such as Norway’s Norsk-Hydro, Brazil’s
Petrobras and Canada’s Sherritt International have managed to develop a successful domestic oil and gas
In the power generation chapter, by J A B Belt describes a situation common to most developing countries
electricity industry, including insufficient investment, maintenance and neglect. True, the American trade
embargoes have not helped this sector. However, poor past decisions made in Havana have been equally damaging.
Nevertheless in recent years a more enlightened less ideological approach to resolving matters has seen Cuba’s
desperate energy problems improve. However, its loadable efforts to cut energy consumption and improve energy
security through investment in renewables and distributed power networks are impressive at first sight. It is clear
that these solutions are only temporary measures for tackling the country’s power problems and will do little to
meet the country’s growing medium to long-term needs. Cuba needs a much higher-level investment in its power
generation and distribution networks, if it is to meet the growing demands of its economy.
In the biofuels chapter by R Soligo and AM Jaffe, it is made clear from reading this piece why certain vested
interests in America’s biofuel markets would see the end of the trade embargo as a threat to their market share!
The writers explain that with the right level of investment, Cuba’s bio-fuel industry could supply ethanol at a
very competitive price without the need for subsidies that American producers depend on. Such developments would
further reduce America’s dependency on Middle Eastern crude.
Overall, as an international energy journalist who has written on Cuba’s energy sector, I found this book to be a
useful set of examinations of the challenges and practical potential solutions that face both Havana and Washington
in seeking to modernise Cuba’s energy sector. In fact, this book is a must for any investor, decision maker and
lobbyist involved in the Cuban question.
Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press (September 24, 2010)