Cuba promotes port of Mariel in USA

2017, March 1: In a move to promote port Mariel and to explore business opportunities and foreign investment a delegation of port and maritime officials from Cuba visited the USA in January 2017. The visit, made during the presidency of Donald Trump was possible because of initiatives by former president Barack Obama to normalise relations between Cuba and the USA.

According to the Cuban Government’s publication Granma, in an article appearing on January 22, the main reason for the visit was to “promote the potential that exists in Cuba’s maritime sector.” The reference was specific to that country’s new deepwater port in Mariel, about 50 kilometres west of Havana.

Mariel, Cuba
Mariel seaport from a nearby hill, January 2015.

Governor pulls the plug

The visit took the Cuban officials to several USA ports including Port Everglades Tampa Bay and the Port of Palm Beach. The three ports agreed to do business with Cuba and to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to formalise the relationship. However, before those pacts were signed and just days after the first legal shipment of cargo in over 50 years arrived from Cuba, the three ports reneged. Florida Governor Rick Scott threatened block public funding from any port city that did business with Cuba. In a series of comments on social media (Twitter) he declared “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget. We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behaviour. Serious security/human rights concerns.”

Port Everglades had been in discussion with Cuba for several months and according to published reports was reportedly planning to sign an agreement with the visiting Cuban delegation the day after the governors’ declaration. Similarly, Tampa Bay had immediate plans to sign but hastily backtracked.

Maritime Executive (online publication) noted that although the Florida legislature has the final say, Governor Scott is influential in shaping its priorities and was instrumental in getting $110 million in state funding for Port Miami’s recent harbour deepening project.

The Port of Mariel, Cuba’s upgraded industrial port which opened in 2014, is pivotal to Cuba’s trade and economic development.

Mississippi grabs opportunity

Despite concerns that US President Donald Trump may torpedo the deal, the ports of Pascagoula and Gulfport have nonetheless signed agreements with Cuba. Representatives of the two Mississippi ports signed documents in Cuba on February 20 during a three-day visit. The signing was witnessed by U.S. Republican Senator, Thad Cochran.

The agreements, Reuters reports, were signed during a business forum to explore future trade between the USA and Cuba. Cochran was the only Republican among five US Senators the made the trip.

Port authorities along the U.S. south coast are supportive of business ties and increased trade and travel with Cuba. There is also interest in using Mariel on the north-west coast of Cuba, as a transshipment hub.

The Port of Mariel, Cuba’s upgraded industrial port which opened in 2014, is pivotal to Cuba’s trade and economic development. []