Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cuba's Mariel Port vs. State of Florida

Port of Mariel's Past and Present
{Updated Tuesday, April 23rd}
     Cuba's Port of Mariel, immersed in mysticism, is historically famous for the 1980 Cuban Boatlift when Fidel Castro, frustrated and saddened by the death of Celia Sanchez, invited Cubans to the Mariel port if they wanted free and permanent trips to Florida. About 125,000 Cubans eagerly accepted the offer.
       The still-popular 1983 movie "Scarface" -- in which Al Pacino played Miami's enigmatic cocaine king Tony Montana -- begins with actual footage of Mariel Boatlift benefactors landing in Miami, then transitioning to Tony Montana's arrival in South Florida. It represented "Scarface" writer-producer Oliver Stone's unavoidable remembrance that Fidel Castro had included about 10,000 of Cuba's most hardened criminals in the Mariel Boatlift to Miami. But that's a 1980s story so let's return to the Mariel update in 2013.
    With the Cuban capital of Havana a mere 90 miles south of the Florida Keys, Mariel -- only 28 miles west of Havana -- would be ideally located for U. S. ships except for the U. S. embargo of Cuba, staunchly maintained since 1962 to appease the revengeful and political appetites of a few Cuban exiles.
   The beautiful Mariel harbor is back in the news because, to no one's surprise, Florida is again trying to replace the U. S. government as the sole decision-maker when it comes to Cuba although, of course, all U. S. laws and the U. S. Constitution mandate that foreign relations are the province of only the federal government. But Florida notices a positive happening at Mariel and desires to buck U. S. and international law to block it. Since 1959, Cuban exiles have shaped U. S. foreign policy concerning Cuba.
       Dilma Rousseff, the President of Latin American superpower Brazil and a powerful admirer of Fidel Castro, in 2012 discussed with Cuban President Raul Castro how her country could best help the island. One of the projects agreed upon was a billion-dollar upgrade to the port of Mariel, underwritten by Brazil. That project is now underway and, not unimaginably, Florida wants it stopped on Miami's terms.
      Brazilian President Rousseff, whom U. S. President Obama must kiss down to when it comes to Latin America and the Caribbean, told President Obama, "Before you leave office in your second term, the Mariel Port in Cuba will make you want to end your Cuban embargo." She said it teasingly and, perhaps, omnisciently. And she seems willing to take on Florida and the President regarding Cuba.
    Singapore-based PSA International, a Chinese-owned company, will manage the refurbished Mariel Port just as it manages major Panama ports such as the one above. The work at Mariel is being done by Odebrecht, the internationally renowned Brazilian engineering giant and the world's best.

