Friday, January 06, 2006

Venezuela to Keep Cuba Oil Sales Steady

The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela, JAN. 6 4:39 P.M. ET

Venezuela plans to keep oil sales to Cuba steady at roughly 90,000 barrels a day this year because the island has discovered petroleum of its own, Venezuela's oil minister said Friday.

"We expect to keep that level of sales unchanged given that Cuba is discovering more oil and that's a good thing," Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said.

Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, increased oil sales to communist-led Cuba to 90,000 barrels a day last year, up from roughly 53,000 barrels during previous years.

Since taking office in 1999, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has moved to trengthen ties with Cuba. Cuban President Fidel Castro's government buys Venezuelan crude under preferential terms and, in exchange, sends thousands of doctors to treat the poor in this South American nation of 26 million.

Chavez, Castro's closest ally in the Americas, also has given Cuba an important role in organizing sales of Venezuelan fuel to Caribbean nations through a regional initiative called Petrocaribe.

Venezuela plans to store and possibly refine oil in Cuba for redistribution to other Caribbean countries under the initiative, which aims to cut energy costs in the region.

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