TALKS ON CIENFUEGOS OIL PROJECT POSTPONED INDEFINITELY, CUBA SAYS

TALKS ON CIENFUEGOS OIL PROJECT POSTPONED INDEFINITELY, CUBA SAYS

Talks over Mexican help to reactivate a Cuban oil refinery in the city of Cienfuegos were postponed indefinitely, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage Davila said during a state visit to this capital city.

During a lengthy news conference on Monday after meeting with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, Mr. Lage said talks over reactivating the Cienfuegos refinery are in a holding pattern."In these moments, there is a decision to not continue the negotiations for the refinery in Cienfuegos, principally for reasons of technical character," he told reporters.

The Cuban statesman said the decision to delay on talks was also for reasons of "priorities and policy of the Mexican industry in these moments, that do not make it advisable and viable for these negotiations to materialize."

Although he did not say it directly, Mr. Lage appeared to suggest that the culprits were also Mexico's economic crisis and the probable ill-will that such an investment in Cuba would generate against Mexico in the U.S. Congress. U.S. lawmakers are unhappy with President Clinton's $20 billion aid package to Mexico.

However, the antiquated refinery is of questionable use and foreign investors have said in the past that the costs of refurbishing it might exceed the benefits.

Despite the fact that there will be no imminent negotiations for the Cienfuegos facility, a Mexican delegation from the Ministry of Energy did go to Cuba last weekend to visit Cienfuegos and other facilities.

The delegation was to be led by Secretary Ignacio Pichardo Pagaza, but he fell ill and is recovering after surgery in Houston. Energy Ministry officials confirmed that the delegation went without Mr. Pichardo, and were to discuss with Cuban authorities commercial interchange of petroleum crude, petroleum products and petrochemicals.

Also on the agenda for the delegation's Sept. 7-10 visit was the modernization of Cienfuegos and the proliferation of gas from the island. Other areas slated for discussion on the trip were nuclear energy and energy efficiency.

Energy Ministry spokesmen said no details were available about the delegation's visit.