BY KEVA LIGHTBOURNE | GUARDIAN STAFF REPORTER
For the first time in more than 40 years, trade between The Bahamas and Cuba has been established by means of a freight service that will provide weekly service between the two countries allowing Bahamians the luxury of importing goods from that communist country at lower customs prices.
Owned and operated by well-known attorney and Bamboo Town MP, Tennyson Wells, and his two sons, the motor vessel Hydra I, left for Cuba on Thursday night captained by Ragged Islander Kevin Moxey, and a crew of about eight men.
It was last year December when Mr. Wells held meetings with the Cuban Government officials, and some two months later, in February, successful discussions were concluded. The venture, which cost more than $100,000 to get off the ground, would be of benefit to all Bahamians, particularly those in the Southern Islands.
It is intended that weekly service will be held between Nassau and Havana, and other Family Islands.
The Hydra I, is a 500 ton ship, that has the capacity to bring in eighteen 40ft containers and four 20ft. containers at one time.
“We decided that Cuba might open up soon and we thought that we would try to develop a freight cargo service between Cuba and The Bahamas, particularly down in the southern islands. The boat left for the first voyage on Thursday night and she should be back here on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week,” Mr. Wells told the Guardian in an interview.
“This is a viable entity. I believe it is viable because Cubans have quite a number of products that I believe can sell in The Bahamas. They have excellent furniture; they have excellent juices and a number of excellent processed foods, building supplies, and the prices are very competitive. The things that they do and they sell, they do very, very well. There are other things like steel, blocks, marbles, that people purchasing them in Cuba would be paying less than half the price they would pay in the US market or even down in other Latin American countries,” Mr. Wells said.
“The southern islands can get building supplies from Cuba cheaper. Residents could probably get marble, steel, blocks, doors, windows, at least 40 per cent cheaper than they are now probably paying,” he said.
“If an Exumian can pay $1.80 for block landed in Exuma, why should he pay $2 or $2.50 for a block that came from the United States or even from Nassau for that matter,” he said. “Steel in Cuba can be bought for half or probably 60 per cent of what you would paid for in the United States. Marble, less than half; tiles less than half the cost of what you in the United States.”
Mr. Wells also spoke highly of Cuba’s souvenirs and handicraft work, which he described as being “of excellent quality.”
He pointed to the fact that local straw vendors import their wares “all the way from the Far East, they can be purchased right in Cuba for much less than in the Far East, and much, much less than what they pay for it in Florida.”
This service comes at a time when the Acklins Trade and Development Association is lobbying the Government to consider designating the island as a port of entry, in an attempt to revive the economic and social life of the island.
The association says Acklins has been one of many islands that has “suffered years of neglect and economic stagnation,” and to make it a port of entry would help economic growth.
“This way the island can take advantage of the large amount of yachts that travel through the straits going down south and to the Caribbean, and they would be able to stop there in Acklins be processed by customs, resupply their ship stores, as well as fuel,” said association president Rev. C. B. Moss.
The association is also hoping the Government will make available to the residents portions of Crown land at a reasonable price.
Said Mr. Wells: “If this venture goes the way I anticipate it would, we would have to get a bigger ship or another ship to assist in going there. We really want to provide a service from Cuba to the southern islands and also Nassau. I don’t think we would go further north at this stage than Nassau. We have the ability for goods that are brought into Nassau at Arawak Cay to ship them to Abaco, Grand Bahama and the Berry Islands.
“We have a boat that goes from here to Grand Bahama every week that we could send goods on. We could provide a weekly service and Arawak Cay would just be a transshipment point for getting goods to Abaco and Grand Bahama all the others islands we can service on the way up,” he said.