Cuban pensioners get tangled up in US red tape
Date: January 1 2013
AT THE US naval base at Guantanamo Bay last month the Pentagon marked the retirement of two elderly workers with typical military pageantry. Schoolchildren did a folk dance, there were speeches, a cake and certificates presented by the base commander to the pensioners.
This was not a typical US Navy retirement party. Harry Henry, 82, and Luis La Rosa, 79, were the last two daily commuters from their homes in Cuba to the US-controlled territory. They started work at Guantanamo as teenagers and, as long-serving US government employees, were entitled to Defence Department pensions.
But their retirement leaves the navy with no way to pay the pensions they and other Cuban workers have earned because of the five-decade US embargo on trade with Cuba.
''Right now there is no established plan to pay these pensions, because of the complication of US law,'' Lieutenant-Commander Christopher Servello said. ''We are working to find a permanent solution.'' The navy will not say how many retired Guantanamo labourers are receiving pensions, or provide a dollar figure.
But thousands of Cubans commuted to the base from neighbouring towns in south-east Cuba as day labourers - welders, machinists and groundkeepers - before Fidel Castro swept to power in 1959. As tensions built, the base became more isolated, making its own water and generating its own electricity. The US imposed a series of economic sanctions that culminated in the 1962 trade embargo. Cuban workers already employed at Guantanamo were able to keep coming but no one new was hired.
By 1999, the commuter labour force had dwindled to 18 men with some entrusted to courier funds to the pensioners who lived in Cuba. By 2002, about 100 retirees were receiving US federal pensions and US Navy officials sought to do a wire transfer without violating the embargo.
''We saw this coming for some time with the retirement of the last Cuban commuter,'' one naval officer said, ''but have yet to settle on a solution.''
Mr Henry and Mr La Rosa were the last of the legacy labourers to serve as bagmen of sorts, twice a month carrying pensions to their colleagues on the Cuban side of the 28-kilometre fence. depot. Without a solution, one previous base commander suggested, the Marines who guard the frontier may be asked to hand cash through the fence to Cuban soldiers.
The Miami Herald