High-ranking Cuban officials plan January visit to Port of Palm Beach

Five high-ranking transportation ministers from the Cuban government are scheduled to visit the Port of Palm Beach to meet local port officials and businesses from Jan. 26-28, Executive Port Director Manuel Almira said Thursday.

Almira said that in November the Minister Counselor of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. notified the port of the proposed visit.

“They are prepared to make presentations on the Port Mariel special development zone, their inland waterway and seaport capabilities, and their foreign trade investment to local business people at the Port of Palm Beach and in Palm Beach County,” Almira told port commissioners at their monthly meeting.

Port staff is working on the agenda, and no further details were available Friday.

Cuba has indicated it  plans to position its Mariel port as the first port of call for new Panamax container vessels. Feeder services would then transport cargo to ports in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a published report in the Journal of Commerce.

In July the Port of Palm Beach,  based in Riviera Beach, began construction of a $10.4 million mini-slip known as Berth 17. Almira said the berth is being positioned for a multitude of uses, including rail barge service to the entire Caribbean, which potentially includes Cuba.

The first steps toward normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba  began in 2014 as the Obama administration began creating exceptions to the 54-year-old embargo to allow limited trade.

This year tourism restrictions were eased as the first U.S. cruise passengers in several decades sailed to Cuban ports, although U.S. law still prohibits general tourism to Cuba. The first commercial flight from the U.S. to Havana in more than 50 years landed Nov. 28.

President-elect Donald Trump has indicated that he will terminate the détente unless Cuba grants greater freedoms to its people and agrees to something more for Americans than a “one-sided Cuban deal.”

Susan Salisbury, PalmBeachPost.com

December 16, 2016

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