by Cuba Journal staff
“No one wants to miss the train,” said Herman Portocarero, the European Union’s ambassador to Cuba, as reported by Reuters. Last week Cuba hosted more than 75 Spanish companies including a delegation headed by Jose Manuel Soria, Spain’s minister of industry, energy and tourism; also attending were 140 Italian firms, joined by Italy’s deputy minister for economic development, Carlo Calenda.
“The crowning glory was when President Raul Castro visited Rome [in May]. He told us to hurry up and come with our companies, and we did so quickly,” Mario Giro, Italy’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, told reporters in Havan. Italian companies have 14 projects planned for Cuba’s Chinese-style special development zone in the port at Mariel, he said.
The Mariel container terminal opened in January and is the centerpiece of the Mariel Special Development Zone (SDZ), where foreign companies can obtain special benefits while operating on Cuban soil. Despite all the promise and monies spent, there remains an inconsistent standard for hiring and firing Cubans employed through a government-run agency in the SDZ.
The terminal has 2,300 feet of berth and is equipped with four super post-Panamax cranes, the current standard for the largest modern container cranes. The container terminal cost of $957 million and was built by Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht. $682 million in financing derived from BNDES development bank of Brazil.
European business executives are especially eager to expand on existing relationships with Cuba before the Americans arrive. In 1995, the Cuban government relaxed strict guidelines and allowed foreigners to own more than a 50 percent share in a joint business venture. Latin American and Spanish money poured in. By 1996, Spanish hotel chains had invested $75 million in the island’s tourism sector alone.