By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Can you remember what explosive crisis America and the world was fixated on last summer? It wasn't the deficit, jobs or Europe. It was an oil disaster. Remember the BP spill? Tons of crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? Well, in the weeks and months that followed, there was a lot of discussion about how to make sure it didn't happen again.
But what struck me this week is that we have a new dangerous drilling zone right on our doorstep - Cuba. Estimates suggest that the island nation has reserves of anywhere from 5 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil. The high end of those estimates would put Cuba among the top dozen oil producers in the world.
Predictably, there's a global scramble for Havana. A Chinese-constructed drilling rig is owned by an Italian oil company and is on its way to Cuban waters. Spain's Repsol, Norway's Statoil and India's ONGC will use the 53,000 ton rig to explore for oil. Petro giants from Brazil, Venezuela, Malaysia and Vietnam are also swooping in.
Of course, we can't partake because we don't trade with Cuba. But what about at least making sure there are some safety procedures that are followed that would protect the American coastline? You see at 5,500 feet below sea level, these oil rigs off Cuba will go even deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig that blew up on our coast last year, and the coast of Florida, remember, is just 60 miles away from Cuban waters.
What happens if there's another oil spill? Will it be easy and quick to clean up? No. You see, the nearest and best experts on safety procedures and dealing with oil spills are all American, but we are forbidden by our laws from being involved in any way with Cuba. Our trade embargo on Cuba not only prevents us from doing business with our neighbor but it also bars us from sending equipment and expertise to help even in a crisis. So, if there is an explosion, we will watch while the waters of the Gulf Coast get polluted. Now, this is obviously a worst case hypothetical, but it's precisely the kind of danger we should plan for and one we can easily protect against if we were allowed to have any dealings with Cuba.
This whole mess is an allegory for a larger problem. We imposed an embargo on Cuba at the height of the Cold War, 52 years ago, when we were worried about Soviet expansion and the spread of communism. Well, there is no more Soviet Union, and I don't think there's a person in the world who believes America could be infected by Cuban communism today. But the antique policies remain - antique and failed policies. They were designed, you recall, to force regime change in Cuba. Well, the Castros have thrived for five decades, using American hostility as a badge of Cuban nationalism. All the embargo has done is to weaken the Cuban people, keep them impoverished and cut them off from the world.
Cuba has an Internet penetration rate of just 14 percent. So only one out of seven people can use YouTube. Only one out of 20 Cubans has a mobile phone. And now we will stand silently and watch as other countries drill for oil, reap the benefits and endanger our coastline. But, hey, we're making sure that Cuban communism stays contained.