By Jeff Franks | Reuters
Brazil said on Thursday it would give Cuba up to $300 million in credits to start rebuilding the island’s port of Mariel, better known as the site of a 1980 Cuban exodus to the United States.
Brazilian Industry and Trade Minister Miguel Jorge said $110 million had been approved by his government and the rest would likely be, as Brazil strengthens its ties with communist-led Cuba.
He said in a news conference that construction, to be led by a Brazilian company, would begin “very soon” with the building of infrastructure including highways and a railroad for the port about 30 miles (50 km) west of Havana.
Brazilian officials said Cuba expects the entire port project, which will be built in several phases, to cost up to $2 billion.
The first phase is projected to take four or five years to complete and cost $600 million, they said.
Mariel was the scene of the massive boatlift from April to October 1980 when a flotilla of vessels from the United States picked up 125,000 Cubans after the Cuban government said anyone wanting to leave the island could do so.
Now Cuba wants Mariel to serve as logistics center for its still-nascent offshore oil industry and to be equipped to handle shipments from around the world, including the United States, just 90 miles (145 km) to the north of Cuba.
U.S.-Cuban trade is restricted by a U.S. trade embargo imposed in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro led a revolution to topple a U.S.-backed dictator.
Jorge, who was on the second day of a two-day visit to Cuba, said Brazil’s state-owned oil giant Petrobras, which last October was awarded a bloc for oil exploration in Cuban waters, would open an office in Havana on Tuesday.
He said Petrobras was completing seismic studies of the bloc and working on getting a drilling rig to Cuba.
Jorge did not say when Petrobras expected to begin drilling. So far, only one test well has been drilled in Cuba’s offshore fields—by Spain’s Repsol-YPF in 2004.
(Editing by Jim Loney)