Cuba has begun using its own tankers to boost imports of crude from Mexico, which in the second quarter overtook Russia as a key oil supplier to the fuel-thirsty island, according to vessel monitoring data.
After days of queues to fill up car tanks and power outages, the nation hit by harsh US economic sanctions has expanded its sources of oil imports in recent months in an attempt to alleviate fuel shortages, replenish inventories and reduce dependence on its largest supplier, Venezuela.
Washington has also sanctioned Venezuela’s oil industry since 2019 following allegations of electoral fraud.
Mexico has emerged as one of the main suppliers to Cuba, shipping crude on a Pemex tanker and on ships run by the island. The country has supplied some 2 million barrels in the past four months, according to a Reuters tally based on tanker monitoring.
Since July, the Cuban-flagged vessel Vilma has made two trips from the Mexican terminal Pajaritos to the Cuban refineries in Cienfuegos and Havana. According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the vessel previously transported Venezuelan crude and fuel oil to Cuba.
The Cuban-flagged Delsa tanker also delivered Mexican crude from Pajaritos to Cienfuegos in June and then set sail for Venezuela, where it loaded oil, the data showed.
The foreign ministries of Cuba and Mexico, as well as Pemex, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Vilma and the Delsa are among the few Cuban oil tankers that have not been sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury (OFAC, for its acronym in English).
Other Cuban ships have been repaired or inspected in recent years at a shipyard in Veracruz, Mexico, including the US-blacklisted Esperanza currently in the Mexican port.
A US State Department spokesman told Reuters in April that Washington was “aware that Cuba buys oil from various sanctioned and non-sanctioned countries.”
The Pemex ship Bicentenario has separately made at least four voyages from Mexico to Cuba this year, according to the data.
In total, Mexico has supplied Cuba with some 13,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Olmeca light crude since April, according to the data. This variety is better suited to the old Cuban refineries than the Venezuelan heavy oil.
In recent years, Venezuela has struggled to produce enough fuel to meet its domestic needs, reducing what it can export. Its shipments to Cuba this year through July fell to 55,000 bpd from nearly 80,000 bpd in 2020.
Mexico and Venezuela were consistent suppliers of crude to Cuba under the San José Pact in the 1990s. While Venezuela expanded its exports to the island as part of a bilateral trade agreement in 2000, Mexico had only sporadically sent cargoes to Cuba for humanitarian reasons until this year.
Russia supplied Cuba with about 12,000 bpd of crude between February and July, according to Eikon data.
Cuba, a communist country subjected to harsh economic sanctions by the United States, is almost always short of fuel, but never more so than during the sweltering Caribbean summer, when residents run their air conditioners, depleting inventories.
The Cuban government began this year renovating its dilapidated oil-fired power plants. Those repairs and increased fuel supplies from Russia and Mexico have contributed to more stable generation and fewer blackouts this year compared to last.
But refined products used by passenger cars, public transport and some power plants have been in short supply since March, forcing the government to apply rationing.
Source: El Economista