- - Monday, December 17, 2012

HAVANA — Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro has been nominated for a seat in the country’s parliament.

Sunday afternoon’s TV news broadcast announced that he heads a list of 25 names from the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. There was no indication whether he intends to accept.

Mr. Castro stepped down temporarily as president in 2006 because of a near-fatal illness and left the presidency for good in 2008. His younger brother Raul has been in charge since then.

The elder Mr. Castro spends most of his time out of the public eye and recently stopped penning his once-regular opinion columns.

The 86-year-old ended weeks of public silence this weekend by issuing a letter to a gathering of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) bloc of Latin American nations. In it, he praised ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba.

Oil rig arrives for new exploration

HAVANA — A Norwegian-owned platform arrived in waters off Cuba’s north-central coast for exploratory drilling by the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft, authorities said Saturday, renewing the island’s search for petroleum after three wells failed this year.

Drilling is to begin “in the coming days” and take six months, according to a notice published by the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The depth of the project was given as 21,300 feet.

The state-run oil company Cubapetroleo said in the announcement that the Songa Mercur rig, owned by Songa Offshore of Norway, was inspected to make sure it contains less than 10 percent U.S.-made parts. That allows the companies involved in the drilling to avoid sanctions under the 50-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The exploration block in question, near the gleaming beaches of a major tourist resort, is considered less promising than offshore areas to the west where earlier this year a super-deep-water platform drilled three wells deemed commercially nonviable.

The Scarabeo-9, a huge semisubmersible rig owned by Italy’s Saipem, left Cuban waters last month after sinking the three dud wells, and analysts said it could be years before drilling resumed in those deep-water blocks.

Geologic surveys say 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil may lie off Cuba’s coast. Island authorities hope there may be even more and have been banking on a big strike.


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