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Cuba

Havana Nostalgia: Why Cuba Is Banking On A Brand New Harbor

The capital's unique harbor has driven Cuba's economy for centuries. But with Brazil's help, the building of a new commerical port of Mariel marks a turning point in the island's history.

A Brazilian flag can be seen on the day the new Mariel port was inaugurated last year
A Brazilian flag can be seen on the day the new Mariel port was inaugurated last year
Leonardo Padura Fuentes*

HAVANA — Ever since the Spanish Conquistadorsdiscovered the unique qualities of Havana Bay half-a-millennium ago, it has been considered the singular geographical fortune of the island of Cuba.

Both the bay’s natural structure and its location, at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, prompted the Spanish Empire to make Havana the place where it would regroup its fleet before sending it back to Spain, loaded up with the gold and silver and other goods pulled out of the New World.

With its purse shape, the bay was the best possible refuge against hurricanes, but also pirates and buccaneers who, upon reaching its entry would be faced with a current that squeezes closed the narrow access to the placid interior on both sides. It didn’t take long for the harbor to become a shipyard where some of the biggest vessels of the era were built. Inevitably some of the most pretentious colonial fortresses would sprout up on the coast around it.

It has already been said that the city of Havana is the daughter of its bay, and that the historical importance, along with the cultural particularity and economic prosperity that the island once enjoyed, were directly linked to this harbor.

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The unique shape of Havana harbor (NASA)

As this new year begins, however, it seems that a new story is beginning for the old cove of the Cuban capital. The opening of a modern container terminal in the bay of Mariel (25 miles west of Havana) will eventually transfer to that harbor most of the Cuban maritime commercial activity.

At the same time, Havana’s port will focus ever more on tourism, to be converted over the next few years into a marina that will be able to welcome far more visitors than today.

This transfer of responsibilities from Havana to Mariel could mark a turning point in the history of Cuba.

A big bet

The aim of the new harbor is to become the epicenter of the Cuban economy, not only by virtue of its capacity (at 18 meters deep, it can host the world’s biggest ships), but also because in its immediate vicinity there will be a special development zone, governed by the rules of a free-trade zone, with looser regulations than those in force in the rest of the country for foreign merchants and investors.

[rebelmouse-image 27087784 alt="""" original_size="320x213" expand=1]

Raul Castro and Dilma Rousseff (Planalto)

Mariel is the Cuban government’s biggest economic bet, which is hoping to transform it into a modern commercial player in a country that has become prisoner of its own policies and infrastructures (which still exist).

The participation of the Brazilian government and of Brazilian companies makes it possible to make a reality of what is perhaps the biggest project in Cuba in the last 50 years.

The initial loan of $802 million, together with the upcoming extra $290 million from Brasilia were decisive for the project to move forward. In return for this gesture, everything seems to indicate that Brazil will have a major footprint in the new Cuban economy, thanks to the expected simultaneous arrival of Brazilian companies that can also take advantage of prolonging the maritime route that leads to the renovated Panama Canal.

When they cut the ribbon to inaugurate the harbor, Raúl Castro and Dilma Rousseff signaled a watershed in Cuba’s history. Mariel is opening itself to the world while the historical Havana bay, for centuries the heart of the island, is relegated to a secondary role.

[rebelmouse-image 27087785 alt="""" original_size="640x245" expand=1]

Havana harbor by night (Gabriel Rodriguez)

From now on, though we Habaneros will have a cleaner bay with more tourists, we will also lose the central position that made our city an indispensable reference point in both Cuban history and the history of a good part of the American continent.

Yes, Havana bay today must pay the price of years of economic degradation. But may this historical transfer lead us Cubans to the better life that we desire as much, I believe, as we deserve.

*Leonardo Padura Fuentes is a writer and journalist from Havana, winner of the 2012 National Literature Prize in Cuba.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

When Did Putin "Turn" Evil? That's Exactly The Wrong Question

Look back over the past two decades, and you'll see Vladimir Putin has always been the man revealed by the Ukraine invasion, an evil and sinister dictator. The Russian leader just managed to mask it, especially because so many chose to see him as a typically corrupt and greedy strongman who could be bribed or reasoned with.

Putin arrives for a ceremony to accept credentials from 24 foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Sept. 20.

Sergiy Gromenko*

-OpEd-

KYIV — The world knows that Vladimir Putin has power, money and mistresses. So why, ask some, wasn't that enough for him? Why did he have to go start another war?

At its heart, this is the wrong question to ask. For Putin, military expansion is not an adrenaline rush to feed into his existing life of luxury. On the contrary, the shedding of blood for the sake of holding power is his modus operandi, while the fruits of greed and corruption like the Putin Palace in Gelendzhik are more like a welcome bonus.

In the last year, we have kept hearing rhetorical questions like “why did Putin start this war at all, didn't he have enough of his own land?” or “he already has Gelendzhik to enjoy, why fight?” This line of thinking has resurfaced after missile strikes on Ukrainian power grids and dams, which was regarded by many as a simple demonstration of terrorism. Such acts are a manifestation of weakness, some ask, so is Putin ready to show himself weak?

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However, you will not arrive at the correct answer if the questions themselves are asked incorrectly. For decades, analysts in Russia, Ukraine, and the West have been under an illusion about the nature of the Russian president's personal dictatorship.

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