HAVANA TIMES — The presidents of Cuba and Brazil, Dilma Rousseff and Raul Castro, opened the container terminal at the Port of Mariel on Monday, the most ambitious and complex engineering work undertaken here in the last 50 years. Other leaders from the region were on hand to witness the ribbon cutting.
The project consists in building a port capable of receiving the Super-Post-Panama ships. The container terminal is designed to meet the needs of Cuba and provide services to other countries of the area .
Alongside the port a gigantic Special Economic Development Zone opens for business, hoping to receive foreign investments, which will operate governed by special laws and different ways of contracting labor.
The inauguration took place in the midst of the Second Summit Meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) , which takes place in Havana on Tuesday and Wednesday with the presence of all the nations of the continent except the US and Canada.
Cuba will invest over US $ 1 billion
The project gives Cuba the first port capable of receiving vessels of 200,000 tons. Its four cranes can move 822,000 20-foot containers each year, double the current capacity of the port of Havana.
To make it all possible, a channel was dredged at Mariel with a depth of 17.9 meters, enough for the larger vessels to enter. Such a work was impossible at the entrance of Havana Bay because it is crossed by a tunnel.
The project administrators say that Mariel is the most modern terminal in Latin America and the Brazilian president explained that the project was carried out with credits from her country, some $802 million dollars, that will be expanded by 290 million more in the next 24 months.
Virtually all of the workers (99%) that will be employed at the port will be Cubans, many of whom were trained in Argentina and China. Charles Baker, the terminal’s general director, told reporters that to expedite the process the operations are digitalized.
The controls are very strict, the facility has a plant to measure radioactivity and the incoming and outgoing containers are recorded with video cameras to register which vehicle transports the container and even who is the driver of the truck.
The administration is in the hands of a Singapore company that runs terminals in 15 countries, moves 30 million containers a year, and employs 29,000 workers. It is one of the best operators in the world, said Raul Castro.
A Cuban Hong Kong
The Mariel Special Development Zone is located 50 km west of the capital. It covers an initial area of 45 sq. kilometers but with plans to continue growing to 400 km2. The foreign investors will receive advantages similar to that of a free trade zone.
It appears what Cuban authorities seek at Mariel is a space free of the legal limitations that exist in the rest of the country after 50 years of socialist legislation, which limits business activity and economic growth.
There are already many Brazilian companies interested in investing, especially in agribusiness and in pharmaceuticals, said Hipolito Rocha, director of the agency that promotes trade between Brazil and Cuba.
Brazil is increasing its presence in Cuba; the Mariel project alone has included the participation of more than 400 Brazilian companies. Trade between the two countries now reaches US $500 million a year and investments are growing in sectors such as agriculture, with the technical consulting and sale of Brazilian equipment.
Meanwhile, Havana sells the Latin American giant medicines and contracts out health services. There are already several thousand Cuban doctors working in Brazil and it was officially announced that their number will grow this year to 11,000. Cuba receives US $4,200 per month for each physician.
(*) An HT translation of the original report published by BBC Mundo.