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Cuba invites U.S. corporations to invest

MEXICO CITY -- Cuban officials invited U.S. corporations Friday to lobby against the U.S. trade embargo and invest in the communist nation's energy sector, as they announced plans to double their drilling capacity and explore for oil in the island's Caribbean waters.

In the first private-sector oil summit between the two countries, executives from U.S. giants like Exxon Mobil Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and Valero Energy Corp. were meeting with Cuban government officials in Mexico City this week to learn about Cuba's potentially lucrative oil reserves. The meetings conclude today.

"We would be happy if North American companies also participated in future projects," said Raul Perez de Prado, Cuba's vice minister of basic industry.

U.S. executives should work to "eliminate the absurd barriers that today limit" investment, Perez de Prado said, referring to the 45-year-old U.S. trade embargo designed to undermine Fidel Castro's communist government.

In the two years since petroleum deposits were found off its coast, Cuba has inked exploration deals with Canadian, Chinese, Indian and Norwegian firms.

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But U.S. corporations, their hands tied by the embargo, have been forced to watch the flurry of activity taking place less than 60 miles off the coast of Florida.

Cuba, once almost wholly dependent on foreign fuel imports, now produces more than 30 percent of its own crude.

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