WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney's office has acknowledged that he erred when telling an audience this week that China is drilling off the coast of Cuba.
Citing columnist George Will, Cheney on Wednesday told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that "oil is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. We're not doing it. The Chinese are in cooperation with the Cuban government."
''Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply,'' he added. "Yet Congress has said ... 'no' to drilling off Florida.''
The claim was immediately repudiated by U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., an independent congressional report, industry experts and other observers, who said there is zero evidence that China is drilling in Cuban waters. China doesn't even hold a lease to drill offshore.
Cheney's office has since backtracked, issuing a statement that says "It is our understanding that, although Cuba has leased out exploration blocks 60 miles off the coast of southern Florida, which is closer than American firms are allowed to operate in that area, no Chinese firm is drilling there."
With both parties squabbling over what to do about rising gasoline prices, Democrats had seized on the remarks to bash the GOP, accusing it of spreading the Cuba-China rumor as a "scare tactic" to force Congress to lift a ban that prevents drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"By perpetuating this myth, the Republicans and their friends in Big Oil are acting as the modern day masters of deception," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., accusing the party of "scaring up the ghosts of communism and xenophobia."
Cheney's remarks came just minutes after Martinez had taken to the Senate floor to debunk the rumor, calling it akin to an urban legend.
"Any talk of using some fabricated Cuba-China connection as an argument to change U.S. policy has no merit," said Martinez, who opposes drilling off Florida's coast.