Caribbean oil summit set for next month in Cuba

HAVANA Fri Nov 23, 2007 8:21pm GMT

HAVANA Nov 23 (Reuters) - Caribbean presidents will gather in Cuba next month for a meeting of Petrocaribe, which supplies Venezuelan oil to the region at preferential prices, Venezuela's ambassador to Cuba said on Friday.

Ali Rodriguez said the summit will coincide with the reopening of a 65,000-barrel-a-day refinery that is being overhauled by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez plans to inaugurate in mid-December.

The Soviet-era refinery at Cienfuegos on Cuba's south coast will serve as a Petrocaribe hub to supply import-dependent Caribbean islands with refined products such as gasoline, diesel and aviation jet fuel.

"The Petrocaribe meeting and the inauguration of the refinery will be done at the same time," Rodriguez said at a news conference in Havana.

The exact dates of the meeting have yet to be worked out, he said.

Fifteen Caribbean nations --all but Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados -- benefit from the 2005 Venezuelan initiative, which allows them to defer payment of 40 percent of their oil bill for 20 years with a low-interest rate of 1 percent.

The favorable terms for purchases of up to 200,000 barrels a day have increased Chavez's influence in the Caribbean where he has struck a close alliance with communist-run Cuba.

Rodriguez said Venezuela maintains a stable supply of crude and refined products to Cuba -- officially put at 92,000 bpd -- but shipments will increase to feed the Cienfuegos refinery.

Processing capacity at Cienfuegos will expand to 109,000 bpd in the near future, said Rodriguez, Venezuela's former oil minister.

Rodriguez also said Venezuela could help Cuba build a plant to improve its heavy crude. Cuba produces 65,000 bpd of high-sulfur oil, most of which is burned in thermoelectric power plants, and output is increasing.

Renovation of the long-dormant Cienfuegos refinery by a joint venture between the state oil companies CUPET of Cuba and PDVSA of Venezuela, cost an estimated $500 million. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Xavier Briand)