Oil refinery during the early 1900's in Cuba

Cuban Energy Insecurity

Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges

Written by Namratha Sivakumar, SFS'20

On March 1, 2018, Georgetown’s own Eric Gettig, Ph.D. graduate and current lecturer, presented an overview of his current project: a historical review of Cuba’s relationship with oil, or lack thereof. Set against the backdrop of a photograph of Cuba’s first oil well, “this is the story of the absence of a resource,” he said, launching into a compelling argument that will soon be published as a book.

Gettig’s project tackles the often ignored story of Cuban oil insecurity and its impact on the island’s economic and political development. Oil was at the crux of U.S.-Cuban and Cuban-Soviet relations through the twentieth century, and reliance on foreign oil led to the search for domestic energy sources, spurred on by the deep belief that the island held hydrocarbon reserves. The Cuban people, looking to oil for industrial development, diversification, and domestic success, were sorely disappointed by the government’s inability to find the energy source. The failure of the capitalist government and American oil corporations to provide energy security led to monumental changes in Cuban history. Gettig’s work looks at excerpts from speeches, letters, propaganda, and newspapers to piece together how this disappointment fueled the 1959 revolution and the transition to communism. He succeeded in showing that “energy matters, even if it’s not found."

In a brief Q&A session, Gettig discussed his struggles and success in acquiring material from foreign archives in Cuba and Venezuela, confirming his commitment to reconstructing an authentic and multifaceted narrative. He spoke also to Cuba’s future, now having developed its own offshore drilling platforms while also investing in renewable energy sources. Decades of energy insecurity in Cuba have directly shaped political and ideological sentiments in the country, making oil the hidden force behind global tensions and social attitudes. Gettig’s project has been in the work for years, and his forthcoming book is sure to reflect his discoveries with far-reaching implications for how we view Cuban political history and Cuban energy futures.

Eric Gettig, Ph.D. is a lecturer in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and the History Department at Georgetown University.

This event was hosted by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS).