In the run-up to International Day of Action Against U.S. and NATO Military Bases, several Cubans spoke out against what they called “a place of arbitrariness, torture, and abuse where laws have been suspended and justice rejected.”
“As long as this territory remains occupied, the possibility of justifying an aggression or military intervention against Cuba is latent. The U.S.-Cuban relations cannot be normalized while that illegal base imposed by force remains,” historian Elier Ramirez considered.
Cuba and Guantanamo Bay
The aforementioned IDAAUNMB is February 28th. If you missed it this year, maybe you can party twice as hard next year.
Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. His sponsors cashed in early. By 1600, Spain controlled most of the Western Hemisphere and many parts of the Pacific Basin, having overwhelmed the native people that lived in these areas. Nothing lasts forever. By 1895, the once-mighty Spanish Empire was down to a handful of small islands, including Cuba.
Spain was determined to hold onto what was left. Spanish forces clashed with Cuban rebels in a series of conflicts which began in 1868. Spain won each one, and its methods became increasingly brutal. Many Americans who saw the Caribbean as something of a backyard pool reacted negatively.
Things came to a head in 1898 when an American battleship exploded in Havana. Without much evidence, the Americans quickly blamed the Spanish. After the brief and one-sided Spanish-American War, the U.S. occupied Spain’s remaining possessions, except Cuba. Technically, the Americans went to war to protect Cuban independence. Occupying the country was not a political option.
So, Cuban president Tomas Estrada-Palma ceded Guantanamo Bay to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. For many years, most Cubans saw the Americans in Guantanamo Bay as unwanted houseguests. Things got a lot worse when Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.
In the 1960s, the U.S. fleet based in Guantanamo Bay harassed other countries in the area. Then, in 2002, Guantanamo Bay became a prison for Muslim suspects in the Global War on Terror. No one is sure what went on there, but it is safe to assume that these prisoners did not get the red-carpet treatment. U.S. President Barack Obama tried to close the facility, but Congress balked, citing cost concerns.
That is pretty much the bottom line. No one is happy about the uneasy Guantanamo Bay situation. But no one is unhappy enough to do anything about it.
So, for now, it is business as usual for Guantanamo Bay private military contractors. This business usually means renovating, expanding, and protecting the aging facilities at this base, many of which date back to the Cold War.
Almost every military machine is bigger, stronger, and faster today than it was 30 years ago. Therefore, runways need lengthening, harbors need expanding, and storage facilities need expanding. Military technology advances so quickly that these projects are ongoing. By the time one is finished, it is basically outdated.
Pretty much all construction projects in Guantanamo Bay are renovation projects. The base cannot expand. It must use the land it has.
Construction jobs are the most dangerous jobs in the United States. They are even more dangerous overseas. Foreign countries do not have watchdog agencies, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to monitor workplace safety. They also do not have workers’ compensation systems, which means they do not care what happens to their workers. Fortunately, private military contractors who serve overseas are eligible for Defense Base Act benefits when they are injured. More on that below.
Construction-related occupational diseases, like hearing loss, are a serious problem. Trauma injuries are an even bigger problem, especially:
- Fall: A fall from as little as four stories above ground is usually fatal, especially if the victim has a pre-existing condition. Falls from a height are very common at Guantanamo Bay because, as mentioned, there is no place to go but up.
- Struck By: Well, that is not exactly true. Sometimes, contractors dig holes to expand basements. That is not any safer than working high above the ground. Unlined construction trenches often collapse, almost literally burying workers alive.
- Caught Between: Contractors have specialized skills. Carpenters cannot drive dump trucks. However, in this era of budget cuts and tight deadlines, they must often do so. Inexperienced drivers often pin other workers between their vehicles and solid objects, like retaining walls.
- Electrocution: Talk about a one-two punch. The energy moving through a live wire is hotter than the sun’s surface temperature. Momentary contact causes serious burns. If these victims are “lucky,” the arc blasts throw them through the air. There is no telling where or how they will land.
These trauma injuries and occupational diseases usually mean extended missed work and sky-high medical bills.
Injury Compensation Available
Most people do not think of construction workers when they think of private military contractors. However, whether the victim carries a machine gun, a hammer, or a laptop, Defense Base Act benefits are available to those victims who meet basic eligibility requirements.
First, the injury or illness must occur overseas. Because of the controversial Guantanamo Bay handover, this military base is technically U.S. soil. However, Guantanamo Bay still coins as “overseas” for DBA purposes. The same thing applies to Guam and other overseas U.S. possessions.
Incidentally, the Guantanamo Bay handover is controversial because the 1959 Cuban Revolution changed the government. Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s current president, is not a political successor of Tomas Estrada-Palma, the guy who signed the treaty. So, at least from one perspective, the current Cuban government does not have to honor pre-1959 agreements. But it is complicated.
Back to DBA eligibility. Additionally, the contractor must have been working for a U.S. government agency. Injured contractors nearly always automatically check this box.
Finally, the victim must show a nexus, or indirect connection, between the deployment and the injury. If Phil’s bad knee gives way and he falls from a Guantanamo Bay scaffold, there is a nexus between his deployment and his injury.
For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.