Cuban marinas and US boaters looking forward to post-Embargo Cuba
Posted: 11 March 2010 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Written by Peter Swanson

Anticipating the end of the travel ban, Cuban state enterprises responsible for marine infrastructure have begun an unprecedented push to ready the island nation for U.S. boaters. With growing support across America and in Washington, the U.S. House and Senate may finally act upon legislation to allow Americans to travel freely to their island neighbor for the first time in decades - it could happen this year or next.

One estimate says 60,000 U.S. vessels will visit Cuba in the first year post-embargo. Though the number may seem high, leaders in government and business in the Bahamas and the Caribbean take this figure seriously, judging by their often-expressed fears that Cuba will siphon away American mariners and their dollars once the ban is lifted.

But Cuba has only 789 transient slips, most concentrated in the three marinas closest to Florida - Marina Hemingway in Havana, Marina Gaviota Varadero and Marina Darsena Varadero. Havana, of course, is associated with the classic cars, cigars and Cuban music scene. Varadero, about 80 miles east of the capital, is Cuba’s version of Cape Cod, the Jersey Shore and Florida Keys all rolled into one. The rest of the country has just 12 additional marinas spread across a 3,000-mile coastline and interspersed between vast areas of mangroves, pasture, wooded shores and undeveloped pocket bays.

The “corporate” structure of Cuba’s marina system is twofold. All marinas in Cuba are operated by either the Marlin Group or Gaviota. Marlin’s director reports to the Ministry of Tourism, whose development of that economic sector was crucial in sustaining the Cuban nation after Soviet subsidies ended in 1989. Gaviota’s lineage suggests even greater clout: It is a subsidiary of a subsidiary of the Castro military.

Recent actions by each of these government entities underscore the seriousness with which Cuba regards “nautical tourism” from the United States…

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