SEATTLE — About 28 miles west of Havana, Mariel is perhaps best known to Americans as the staging point for the 1980 boatlift of Cuban refugees to Florida. However, under the administration of Raúl Castro, Mariel is the epicenter of a new economic initiative—a special economic development zone designed to attract foreign investment and partnerships for Cuban industry. The region will offer investing companies significant relief from customs and taxes. The following five development projects in Cuba are just a small sampling of the growth centered on Mariel.
Joint Unilever-Intersuchel S.A. Factory
Scheduled to begin construction in 2018, this factory will produce toothpaste, soap and shampoo in Mariel. Intersuchel S.A. is a state-owned Cuban enterprise; Unilever is a joint Dutch-British firm. The factory is projected to cost $35 million. This new factory represents a return to the island by Unilever, which had pulled out of a previous joint venture with the government following a dispute over which partner would own the controlling interest of the enterprise.
Solar Power Plants
A number of international firms are looking at developing solar power plants in the Mariel area. The China Export-Import Bank, for example, is planning on financing facilities with a total capacity of 100MW spread across 40 installations, and construction on 21MW worth of photovoltaic panels is already underway. China is not alone in seeking to develop solar resources; the British solar power company Hive Energy is also working on a series of three plants, each with at least a 15MW capacity, scheduled for completion in 2018. These installations will be owned by the investing firms themselves, with the Cuban state utility company acting as the sole customer purchasing the power they produce.
25 acres of land in Mariel have been set aside and leveled for the construction of a factory which will produce several popular brands of cigarettes for both the domestic and export markets. This factory will be a joint venture between the Cuban state-owned Tabacuba and the Brazilian Sousa Cruz.
Mariel Deep Water Port
The centerpiece of current development projects in Cuba, this $900 million deepwater port development project is intended to attract shipping, and therefore business and further investment, from all over the world. The port itself is a joint venture by over 20 companies from Spain, the Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil and points beyond. The port will feature one of the deepest drafts in the area—up to 45 feet, with plans for further dredging to 52 feet—and be operated by Singapore’s PSA International. The draft is a particular selling point for the port and stands to position it as a competitive destination for shipping through the Caribbean and traffic for the Panama Canal.
Mariel Special Economic Development Zone
In its own way, the entire Mariel region represents a major development project for Cuba. Inaugurated in 2013, ZED Mariel, as it is known in Spanish, is effectively a free-trade zone on the officially communist island and spans 115,000 acres. The region will offer investing companies significant relief from customs and taxes. While only a handful of firms have broken ground on installations in the zone, including the ones listed above, over 27 international firms have received permission from the government to launch projects. The Castro regime hopes that Mariel can recreate some of the booming growth spurred by special economic development zones in China. If successful, ZED Mariel could be the beginning of a new prosperity for the Cuban people—more so than any one of these five development projects in Cuba on its own.
– Joel Dishman