Cuba's Mariel Port: New Opportunities for the Island
June 18, 2013
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — Pedro Monreal is the type of analyst who takes his time
to join debates in Cuba and who always brings something worthwhile to
the table. He has done this again with his most recent article, "The
Post-Panama Era: New Opportunities for Cuba", published in issue 232 of
Cuba's Espacio Laical journal last May.
The article, which I suggest everyone read, discusses how Cuba, for the
first time in a very long time, is now in a position to carve out a good
slice of the global market for itself, availing itself of the Mariel
Port, an area for the transshipment and distribution of goods located at
a dynamic commercial passage that can connect the easternmost end of the
island with the coasts of the United States, Europe and South America.
It is indeed a unique opportunity. The broadening of the Panama Canal,
aimed at allowing the passage of larger vessels with cargos up to three
times larger than was hitherto possible, has made the Caribbean a point
of commercial confluence and a location that has not enjoyed as much
activity since the time of trade with the West Indies.
However, many ports in the Caribbean (such as those in Kingston, Ponce,
Santo Domingo's Punta Caucedo, Barbados' Freeport and Cuba's Mariel), as
well as in Central America and the eastern coast of the United States,
are competing for this opportunity.
For Cuba – particularly for Havana and its commercially dynamic
coastline, which stretches from Mariel to the Varadero-Cardenas region –
this could mean a qualitative leap forward, not only economically, but
politically as well. The reason is that such a commercial route could
become an incentive for the gradual normalization of relations between
Cuba and the United States.
One need not fully agree with Monreal to appreciate the insightful
nature of this argument, for, if there is anything we can be sure of, it
is the fact that the only way Cuba will ever secure the indispensible
normalization of its relations with the United States is by offering the
latter a sufficiently attractive economic incentive.
In other words, by offering tangible benefits in exchange for measures
that will inevitably spell a political cost. The oil card, which Cuba's
leadership thought would be the magic key to those doors with rusted
hinges, proved to be non-existent. The question now, evidently, is
whether this new commercial relationship will suffice, if the offer that
Cuba's Mariel Port represents can decisively shift the geopolitical balance.
There is one, vital point Monreal fails to address: the consensus of
Cuba's political elite. Though it is true that, in terms of magnitude,
this commercial opportunity could be compared to the events surrounding
the Haitian Revolution of 1792, it is also true that, at the time, the
country was ruled by a colonial elite with a very clear conception of
what society should be like, and that this society began to be
constructed before the slave revolt of Saint Domingue.
If one studies the history of Cuba's western region (whose commercial
center was the city of Havana), one invariably comes across episodes in
which its different communities accomplished great feats to secure their
insertion in the global economy.
One such feat was achieved in the 16th century, when these industrious
settlements were capable of shouldering the burden of supplying the
country's marine fleets, whose crews often outnumbered the local
populations, with provisions. The other, mentioned by Monreal, took
place in the 18th century, when these same settlements took the island's
technological and cultural development to new heights, albeit at the
expense of intense slave labor.
Today, such a consensus no longer exists, I'm afraid. At base, Cuba's
political elite agrees that it must remain in power, but not on what it
must do to overcome the obstinate stagnation the country endures or
about how to stop its attendant demographic hemorrhaging.
It goes without saying that such a consensus within the Cuban leadership
would also be of the essence for a broader social consensus, needed to
undertake that process of national reconstruction we are not even able
to imagine today.
That Cuba's political elite is divided on many issues is a fact one can
appreciate even in the most banal details of the slow, dispirited reform
process which Raul Castro has likened to the "slow but sure" gait of a
I feel that looking to Cuba's port of Mariel as an opportunity, as
Monreal does, is to regard the future with far more conviction and
optimism than is afforded by that rather inarticulate and contradictory
list of wishes we have agreed to call Cuba's "new guidelines."
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original posted by
Source: "Cuba's Mariel Port: New Opportunities for the Island - Cuba's
Havana Times.org" - http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=94835