0808 GMT August 15, 2018
Nathaly Suárez, director of Construction Management at e ZEDM, said, “Maybe many of us thought that this project was a dream six years ago, but not anymore. The geography has completely changed, because of everything that has been built and the investments that have been approved.”
The ZEDM was born with the support of Brazil, which financed the container terminal with more than $800 million. So far the Zone has 29km of roads, as well as a double track railway line and overpasses that speed up the transportation of goods.
Activities have not slowed down in this strategic economic center located about 45km west of Havana, a few days after it was included by Washington in a list of entities banned for any economic relationship with American companies and travelers.
Suárez, a 31-year-old civil engineer, does not understand why in the 21st century, instead of promoting relations between countries, US President Donald Trump is trying to close the door to trade and investment in Cuba, “a country that is doing everything in favor of its development.”
The young woman belongs to the generations born under the US economic embargo against Cuba. “I’ve lived my whole life under these prohibitions, which prevent my country from buying even medicines from the US,” she said shortly before participating in an exchange with Latin American trade unionists on November 13.
The meeting was held at the Pelicano business center, one of the facilities built by the Construction and Assembly Company of Mariel, where Suárez has under her charge over 100 professionals. With more than 4,500 workers, this firm is responsible for satisfying the demand for construction services in the area.
The ZEDM and its container terminal are among some 180 Cuban entities subject to the restrictions announced on November 8 by Washington, imposed on the grounds that they are related to Cuba’s ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Interior.
With an area of 465.4 square kilometers — subdivided into nine sectors to be developed in stages — the Mariel Special Development Zone aims to be a regional example of attracting foreign capital for the production of goods and services of high added value.
Its geographical location in the center of the Caribbean region and the Americas, in the junction of the north-south/ east-west axis, puts it in the center of a circumference of over 1,600 kilometers, where the main routes of the maritime traffic in goods in the Western Hemisphere are located.
“It is early to say whether or not these regulations have an impact. Here we have not stopped working,” said Suarez.
Engineer José Ignacio Galindo, director of Planning and Development of the ZEDM, referring to the strengthening of the US embargo, said, “We have made progress (in the works of the ZEDM) and we will take the necessary measures to continue moving ahead. What are we going to do? We’re not going to say that publicly.”
Galindo said that the construction of the ZEDM is currently at a launch stage, focused on completing the basic infrastructure and ancillary facilities. “We are working in sector A, which covers some 42 kilometers, although we are also working on roads and other works outside that area. After this come the stages of consolidation and maturity,” he said.
“We know what we want to do. The conclusion of each phase depends on the possibilities and investments available,” he added.
Meanwhile, progress is being made in attracting and accepting businesses, as well as in the investment process for them to begin producing.
During the Havana International Fair, held October 30 to November 3, Teresa Igarza, general director of the ZEDM office, reported that so far 31 businesses have been approved or are already operating in the Zone.
The investments have come from 14 countries, including Cuba, from Latin America and North America, Europe and Asia. Of the businesses, five are based on 100 percent Cuban capital, 15 are totally foreign, eight are mixed ventures and two are international economic associations. Among the new companies approved is one from the United States, the first from that country to set up shop in the ZEDM.
Rimco Caribe LLC (Puerto Rico) expects to begin operating in the Zone in 2018 as a distributor in Cuba of the US corporation Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction machinery and mining equipment, diesel engines and industrial gas turbines.
Economist Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva said that the new restrictions announced by the US are blocking US companies from presenting investment projects in the ZEDM, but those initiatives already approved by Cuba before June 16 would be exempt from penalties.
The new ban complements the memorandum signed by Trump that establishes a policy change towards Cuba, with exceptions to allow travel on commercial airlines and cruise ships, as well as commercial activity authorized up to that moment.
Since the approval of a new law on foreign investment in 2014, more foreign capital has been flowing into Cuba, both within and outside of the ZEDM, although authorities in the sector admit that the results achieved so far are still insufficient for the country’s development needs.
Authorities and experts agree that attracting investment flows to the country is a gradual process in which modest progress has been made. This is not only due to the US embargo, but also because of delays in the process of negotiation and approval of investments.
“Foreign business people are concerned about safe ways for sending their capital to Cuba and then sending the dividends earned by the business to their country of origin, as a result of the embargo,” Deborah Rivas, general director of Foreign Investment of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, told local media.