Fallout Continues Over Government Violence in Cuba

Fallout Continues Over Government Violence in Cuba

Thousands of Cubans want cultural minister Alpidio Alonso to resign, after video surfaced of Alonso physically challenging peaceful protestors.

These protestors gathered to ask for the release of Tania Bruguera, an artist the government detained without much evidence. A few months earlier, Bruguera had led demonstrations which demanded more freedom of expression for artists who worked for the state. She and several others were placed under house arrest when negotiations broke down. The protests are not the only expressions of political frustration. A song written by Cuban exile Descemer Bueno calls on Cubans to cry out ya basta (enough is enough). The song, called Patria y Vida (Fatherland and Life), already has more than a half-million hits on YouTube.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), whose parents were Cuban immigrants, introduced a resolution on Capitol Hill expressing solidarity with the growing dissident movement.

Cuba and Guantanamo Bay

This slice of Cuba became a permanent American possession after the controversial Spanish-American War in 1898.

In the mid-1890s, Cuban rebels began trying to oust the Spanish from Cuba, an island they had colonized in Columbus’ days. Reports of brutal Spanish retaliatory acts, which may or may not have been accurate, soon appeared in U.S. newspapers. As a show of force, the Americans sent the battleship Maine to Havana. After several days, a mysterious explosion destroyed the Maine, killing a number of sailors. An investigatory body determined that a Spanish mine was responsible, although there was little evidence to support this conclusion.

Nevertheless, that was all the pretext the Americans needed to declare war on the decaying Spanish Empire. In just a few weeks of one-sided fighting, the U.S. seized Cuba, the Philippines, and other overseas possessions.

Apropos of nothing, these seizures gave rise to the so-called Insular Cases, a series of cases in which the Supreme Court considered the legal status of island inhabitants. The Justices ruled that, since these territories would never become states, the inhabitants were essentially second-class citizens. The Insular Cases would have an enormous impact on racial laws, both in the United States and abroad.

Back to Cuba. Since the United States ostensibly fought a war to free Cuba, it would not do to keep the entire island. So, the Americans settled for Guantanamo Bay, a strategic area in easter Cuba. In exchange for the right to maintain a military base there “for as long as necessary,” the U.S. agreed to pay Cuba a modest yearly sum. During the Castro years, the Americans sent checks faithfully, but the Cubans never cashed them.

Now, the Cold War is over and so is the threat of armed conflict. But political instability in Cuba impacts everyone who lives there, including the Americans at Guantanamo Bay. So, it is still a dangerous place for the private military contractors who live and work there.

Contractors in Guantanamo

Base security, non-combat support, and construction work are the three major contractor activities areas at Guantanamo Bay. They are also three of the most dangerous activities that contractors undertake.

Base security is essentially the jobs which even MPs do not like. Contractors often station roadside checkpoints and patrol the so-called Cactus Curtain. The Cuban military built this organic Berlin Wall in the early 1960s to discourage Cuban dissidents from taking refuge with the Americans. It serves little purpose today. But it still represents a significant injury threat, to contractors and non-contractors alike.

Non-combat support roles include jobs like mechanic, cook, and morale officer. The world’s most sophisticated weapons and electronics are aboard the Navy ships docked at Guantanamo Bay. Someone must maintain these systems. Cooks are essential, as well. No one wants to eat MREs three times a day. Furthermore, Guantanamo is so isolated that keeping morale up is often a problem. Morale officers must come up with creative ways to boost sagging spirits.

Finally, Navy bases all around the world are constantly under construction. Most of Guantanamo’s aging facilities were built during the Cold War. Docks, barracks, and pretty much everything else all need continual upgrades.

These repetitive duties sound rather mundane. They also create the possibility of repetitive stress and other such injuries. Additionally, trauma injuries, like falls and motor vehicle crashes, are also rather common here.

Injury Compensation Available

The procedure for both trauma injuries and occupational diseases, like repetitive stress disorder, is basically the same. If contractors are injured overseas, regardless of their job duties, the Defense Base Act replaces lost wages and pays medical expenses.

Initially, victims have a duty to immediately report their injuries. This report must be in writing, which means an email might or might not be sufficient.

This requirement is not a problem for broken bones and other trauma injuries. Occupational diseases are different. Hearing loss is a good example.

This injury, which is usually associated with aircraft and combat noise, is also common in other military installations. Prolonged exposure to sounds not much louder than a busy street corner could cause permanent hearing loss.

Most people do not run to the base doctor the moment they have trouble hearing dialogue on TV. So, their injuries are usually quite serious by the time they seek treatment. Typically, insurance companies cannot use this delay as an excuse to reduce or deny compensation. However, it’s necessary for an attorney to advocate for victims in these situations.

Several weeks later, a mediator usually reviews the medical bills and other paperwork in the case. Then, the mediator meets with both sides at a settlement conference. Occasionally, the mediator is able to help the parties reach an agreement. Most claims, however, go up to the next level.

That level is a trial-like hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. At this hearing, attorneys can make legal arguments, introduce evidence, and challenge evidence. So, victims have an excellent chance of obtaining fair compensation.

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