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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rep. Ron DeSantis moves to block cooperation with Cuba

As the United States and Cuban governments work toward an agreement to help each other contain and clean oil spills that threaten both nations' coasts, a U.S. representative from Florida is preparing to lobby for an amendment that would make such cooperation impossible.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Jacksonville Republican, drafted an amendment for the National Defense Authorization Act stating that unless Cuba adheres to every condition of the Helms-Burton Act that codifies the embargo, the U.S. cannot have any bilateral contact with the Cuban military.

The amendment will be introduced for consideration on Tuesday. There is no language in the amendment allowing for any exceptions.

The State Department confirmed with the Times that a bilateral oil spill containment and cleanup agreement with Cuba is being drafted but couldn’t comment until it’s finalized.

Experts on such a matter say any bilateral protocol would require the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy to work directly with their Cuban counterparts.

An oil spill in Cuban waters could reach the Florida Keys in less than a week.

The U.S., say experts, not only has the best technology to contain and clean oil spills but can arrive in Cuban waters quicker than any other nation.

Though Cuba is not currently drilling, and past explorations have come up dry, the island’s government hopes to try again within the next 18 months through a partnership with Angola.

Other areas of Cuba-U.S. mutual interest that would require bilateral military contact include fighting human and drug trafficking.

Conditions that must be met before bilateral military cooperation include Cuba settling all claims for U.S. nationalized property and the return of all American refugees.

The Times reached out to Rep. DeSantis and is awaiting comment.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Cuban officials are meeting in Havana today to evaluate the progress made in putting their decades-old conflict behind them and identifying new areas of cooperation.

Since re-establishing diplomatic relations last July, Cuba and the U.S. have signed agreements addressing joint environmental research, postal services and commercial flights.

[Last modified: Monday, May 16, 2016 10:25am]


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