        The massive work at Mariel Harbor is also affecting and refurbishing Havana Harbor. Havana can handle 360,000 containers a year but soon all industrial port facilities will be moved to Mariel so Havana's port can handle more cruise ships and recreational boats. By 2014 Mariel will be able to handle 3 million containers a year because it is being deepened so it can host huge Panama Canal ships. Mariel is also getting a 6,550-foot (2,000-meter) dock that will be able to hold the anticipated increase in containers.
                Highway and rail infrastructures leading to and from Mariel are also undergoing extensive work in Cuba in conjunction with the port's upgrade. Of course, the sharp improvement of the Mariel port in Cuba has not been lost on the most visceral Cuban exiles in Miami, transporting it to a regional news item.
            Brazil's Odebrecht is the world's leading engineering and construction company. Odebrecht USA, its American subsidiary, "has done almost $5 billion in public projects in Florida since 1990," according to the Miami Herald. That's fine but any nation's companies that do business with Cuba have to walk a fine line to comply with anti-Cuban laws forged by the ultra-powerful Cuban-exile lobby. Odebrecht is no exception.
        Florida governor Rick Scott was born in Bloomington, Illinois, sixty years ago, not in Cuba. But Florida governors, not to mention U. S. presidents, have to bow before the Cuban-exile lobby. Thus, Governor Scott signed state legislation in Florida banning state agencies and local governments from doing business with any company that also works in countries on the U. S. terror list.  Although the Cuban-exile lobby represents the only people who believe Cuba deserves to be on that list, Cuba's inclusion enables the Cuban-exile lobby to sue unrepresented Cuba -- successfully, of course -- in Miami's state and federal courts. And it enables the Cuban-exile lobby to force governors, presidents, the U. S. Congress, etc., to punish foreign companies remotely related to the U. S. if they do business in Cuba. Odebrecht USA has filed a lawsuit in Miami federal court challenging Florida's right to make and enforce foreign policy for the U. S. because only the federal government can, by law, do that. Odebrecht USA does no business with Cuba but the Cuban-exile lobby recognizes that Odebrecht International very clearly does.
     The Miami Herald editorial board is infused with visceral anti-Castro Cuban exiles. However, the Miami Herald editorial entitled "Another Inevitable Lawsuit" on April 5-2013 excoriated Governor Scott and the Cuban lobby for legislating against Odebrecht USA and for thinking it can continue to replace the U. S. government in foreign affairs, namely involving Cuba. The editorial cogently stated: "Why did Gov. Rick Scott sign this legislation, which usurps the federal responsibility guaranteed in the U. S. Constitution? He, too, alluded to the unenforceability of state law after signing it -- and then he backtracked. And now the state will have to spend public money to fight yet another lawsuit." Usually the Cuban-exile lobby Lords itself over small nations and companies -- and bullies Florida governors, U. S. presidents and the U. S. Congress -- but Brazil is not a small country and Odebrecht is not a small company. So, Florida taxpayers this time are up against a nation and a company that also have deep pockets of cash. The aforementioned editorial in the Miami Herald concluded: "The U. S. Constitution does not give states the right to conduct their own foreign policy -- indeed, imagine 50 states conducting their own foreign affairs; that would be disastrous. The Civil War clarified where 'states' rights' stop." Indeed it did. Perhaps it is time the Cuban-exile lobby recognized that the year is 2013 and this is the USA, not Batista's Cuba in the 1950s. Here is the Miami Herald's final paragraph in that cogent editorial: "The Coral Gables-based Odebrecht USA has done excellent work in Florida and locally, and there's a lot at stake as it looks to compete for contracts at Miami International Airport and at state and local agencies. That this state law came up now raises questions about some of the companies seeking to compete and their backdoor attempts to get ahead." The word "backdoor" alludes, of course, to the legendary history of Miami-Coral Gables since 1959, a well-known history that includes controversial deal-making that has made many anti-Castro Cuban exiles millionaires and billionaires.
     But Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is no lightweight. Brazil's economy now is counted in the trillions. Her billion-dollar efforts to help Cuba will go forth because she agrees with the Miami Herald that the U. S. government, not Florida, is responsible for American foreign policy. Also, the steadfast Cuban-exile lobby in Miami and Washington is not likely to intimidate President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, a paragon of bravery.
After all.............
      She was not intimidated when a powerful U.S.-backed Brazilian dictatorship tortured her for three years in prison.
         While the famous port of Mariel on Cuba's western tip, 28 miles west of Havana, was making regional news this past weekend, an even more famous Cuban port on the eastern tip of the island was making international news once again, adding to the amalgam of shame surrounding the infamy of Gitmo. 
       The above photo was taken by Marcos Hernandez of the U. S. Navy. It shows two Cuban birds on the barbed wire at Guantanamo Bay looking down at Gitmo prisoners. An article {Sunday, April 21stwritten by Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald, reported that 166 of the prisoners are currently undergoing massive hunger strikes, with 14 more joining that group "since yesterday." Rosenberg said that 17 of the hunger-strikers are currently "being force-fed via tubes snaked up their noses and into their stomachs." Each gruesome headline from Gitmo, as it circles around the globe, reminds millions of people anew that the U. S. merely stole Guantanamo Bay from Cuba shortly after the Spanish-American War in 1898 gave the U. S. dominance over the entire island, at least until the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January of 1959. The two Cuban birds above are curious witnesses to Gitmo's ongoing travesty. I reckon the American sailor who took the efficacious photo understands both the symbolism and the realism of Guantanamo Bay.
A great man has died! Al Neuharth passed away at age 89.
He founded USA Today in 1982.
        The visionary Al Neuharth also had typically correct topical observations. For example, he called the U. S. embargo of Cuba "insane." In his regular Friday USA Today column, Mr. Neuharth once wrote: "Fidel Castro has out-smarted ten straight U. S. presidents." (I have read every edition of USA Today since 1982).

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