By Frank Jack Daniel and Marianna Parraga
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s president on Tuesday asserted his country’s right to send fuel to Cuba and said U.S. sanctions on the island were “inhumane,” after a diesel cargo shipped by Mexico’s state-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos arrived in Cuba’s Havana port.
Mexico’s left-leaning President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has criticized the U.S. embargo against Cuba https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/mexico-foreign-minister-says-looking-into-humanitarian-aid-cuba-2021-07-13 and pledged support for the Communist-run island, which has been hit by a surge in coronavirus infections and an economic slump that triggered rare protests this month https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/street-protests-break-out-cuba-2021-07-11.
A shipment of humanitarian aid departed from the Mexican port of Veracruz on Tuesday destined for Cuba, and another is scheduled to set sail on Wednesday, carrying food, oxygen tanks and other medical supplies, Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a release.
“We are an independent nation,” Lopez Obrador said at a news conference in response to a question about whether deliveries risked contravening the U.S. embargo on the Communist-run island.
Lopez Obrador criticized policies he said made it difficult for ships that delivered goods to Cuba to then dock in U.S. ports, which constitutes one of the main aspects of the embargo.
Mexico’s foreign ministry said the aid is part of a cooperation agreement between Mexico and Cuba.
Authorities in Havana have long said the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba has caused widespread hardship on the island, where thousands took to the streets this month in the protests.
Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca welcomed on Monday Mexico’s pledge of two shipments of aid: “We are not alone,” he said on Twitter.
The U.S. Treasury Department declined to comment and the State Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
John S. Kavulich, president of New-York based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said there were no specific U.S. sanctions preventing the sale – or donation – of Mexican fuel to Cuba.
“The U.S. embargo on Cuba is not focused on Cuba’s imports but on U.S exports to Cuba,” Kavulich said, adding that the Caribbean island did not appear to be a foreign policy priority for U.S. President Joe Biden.
Lopez Obrador, who on Monday called on Biden to “make a decision” about the “inhumane” embargo on Cuba, last week had anticipated that Mexico would send fuel to generate electricity for the island’s hospitals.
The Jose Maria Morelos II, a tanker owned and managed by a Pemex unit, departed last week from the Mexican port of Coatzacoalcos bound for the Caribbean, according to Refinitiv Eikon tanker monitoring data.
The vessel, which is carrying some 100,000 barrels of diesel according to the foreign ministry’s release, has not updated its port of destination, but it docked at the Havana port late on Monday, the Eikon data showed.
It is yet unclear which Cuban entity will receive the fuel.
Cuba’s dependence on diesel has increased in recent years as power plants using fuel oil and crude have been in urgent need of investment and maintenance. The island is also struggling to supply power plants with natural gas, said Jorge Pinon from the University of Texas at Austin.
An oil-for-services arrangement between Venezuela and Cuba ran afoul of U.S. sanctions https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-venezuela-sanctions-idUSKBN1Y71W8 on the South American oil producer when in 2019 the U.S. Department of Treasury blacklisted a group of tanker owners and vessels involved in the shipments, at the Venezuelan opposition’s request.
Cuba’s economy has been damaged by Venezuela’s collapse, along with a slump in tourism following the global coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Marianna Parraga and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City, additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Laura Gottesdiener and Alistair Bell)