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Castro announces crude oil discovery

HAVANA -- President Fidel Castro said a crude oil deposit has been discovered off Cuba containing up to 100 million barrels, good news for a country that imports about half the petroleum it needs.

"This is the first discovery since 1999," Castro said Friday in a speech to a closed session of the National Assembly. His comments were aired on state television Saturday.

Castro said the deposit was located off the coast of Santa Cruz del Norte, east of Havana, during an exploratory drilling. He said production at the site could begin during 2006.

Cuba currently produces 75,000 barrels daily, about half of what it needs. It imports most of the rest, much of it on favorable terms from political ally Venezuela.

Oil specialists believe Cuba's waters in the Gulf of Mexico could contain large quantities of crude, just as those of Mexico and the United States do. Earlier explorations turned up only modest discoveries.

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