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Mariel, a clear example of modernization

The Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), an area of 465.4 square kilometers covered in vegetation and an ideal location to house the largest industrial park in the Caribbean and Central America

31 de diciembre de 2016 - Tomado de Granma

Just as Cuba has attracted interest worldwide, principally as a result of the gradual but continuous updating of its economy, the country has transformed the principal example of this process: the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), an area of 465.4 square kilometers covered in vegetation and an ideal location to house the largest industrial park in the Caribbean and Central America.

Moving beyond the initial stage of constructing necessary infrastructure, the Special Zone is developing its logistics, manufacturing facilities, and technology, seeking to become one of the best sites around the world to do business, and will participate this year in the international competition organized by the Financial Times to identify the "Best Free Trade Zone and Industrial Park," in which Mariel won an honorable mention last year.

The Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) was established in accordance with Cuba's Decree-Law 313, September 23, 2013, as an area within national territory governed by special financial policies and regimens, meant to attract national and international investment to support the country's sustainable development. Initial work was focused on a parcel known as Sector A, located west of Mariel Bay, which constitutes about 9% of the Zone's total area.

Logistic services, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing are among the industries which are key to developing this area, with priority given to bottling and packaging; construction technology; steel processing; and consumer goods.

Some 12 months ago, Granma International interviewed the director of the Special Zone's main office, Ana Teresa Igarza. A year later, the specialist offers an analysis of the initiative which, she says, "will serve to produce goods and services with significant valued added, through the use of clean, modern technologies, and the goal of generating exports, replacing imports, and creating quality employment, in ongoing articulation with the domestic economy."

The 20 entities established here to date demonstrate the degree to which this objective is being met, according to Igarza, as they reflect a total investment of

933.7 million dollars, and have directly generated 3,901 jobs.


A detailed Master Plan was elaborated in collaboration with the French company Bouygues Bâtiment International, to organize use of the space, conceived and designed with a look to the future, and in accordance with international best practices and the concept of "high environmental quality."

As 2017 begins, the Mariel Special Zone is meeting international standards and providing services to the companies established, including a multimodal connection nationally and internationally for foreign companies interested in the Cuban market, or in using the area as a base to produce export goods.

Early in 2016, the Pelícano Business Center was inaugurated, now housing the ZEDM's main office, along with a group of providers supporting companies launching projects, including, for example, banking services.

According to Igarza, significant effort has been dedicated to developing high quality basic and auxiliary infrastructure, notable among which are a system of primary, secondary and tertiary roads; new and renovated railroad lines; rail stations; aqueducts; drainage and storm sewers; as well as public lighting.

Users benefit from the Zone's location, at the crossroads of the Western Hemisphere's principal maritime trade routes, 45 kilometers west of Havana, where the country's main universities and many research institutions are found.

Guaranteed are telephone and broadband internet service; catering for over 7,000 workers; transportation for personnel; security; physical and technical protection.

Cuba has invested 300 million dollars in the development of this infrastructure and indispensable services.


The Mariel Special Zone offers Cuban and international investors multiple attractions and advantages to facilitate their establishment as users or concessionaires.

Igarza explained that the main office works to expedite bureaucratic procedures by providing a "single portal" system, handling all licenses, permits, and authorizations a client may require.

In this way, she continued, "We have complied with the timelines established by law for the evaluation and approval of businesses, that range between 35 and 65 days, depending on the level of approval required, either the Zone's General Director or the Council of Ministers."

The Zone's privileged geographical position, its special regulatory framework, and highly qualified workers who quickly assimilate new technology have made possible the establishment of Cuban state enterprises, and the presence of international investors from several different countries, participating in a variety of ways (joint ventures, contracts, 100% foreign capital, etc).

Moreover, investors who establish operations in Mariel can benefit from 17 customs tariff agreements which Cuba has reached with other countries in the region, "which allow for the reduction of costs for the acquisition of raw materials and make exports to these destinations more competitive," Igarza stated.

In regards to the workforce for projects in the Zone, Igarza explained that five agencies exist which are responsible for hiring and human resource services. These are Almacenes Universales S.A., BIOCUBAFARMA, CUBATABACO, TECNOSIME, and the Construction Employment Enterprise.

This past December, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security announced Resolution No. 21/2016, establishing a 15% maximum for the hiring of foreign personnel by users and concessionaires operating in the Zone, given Cuban workers' high level of qualification and ability to adapt to new technology.


Located within the Zone, Mariel Bay, with its deep waters, is one of the region's best ports, now featuring a modern container terminal, the TCM operated by Singapore's PSA International, designed and equipped to receive neo-Panamax container ships.

Since it was opened in January of 2014, the Mariel terminal has seen traffic increase significantly, and is now on its way to becoming the region's logistical hub, ready to receive ships up to 296 meters in length, and in the near future, up to 366 meters.

Meanwhile, the multinational companies Unilever and British American Tobacco began their investments in 2016. Other corporations are moving forward with preparations for projects focused on both the domestic and export markets.

There are currently more than 20 in the advanced stage of documentation to fulfill requirements. These initiatives reflect Cuba's priorities for the Zone, replacing imports, developing technology, and expanding services lacking in the country, with the consequent favorable impact on the national economy, Igarza reported.


Although there has been a modest increase in the number of Cuban entities among the Zone's users and those making plans, Igarza commented, "We believe there still remains much potential to attract (such companies). We are not satisfied with what has been accomplished, and intend to continue working with Cuban enterprises to take greater advantage of the options for participation the Zone offers."

She emphasized the importance of Cuban enterprise group leaders being trained to identify direct investment opportunities available in the Zone, either as a 100% Cuban project or as a partner; to prepare projects for the country's portfolio of foreign investment opportunities to acquire financing, technology, and markets; and to strengthen their ability to negotiate with potential associates.

Three years after the Mariel Special Development Zone's establishment, Igarza recalls that one of the initial (and current) goals of the mega-project is to promote spill-over, productive links between companies established here and others across the island, to supply raw materials or provide services.

In conclusion, the Zone's director noted other facts, adding that exports shipped from Mariel are exempt from customs fees, and that, to date, users include four 100% Cuban enterprises, four joint ventures, eleven 100% foreign capital companies, and one company operating under a management contract.