14ymedio, Havana, 14 December 2022 — To the Cuban American Pitt-Wasmer family, the so-called “cobalt exchange” with which the Cuban government aims to settle its debts with the Canadian company, Sherritt, is not only an illegal act but also constitutes “dangerous precedent” in the economic handling of the country.
The $362 million that the regime owes Sherritt will be paid by increasing the supply of cobalt for five years, from several mines in Moa (Holguín province), which the Toronto-based mining company is expanding into an adjacent property owned by the Pitt-Wasmers and taken by Fidel Castro in 1960.
Through a pact with Sherritt, “the government is handing over one of the few domestic economic resources left in Cuba,” William Pitt, a member of the Pitt-Wasmer family, explained to 14ymedio. The government will pay Sherritt “for its physical and administrative labor at three electrical energy plants — in Varadero (Matanzas province), Boca de Jaruco and Puerto Escondido (Mayabeque province) — and it will do so “by increasing the percentage of cobalt extracted,” in the mines that partially extend into land expropriated from his family in Moa and Punta Gorda (Holguín province).
The “cobalt exchange”, says Pitt, is illegal on the part of the Cuban government, which traffics in stolen property as well as the Canadian company which is complicit in the theft of the Island’s resources.
According to Pitt, “the Cuban Government is now handing over to Sherritt even more mineral resources than it originally confiscated illegally and without compensating the legitimate owners of those mines.” “Thus, the impoverishment of the Cuban people continues,” he bemoaned.
The Pitt-Wasmers have initiated legal proceedings for the confiscation of the mine in Holguín, which abutted those of another company, the Moa Bay Mining Company, an old property of the Rockefeller family also usurped by Castro.
Pitt did not offer additional information on the lawsuit, as it would amount to providing the Cuban government with leads on the plans of the family, the heirs of business owners William Pitt Ferrer and Berta Wasmer Arnaz, who lived in Santiago de Cuba and managed the family business.
“Sherritt’s excavation of the Moa Bay mines extend beyond the Moa Bay property and into ours,” states Pitt. “Furthermore, Sherritt is preparing to expand its operation into areas that include other mines belonging to us.”
“Recently the mining investment portfolio offered by the Ministry of Energy and Mines includes areas of future expansion including other nickel and cobalt mines east of Moa and in Punta Gorda which are our property,” he explained.
The electrical facilities operated by Sherritt on the Island are, in the current energy context, especially important. The precariousness of the National Electric System (SEN) and the frequent collapses of the country’s main thermoelectric plants force the government to ensure that the facilities managed by Sherritt function well, so as to not delay the repayment of its debt.
Extraction of cobalt, a resource for which demand is increasing, guarantees that the Canadian company continues to efficiently manage the power facilities in Varadero and Boca de Jaruco “two of SEN’s best operating plants,” states Pitt. In addition, the correct functioning of the plant in Varadero, provides stable electricity to the hotel network and prevents mishaps in one of the country’s essential tourist areas.
As for Boca de Jaruco, it provides a large portion of the supply in Havana, where several protests due to power outages were confirmed this summer, protests that the government was barely able to control.
Another factor the Cuban government wants to control is the management, by Sherritt, of 11 oil wells in Varadero and another 17 in Boca de Jaruco. From these deposits, the natural gas used in three power plants is extracted. This contributes to limiting reliance on Venezuelan petroleum and reduces the risk of blackouts in strategic areas, such as Havana and the main tourist centers.
Pitt knows both dependencies well and understands the reasons for government’s diligence when it comes to paying its debt. With a potential of approximately 173 megawatts, the power plant in Varadero “has two plants for the processing of crude oil, three gas turbines and related electrical generators, a system of heat exchange to create steam at high pressure, and one steam turbine and a related electrical generator.”
Boca de Jaruco, on the other hand, has “one crude gas processing plant and five gas turbines and related electrical generators, one heat exchange system to create steam at high pressure and one steam turbine and related electrical generators,” for a potential 313 megawatts.
It is, definitely, related to two positions and almost 500 megawatts, that the regime does not have the luxury of losing. Nor is it capable of correctly managing it on its own, although officially it is the state-run Energas that is in charge of managing the gas facility, as detailed in a report on Cuban television that, nonetheless, does not at any point mention Sherritt’s intervention.
The smaller Puerto Escondido facility has “one crude gas processing plant and one gas turbine as well as an electrical generator with the potential for 20 megawatts.” The stability of the electricity at several hotels in the area depend on this one, explained Pitt.
Sherritt and Energas have “shared management, an arrangement,” believes Pitt, but neither the Cuban government nor the Canadian mining company “have made these relationships public, nor do they offer details or clarity on the matter.”
Translated by: Silvia Suárez
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