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Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion

Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion / 14ymedio,
Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 June 2016 — “We want to be on the
front pages of newspapers” claimed a taxi driver in the middle of heavy
traffic on a Panamanian street after being asked about the
leaked documents from the firm Mossacl Fonseca. A few weeks after that
conversation, the media focused again on that country this Sunday, but
this time for the opening of the new Panama Canal locks.

Between the cacophony of the official celebrations and the criticisms
provoked by the megaproject, one thing is missing from the news reports:
the supposed beneficiary of such improvements – Cuba’s Port of Mariel. A
cloak of silence surrounds the details of its current conditions, or
lack of conditions, to serve as a stopover for ships that will pass
through the new facilities and can carry up to 13,000
20-foot-equivalent-unit (TEUs) containers each.

When the Cosco shipping company’s vessel Andronikos, from China, with a
capacity of 9,400 containers passes from the Atlantic to the Pacific
through the new facilities today, it will awaken the competition between
the region’s ports to win the largest numbers of vessels using the canal.

In April of 2015, one of those responsible for the development of the
Cuban port facility some 28 miles from Havana, said that the government
aspired to convert the container terminal at the Port of Mariel into a
“better choice” for transshipments in the region, once the Panama canal
expansion opened.

A projection also confirmed recently by Alicia Barcena, Executive
Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the port will be “a major logistics
hub and regional transfer” and stressed “the huge advances in the Mariel
Special Development Zone (ZDEM) and its port terminal.”

However, the flagship project of Raul Castro’s government, intended to
boost the national economy, generate exports and attract investment, is
not ready at the precise moment when it might tap the huge flow of cargo
through the improved Panama locks. Several sources consulted suggest
that the the main cause for the delay is the poor dredging of Mariel Bay.

With 4,268 workers, including 454 technicians and 221 engineers, the
Port of Mariel has not taken advantage of the nine-year duration of the
work on the Panama Canal, including the fact that that project is more
than 24 months late in relation to its initial schedule. A reality that
belies Cuba’s official forecasts that placed the beginning of 2016 as
the date for the opening of its terminal for Post-Panamax containers.

However, Miami-Dade County has done its work. Last year that port city
served the highest number of containers in ten years, and has been
preparing to welcome the large freighters that transit through the new
locks. Officials there hope that port will become the first stop in the
southeastern region of the United States, before the boats file through
Panama.

The works in Miami have been mentioned over the past few days by the
international media, linking them closely to the Panama
Canal. Improvements in the port facilities include new railroad service,
plus a tunnel connecting the port with the interstate highway
system. While in Cuba, tons of rice and fertilizer have remain stuck in
the Bay of Havana in recent weeks, in the absence of freight cars to
transport them.

Significantly, the issue of the Port of Mariel has a diminished presence
in the official Cuban media and the few reports that are transmitted
avoid specifying the current volumes of activity. No ZDEM specialist or
authority has explained to the national press how the country will take
advantage of the opportunities opening from today, while Panamanians
celebrate the inauguration of the work of the century.

Instead of information, we get only silence and rumors. The dark wall of
secrecy installed around the Port of Mariel separates the official
megaprojects from reality.

Source: Cuba’s Port of Mariel Lags Behind Panama Canal Expansion /
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez – Translating Cuba –
translatingcuba.com/cubas-port-of-mariel-lags-behind-panama-canal-expansion-14ymedio-yoani-sanchez/

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