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Cuba’s El Mariel Port – The Ironies of History

Cuba’s El Mariel Port: The Ironies of History
June 13, 2014
Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — El Mariel is a typical bay on Cuba’s northern coast. Its
point of entry is a considerably wide canal that can be crossed by large
vessels. Today, the Cuban government has laid its bets on this place and
the island looks to it as the hope of a more prosperous future.

Possibly the most important business center in the country has been set
in motion at El Mariel. The port is connected to Havana via the
Panamericana highway, which borders the island’s northern coast.

It is equipped with a dock and a container terminal, as well as
shipyards for vessels of different sizes. A cement factory and power
station are based there. New piers, warehouses, highways and railway
lines are also under construction. The Mariel Special Development Zone
(ZEDM) Regulations Office has already started operations. This office
will receive and process applications from foreign investors interested
in joining the project.

In short, El Mariel has become a platform for attracting foreign
capital, impelling economic development, substituting imports,
increasing exports, creating jobs and accessing modern technologies.

Availing itself of the enthusiasm generated by the prospects of Latin
American integration, the government evinces its political savvy and
demonstrates its ability to find patrons, something it has done very
well for years and which has allowed it to remain afloat more than once.

This massive project is being implemented by Brazil’s Odebrecht
construction company and has a budget of 682 million dollars, invested
by Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank.

El Mariel, however, has been an important part of the Cuban
since well before the start of this project. This has to do with
something of an ironic twist of history. We shouldn’t forget that family
remittances are one of the pillars of Cuba’s precarious domestic economy
and El Mariel was the stage of one of the largest exoduses in Cuban history.

The port never enjoyed more attention that it did between April 15 and
October 31 of 1980, when the “Mariel Exodus” took place. It was a mass
migration of Cubans that left for the United States from this port, on
the ships of relatives and friends who came to look for them.

The Mariel Exodus lasted six months. During this time, more than 125,000
Cubans left the country on vessels arriving from US coasts.

According to data compiled by the Immigration and Foreign Affairs
Bureau, this exodus was far larger than the one that took place in
Camariocas in 1965, when around 30 thousand Cubans also left in masse
for the United States.

Those who left the island from the Mariel port are known in Cuba as
“marielitos.” The men and women of all ages who emigrated then have
worked for these past 34 years to support their families and friends in
Cuba. The money they send has sustained and continues to sustain the
family economies of many.

Because of the inflow of foreign capital ensured by the Mariel Special
Development Zone and the many dollars sent by those who once set sail
from this bay (then referred to as “lumpens” and “scum”), the importance
of the Mariel port is undeniable.

The Mariel port, to a greater or lesser extent and in highly different
ways, would seem destined to be a pillar of Cuba’s economy. These are
the ironies of history.

Source: Cuba’s El Mariel Port: The Ironies of History – Havana

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