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June 27, 2017

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Cuba opens new 'megaport' for shipping

MARIEL--Cuba officially opened its new Mariel "megaport" on Monday, hoping the project will put it on the map as a regional shipping hub despite scant foreign investment and the U.S. economic embargo.

Leading the ceremony were Cuban President Raul Castro and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff, whose country provided technical and financial help for the port's construction in the joint project.

Only the first 700 meters of what is slated to be a 2,400-meter wharf were inaugurated, with hopes the project — when completed — will welcome one million containers per year.

"From this moment, Mariel is part of the Cuban and Latin American port system," Castro said.

"It's the first phase of the project, we must continue working."

After cutting an inaugural ribbon with Castro, Rousseff said "Brazil is proud to be associated with Cuba on this project, the first large terminal port for containers in the Caribbean."

But Mariel, located 45 kilometers west of Havana, still faces major hurdles — including lack of investment and the American economic embargo placed on the communist island for the last half-century.

The first shipment, unloaded smoothly, was frozen chicken from the United States. Despite the embargo, American farmers can sell food to Cuba as long as Havana pays in cash.

Cuba is hoping to establish itself as a regional hub for shipments from Asia after an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015, allowing for the passing of larger ships carrying up to 12,000 containers.

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