Desperate Cubans Increasingly Flee Country

Desperate Cubans Increasingly Flee Country

Based on the number of illegal vessels the United States Coast guard has intercepted since October 2021, illegal immigration has tripled since 2021.

“People illegally entering the U.S. using smugglers put their lives in the hands of criminals,” warned Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Mark Cobb. “Migrant smugglers are ruthless criminals who only care about profit,” he added. 

But these invectives do not keep people from trying to leave the troubled island. Officials recently stopped looking for 34 people who went missing after an illegal raft capsized. Only one person, a Colombian national, survived.

Situation in Cuba

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for almost fifty years. Remarkably, he stayed in power long after his chief benefactor, the Soviet Union, dissolved. His tenure was remarkable for its commitment to revolution, economic problems, diplomatic isolation, and political repression.

Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother in 2008. During his inaugural address, Castro promised to lift, or at least reconsider, some of the more restrictive government policies. A few months later, Castro removed some Communist hard-liners from Cuba’s government.

In 2009, the Organization of American States announced that it would be willing to reconsider its Cuba ban if the political openness continued. 

The ball kept rolling. In 2013, Cuba ended some harsh travel restrictions it had imposed in 1961. In response, U.S. President Barack Obama partially lifted the American economic embargo, which was even older than that. 

Then, in 2018, things changed. Castro suddenly resigned, ostensibly to create a precedent for a limit of two five-year terms as President and First Secretary of the Communist Party. But hard-liners within the government might have had something to do with his decision. The next year, a new Constitution reiterated the fact that the Communist Party was the only legal political organization in the country. 

Sporadic protests erupted on the island. The government quickly and brutally suppressed these demonstrations. Corruption increased as well, most likely because of the one-party state declaration. Then, in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit. COVID-19 was hard on the tourist industry, which was expanding due to the aforementioned revised travel policy. 

Additionally, tensions remain over the American military presence in Cuba. The U.S. Navy first used Guantánamo Bay, which is on the southeast coast of Cuba, as a temporary shelter during the brief Spanish-American War. In 1903, Cuban President Tomás Estrada Palma gave the United States a perpetual Guantánamo Bay lease. Beginning in 1959, Fidel Castro stuffed the rent checks into a desk drawer. Some pundits have argued that the lease agreement is void, as it was a contract between unequals. 

In the 1990s, Gitmo was a processing center for Haitian refugees. In 2002, it became a terrorist detention camp. President Barack Obama ordered the camp’s closure in 2009. But it remains open because Congress has thus far refused to authorize the necessary funds.

Contractors in Guantánamo Bay

The many contractors in Guantánamo Bay walk a very thin line. No one really wants them there. But their primary duties, which involve security, dock operations, and construction, are unaffected.

Gitmo is isolated, but it is not that isolated. The unrest on the island could easily spread to the base, especially if protestors feel the need to redirect their anger because of the government crackdown. Many private military contractors are former law enforcement officers. These individuals know how to keep order without firing a shot. Diligent attention to duty on perimeter guard duty and a well-timed steely gaze at a checkpoint are often the most effective deterrence measures possible. Additionally, contractors help the non-military personnel at Guantánamo Bay, of which there are many, feel more secure.

Pretty much everything that comes to or leaves Gitmo is on a ship. Because of the longstanding American embargo, there are very few advanced construction machines, like large dock cranes, in Cuba. So, longshoremen are critical. The Division of Federal Employees, and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation is the division of the Department of Labor that administers the Defense Base Act. So, the presiding Administrative Law Judges are very familiar with the injury issues these individuals face. 

These injuries usually include trauma injuries, like falls, and occupational diseases, like repetitive stress injuries.

Construction and renovation are important contractor jobs as well. Following the Communist takeover in 1959, Americans at Guantánamo Bay usually tried to keep a low profile. Large-scale construction projects went to the backburner. The longer you put off construction projects, the more involved they become. 

Usually, contractors supervise construction crews. This middle management is usually the most important cog in the machine, when it comes to completing projects under budget and on time.

Injury Compensation Available

In terms of the benefits available, Defense Base Act compensation is a lot like workers’ compensation. Most injured contractors receive lost wage benefits and medical benefits. 

Lost wages benefits under the DBA vary depending on the nature and severity of the injury, as follows:

  • Permanent Total Disability: PTD victims are unable to function following their deployment-related illness or injury, even after they reach MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement). So, they often receive a wage replacement payment.
  • Permanent Partial Disability: These victims are in a similar place, except the disability only affects part of the body. Therefore, compensation might be slightly lower. Bear in mind that “disability” is not just a medical term. The word also has educational, vocational, and other implications.
  • Temporary Partial Disability: TPD victims can work as they recover, but they must work light duty jobs which are generally lower paying. So, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between their old and new average weekly wage.
  • Temporary Total Disability: Most DBA victims are in this category. They are unable to work until they fully recover. Therefore, they usually receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage until they get back to full strength.

In a few cases, determining a worker’s average weekly wage is just a matter of adding six months of paystubs and pressing the “divide” key. In most cases, the process is more complex. The AWW includes more than regular cash compensation. It also includes irregular compensation, like overtime and performance bonuses. Additionally, many contractors are injured shortly after they deploy. So, the prior six months of earnings are based on their old jobs. These victims deserve compensation for their current lost wages.

DBA benefits also include payment for reasonably necessary medical expenses. These costs include items like:

  • On-site emergency care at a field clinic,
  • Off-site emergency care at a regional hospital,
  • Stateside medical care,
  • Transportation between these locations, and
  • Physical or occupational therapy.

DBA victims can usually choose their own doctor. Many workers’ compensation claimants do not have this option.

For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.