I was obliged to go to Cuba in early February to prepare an article about Sherritt issue. I know … no mission took me not to a resort beach but to some of Sherritt’s operations there–an oil rig and a power plant in northern Cuba, and a nickel mine on the eastern end of the island.
As much as I enjoy traveling to worksites, I found this trip particularly interesting. I had never visited Cuba, and hadn’t given the place much thought before.
There were a few surprises. The lack of advertising for anything at all, except the Revolution and its Heroes and Martyrs, was interesting. The array of vehicles on the road (motor, horse- or human-drawn) and hundreds of patient hitchhikers was astounding, including soldiers in uniform.
The customs agents in both Cuba and Canada took more than a casual interest in me as a journalist on a quick turn-around trip to Cuba, a country where the press has no freedom. While CMJ is not The New York Times, we could report on something that would be embarrassing, I suppose.
Several Sherritt people in both Cuba and Canada requested that I not include their photograph or name in my article, and I was asked to not name companies that supply equipment to Sherritt’s Cuban operations. This was not modesty. The United States has imposed a long-time embargo on Cuba, resulting in the products (such as Sherritt’s nickel and cobalt), and the exclusion of executives of companies that work in Cuba, from entering the United States. These people don’t want any unnecessary attention.
As a trade journalist, I caved in to these requests. It was enough that I was invited to see the sites, and was given all the information that I asked for. I recognized that Sherritt had taken a certain amount of risk in bringing in a reporter, trusting that the result would not be damaging. This tour was a real privilege, and I am happy to be able to bring (most of) the story back to our readers.
I will not discuss Sherritt’s ethics in conducting business in Cuba under the disapproving nose of our large neighbour to the south. The background of how the Moa nickel laterite (started up by an American company) came to Sherritt and its Cuban partner are spelled out to a degree in the fine print of Sherritt’s MD&A. You can make your own judgment.
From my brief trip, I believe Cuba could benefit from more industrial partnerships with companies like Sherritt, bringing in cleaner, more modern and efficient methods to improve its economy and the life of the people there. With the official retirement of Fidel Castro from public life announced in mid- February, it is possible that the current socialist regime will soon be undergoing change, and that Cuba’s relations with the United States may change as well, hopefully for the better. Sherritt may now be in the right place at the right time.