It remains unclear, though, whether future oil wealth will hasten—or retard—the cautious moves toward economic reform under Raúl Castro. Oil revenues could cushion a broader but painful shift away from state direction of all major economic activity to a more open, market-oriented system. By easing the hardships of life in Cuba, oil wealth could reduce pressures for political change. It could even reinforce the status quo. "Resource revenues would feed the political patronage machine," reasons Archibald Ritter, a Cuba expert at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Oil development "will change the position of Cuba with respect to the United States and the whole world," says Luís René Fernández, a University of Havana foreign policy specialist. But, he cautions, "it can be a complex problem to have easy money at the same time you're rebuilding the society." Long accustomed to privation, that is a problem most Cubans would like to have.