Cuba’s Mariel Port: Another “Model Project”?

Ernesto Perez Chang

Photo: Juan Suarez
High school students and Industry. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — I don’t know whether Cuban readers who are around my age remember this, but, in the 70s and 80s, the cafeterias of some primary schools on the island had a so-called “model table”, a table which was simply put on display for students to see or that was sometimes used by the more outstanding pupils. All of us, as I recall, wanted to earn the right to eat there.

Set aside from the rest, the “model table” was always decked with the best tablecloth and adorned with a flower vase, dishes, glasses and cutlery. The service one got there was more or less personalized and the menu was somewhat different.

At all other tables in the cafeteria, food was served in rustic trays and water poured into aluminum cups. One had to eat with the same discipline demanded of soldiers in the army.

Schools at the time also had “model classrooms”, as well as model exercise areas, science labs and vegetable gardens. These were places that were scrupulously looked after, to the point of artificiality, uncommon spaces that teachers used to show visitors – delegations, government officials and other people they wished to impress – with the best face of the school.

We also had and continue to have entire schools, like the well-known Ciudad Libertad (formerly, the Columbia military headquarters), which were veritable exhibition spaces, vast shop windows where progress in the educational sector could be showcased. They were as immense as they were fragile.

Outside the school walls, in practically all economic, political and social spheres, places and objects solely designed to be exhibited to foreign visitors were created.

The other facade.  Photo: Juan Suarez.
The other facade. Photo: Juan Suarez.

While miserable and overcrowded settlements grew beneath the La Lisa bridge or the more remote backstreets of La Guinera, the modern Camilo Cienfuegos neighborhood or the Villa Panamericana project were erected. These were complexes they could proudly point to when someone criticized the urban chaos caught sight of in neighborhoods like Alamar or the insalubrity of places like La Timba.

The country had and has cinemas, theatres, restaurants, factories, hospitals and even literary workshops that are genuine examples of unparalleled services. It’s always one or two for each species, and they are meant to steer our attention away from the hundreds of cinemas, theaters, restaurant, factories, hospitals and even literary workshops in deplorable condition and utterly poor services.

While absurd projects were being undertaken and hair-raising constructions built, something with unique characteristics was constructed in order to be presented as the paradigm of good sense and beauty. In the 80s, they even opened a “model store” (stocked like no other) on Havana’s Reina street, in the building now occupied by the Computer Sciences Club, yet another model establishment where one has access to computers and an Internet connection which has no real impact of any kind. Just go there and see for yourself.

The Mariel Port and Special Development Zone

In Cuba, every thing, place and even individual has its exhibition version. We have our representative and exemplary visual artist, writer, musician and athlete. The exemplary sugar cane grower, sugar refinery, scientist and young politician, the child snatched from the claws of the monster and even a super-cow that breaks milk-production records. Make a game out of it: think of anything, and you’ll invariably find its perfect, official prototype.

They are like the fancy clothes we reserve for important occasions: put away in the best part of the wardrobe, entrusted with a mission similar to that of a weapon. People may call us ugly and torn during the day, it doesn’t matter. At night, when we put on our dinner jacket or Pierre Cardin skirts, people will take back their comments en masse.

As I was watching the televised images of the tour offered several heads of State through the newly-created Mariel port, as I heard about how good and beneficial this trade zone would be for the country, I wasn’t thinking about a possible future of wellbeing and a definitive end to the empty pockets and the hunger of many. I was thinking, instead, about that “model table” back at school, gleaming but empty, reserved for exemplary students and designed for the enjoyment of a handful of visitors.



9 thoughts on “Cuba’s Mariel Port: Another “Model Project”?

