A year after massive protests sparked a brutal crackdown, the Cuban coast guard says it has engaged in repeated firefights with U.S. speedboats trying to pick up disaffected people on the troubled island nation.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said its coast guard units had intercepted 13 speedboats from the U.S. entering Cuban waters this year, with 23 crew members. These stops often involved violent confrontations. “Recently situations of greater violence and aggressiveness have occurred, with the use of firearms” against Cuban coast guard units, the ministry said.
One such incident involved a Dakota speedboat with a Florida registration number west of Havana. The ensuing firefight killed one person aboard the speedboat. In another stop, people aboard a speedboat near Cayo Fragoso off the central Cuban province of Villa Clara opened fire with an automatic weapon at close range, wounding one Cuban officer, and then fled to the north as Cubans evacuated the wounded man for treatment.
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported finding about 140,000 Cuban migrants between October last year and the end of May, a number that surpassed the so-called Mariel exodus of 1980, when 125,000 islanders reached the U.S.
July 2021 Protests
When the Cold War ended in 1991, many Communist countries almost immediately joined the free world. The first real breath of freedom in Cuba did not come for another 20 years.
On July 11, 2021, frustration over medicine and food shortages, as well as the government’s response to a new COVID-19 outbreak, demonstrators spilled into the streets of Havana and a nearby rural province, singing songs and chanting slogans. In response, Cuban president and First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Cane blamed the U.S. embargo for the country’s problems, branded the demonstrators as counter-revolutionaries, and ordered a violent response. Police and their revolutionary allies clashed with demonstrators on and off for the rest of the day.
Protests continued for the next month. Summing them up, one observer remarked “This is pretty massive. My sense is that this is a combination of social unrest based on a lack of freedoms, and covid, and economic conditions. The lack of access to electricity. The blackouts. … People are screaming for freedom.”
In response, the Cuban government arrested over 700 people, pressing charges like sedition, vandalism, theft, and public disorder. Many of these individuals were artists, and many were minors. Now, confusion reigns. Roughly 175 people have supposedly gone missing, including dissident and Patriotic Union of Cuba executive secretary José Daniel Ferrer, dissident rap singer Luis Manuel Otero, and dissident and human rights activist Guillermo Fariñas. Making matters worse, a number of media groups published photos of pro-government protestors and captioned them as snit-government protestors. As a result, the Cuban government again blamed “a Twitter campaign orchestrated by the United States” for the unrest. Most people agree that the U.S. had a hand in the protests, but the government exaggerates.
How These Protests Affect Contractors in Guantanamo Bay
Basically, Guantanamo Bay is to Cuba what Miami is to Florida. Events in Florida (or Cuba) usually affect events in Miami (or Guantanamo Bay).
The renewed anti-American rhetoric is concerning for people in Guantanamo Bay. Basically, the Cuban government implied that if protests and counter-protests spilled over to American installations, the government would look the other way. So, people who live and work in Guantanamo Bay feel even more isolated.
Security becomes more of an issue in such environments. People cannot do their jobs if they are looking over their shoulders. Perimeter guards need to be extra sharp, and checkpoint guards need to inspect vehicles extra closely. These guards must also have sufficient firepower to convince would-be terrorists and sabateurs that they should reevaluate their plans.
At the same time, everyone is on edge. A trigger-happy guard could inflict a lot more damage than a Molotov cocktail or a rock. In other words, discipline is key.
Only private military contractors have the right combination of commitment, intimidation, and discipline.
Many regular servicemembers, especially those who are not happy about being stationed in Cuba in the first place, do not have a good attitude about guard duty. For them, such assignments are thankless chores. But for contractors, it is what they do. As for intimidation, if you look at a contractor and a regular servicemember, you typically cannot tell the difference. The same fear factor is present. Finally, contractors are well-disciplined. They are not shadowy French Foreign Legion fighters or reckless Wagner Group mercenaries.
One reason servicemembers may not be happy about a Guantanamo Bay assignment is that the base is on the chopping block. Former President Barack Obama tried to shut it down, but Congress blocked his efforts. No one wants to work temporary jobs, or accept temporary deployments, if they can help it.
For contractors, temporary is par for the course. Contractors move in, do their jobs, and then move on.
Additionally, since it looks like the base will be there a while longer, construction contractors are busy renovating the base’s facilities, many of which date back to the Cold War and even earlier. Since the environment is so uncertain, the DoD wants to make its soldiers as comfortable as possible, and give them as much support as possible.
Injury Compensation Available
Trauma injuries, like falls and motor vehicle crash injuries, are the greatest injury risks for security contractors. In the United States, work-related falls are the leading cause of missed work days. Motor vehicle collisions often cause several kinds of severe injuries, such as broken bones, head injuries, and internal bleeding.
As a side note, the medical facilities at Guantanamo Bay are little more than first aid stations. Trauma injury victims usually must be flown stateside to receive effective treatment. Such evacuation is quite expensive.
Occupational diseases, like repetitive stress injuries and toxic exposure illnesses, are the greatest injury risks for construction contractors. These individuals almost constantly kneel, bend, stretch, and stoop. These joints can only take so much wear and tear before they break down. As for toxic exposure, asbestos was commonly used in buildings until the late Cold War period. A single microscopic fiber could cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of heart-lung cancer, and other serious illnesses.
Usually, a Defense Base Act insurance company directly pays all the medical bills reasonably necessary for the treatment of these injuries and diseases. Victims are not financially responsible for any unpaid charges.
The Defense Base Act also guarantees lost wage replacement. Most injured victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wages for the duration of their temporary disabilities.
For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.