Cuba has inaugurated its largest seaport in Mariel, a fishing town 28 miles west of Havana. The largest infrastructure project Cuba has ever embarked upon, the port is likely to help the communist country to widen its trade relationship with Latin America and Asia.
A part of the port is a free-trade zone, which Cuba hopes will entice foreign firms willing to set up manufacturing facilities. According to an AFP report, only the first 700 meters of what is slated to be a 2,400-meter wharf have been inaugurated. Once completed, the port will handle as many as one million containers per year.
The presence of President Dilma Rousseff at the inauguration ceremony confirmed Brazil’s financial backing of the port that has so far cost the Cuban government $957 million USD. The port will be managed by PSA International of Singapore, which already runs several of the world’s largest ports.
This first phase was financed largely by the Brazilian development bank BNDES and built by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. The Cuban government has also unveiled plans to link the port with highways and railroads, an effort that will see Mariel replace Havana as the country’s most important port.
The business climate in Cuba has long been hampered by the economic embargo imposed by the United States for over 50 years. Yet the first shipments offloaded at the port were frozen chickens from the United States — despite the embargo, a large number of American farmers are still selling foods to the Cubans.
Reports say several businesses from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Dominican Republic have put forth proposals to launch operations in the free-trade zone. The Cuban government is offering foreign and local firms a set of incentives such as tax breaks.
Analysts say the port will not only boost Cuba’s trade with the outside world but also generate many job opportunities in the Caribbean region.
Cuba has become one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for tourists from Canada, Europe and elsewhere. International hotel chains such as Riu, Iberostar, and Melia have built large resorts in destinations like Varadero to meet the demands of the two-million-plus tourists who now visit the island every year.