Since the end of March, queues of cars at the entrance of petrol stations have been part of the daily landscape of the communist island.

Under a U.S. embargo since 1962, Cuba, which produces only a third of the fuel it consumes every day, is going through its worst economic crisis in three decades with recurring power outages and food shortages.

But recent oil deliveries could improve the situation. According to the maritime surveillance site Vessel Finder, the Mexican tanker Bicentenario, whose cargo is estimated at 265,000 barrels, docked Tuesday at the port of Havana. On Thursday, it was moored at the Ñico Lopez refinery in the capital, AFP found.

At the end of May, the supertanker Limo, flying the Cameroonian flag and coming from Russia, had arrived at the port of Matanzas, a hundred kilometers east of Havana, with an estimated cargo of 800,000 barrels.

Oil supply could "return to an acceptable level," said Jorge Piñon, an energy policy specialist at the University of Texas in the United States.

With a processing capacity of 22,000 barrels per day by the Havana refinery, the capital can be supplied for up to three weeks, the expert estimates.

A man fills up with gas on a street in Havana, May 31, 2023 © YAMIL LAGE / AFP

"No money"

Since the beginning of the year, this is the third delivery of oil from the Bicentenario ship sent by the government of leftist President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, Piñón said. State-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) could not immediately be reached for AFP's questions.

Mexico, which wants to play a leading role in the region, is calling for the lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, while maintaining dialogue with the United States, said Cuban analyst and visiting professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid Arturo Lopez-Levy.

As for relations between Havana and Moscow, they have intensified in recent months with ambitious projects in different sectors and the multiplication of visits by senior officials to each of the two countries.

Mexican oil tanker and chemical tanker Bicentenario is seen at the Ñico López oil refinery in Havana on June 8, 2023 © YAMIL LAGE / AFP

"Cuba has no money and I doubt the country will pay for this oil. I guess Mexico, instead of paying in cash for sending Cuban doctors, is doing it with oil," said Piñon, who said Russia was able to reactivate sales to Cuba on credit. Mexico is looking for doctors on the communist island because of the lack in the country of general practitioners but also specialists.

Chevron versus Cuba

In 2022, Cuba faced a fire at its main fuel storage center in Matanzas province, as well as a reduction in deliveries from Venezuela, its main regional ally.

The island produces about 40,000 barrels a day, but needs an additional 100,000 barrels to meet its demand, Piñón said. The difference is partially covered by its partners, with a deficit of at least 20,000 barrels, he estimates.

Because Cuban refineries do not have the capacity to process heavy Venezuelan crude, Havana had to resell cargo from Caracas in May, he added.

This supply is all the more complicated because now the American energy giant Chevron "can transport 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela to the United States," Piñón said.

In this photo taken on April 24, 2023, drivers queue for fuel near a gas station in Havana © YAMIL LAGE / AFP

Washington, whose relations have been severed with Venezuela since 2019, eased its sanctions against Caracas in November, allowing Chevron to operate in the Latin American country.

Now "it is more important for PDVSA (the Venezuelan oil company) to deliver this volume to Chevron," adds the expert.

Arturo Lopez-Levy, however, believes that "if Venezuela emerges from its quarrel with the United States and its isolation, the gold mine will operate again", indirectly favoring Cuba, which would also receive part of this increase in production.

© 2023 AFP