  • You might want to look on the bright side of things .
    Your revolution has held out against the richest ,most powerful and most ruthless empire to ever have existed.
    That you Cubans have held out under conditions that no other capitalist country could have withstood is testimony to the basic workability of Cuba’s socialist-style economy.
    Once free to function with the end of U.S. hostilities in the next ten years , the Cuban society will hopefully move towards the advanced democratic ideals of Poder Popular and provide the good example of a highly successful democratic economy to the rest of the world .
    I place the blame for Cuba’s corrupted governmental and economic forms directly upon the twisting effects of the U.S. war on the people of Cuba: the embargo .
    The embargo is a euphemistic term for a U.S. policy fully and explicitly intended to make life so miserable for all the Cuban people, every man, woman and child
    that they would overthrow their own revolution and revert to capitalism .
    This is nothing more than a continuation of a set-in-stone U.S. foreign policy imperative that proclaims that any and all attempts at socialism- a democratic economy – will be smashed by any means necessary.
    You need hold out for only ten more years AT THE MOST after which time the collapse of U.S. power guarantees a highly successful and model Cuban democratic economy and society .
    People like Moses have to understand that you can have democracy or you can have capitalism but you cannot have both.
    They are mutually exclusive.
    Cuba’s exquisitely democratic Poder Popular and the inherent workability of a democratic economy, as opposed to capitalism, together present the best vision for our future global society.
    You are on the leading edge of history .
    Defend the revolution.

    Reply
    • Castro began implementing his totalitarian vision for Cuba before the Bay of Pigs and before the US imposed the embargo. It was his plan from the very beginning to tie Cuba to the Soviet Union and import their Stalinist political system, with himself at the top, of course.

      Members of the revolution who espoused the kind of bottom-up democratic-socialist political system you espouse were ruthlessly and thoroughly persecuted by Fidel & his henchmen, Raul & Ramiro.

      Your comments demonstrate you know very little about the nature of the Cuban system today and even less about the history of the Cuban revolution.

      Reply
      • He cares not for the reality, but for the fantasy. Based on past posts I believe I can extrapolate his desired utopia which would include such horrors as children raised by a collective (it’s easy to see he has non of his own)

        This man is not well, his hubris at predicting a global economic shift in 15 years (lately he has started saying 20) is simply beyond belief.

        Reply
        • That’s not mere hubris. John’s fantasy about the impending doom of capitalism is delusional magical thinking.

          Even better, he says people need to live in a perfect society like… ants. Ants? That’s right, for Johny Utopia, ants are the role model we should emulate.

          Reply
          • You and IC have got to read his most recent comment in response to one of my comments. This guy is textbook paranoia. When people feel disconnected from the real world, they search for a fantasy world of their own to fit in. Fortunately most people like this spend most of their time in their mother’s basement reading fringe theories and ultimately are harmless.

          • Interesting that ants scavenge for food. Quite similar to communist Cuba

          • Worker ants slave away under the guard of soldier ants, all in the service of a pampered queen ant.

            Now that is exactly like Cuba today!

  • Well, I think you cannot compare Mariel with the “model tables” you know from schools and shops. These ones are for showcasing, they’re rare because they’re a bit costly – and it’s a political reason to maintain them. But I really don’t suppose that Brazil was giving a 800 million US$ credit just to built Cubas biggest “model table”. Of course it won’t be anything like that, because it will be managed by one of the most experienced port operators in the world, so the government sees that it is highly important for the national economy to run it properly.
    In one aspect, it still is a “model table”, because it is unique in Cuba. But I don’t see that this is a bad aspect, it’s just that the country doesn’t need 10 Containerports like that. On the other hand, the ZEDM may be a prototype for others in Cuba, and the whole project may a model prototype for a more transcend and long-term goal: To learn and adopt management methods.

    Reply
  • The entire Mariel Port project is possibly nothing more than a Lula de Silva/Rousseff payoff scheme to the Odebrecht conglomerate in exchange for work done in Brazil in preparation for the World Cup this year. In as much as cost overruns in Brazil are politically costly, it would be better to pad the books in a place like Cuba where secrecy is business as usual. The Castros are more than happy to play along and gain a Port expansion in the end. This project may not make economic sense and simply be a means to funnel funds to Odebrecht. Stranger things….

    Reply

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