Foreign Construction Workers in Cuba
September 3, 2016
Why is the Cuban government importing skilled workers for jobs that
Cuban residents could do?
HAVANA TIMES — In an interview architect Alexander Machado Garcia,
director of Investments at the Cuban Ministry of Economy and Planning,
“Along with favoring the participation of independent workers and
non-agricultural cooperatives, which made up 6% of the builders on last
year’s construction projects, today the figure has increased to 9%, with
the growth mainly in maintenance projects. Furthermore, foreign contract
workers are being introduced onto the scene in the current investment
project at Santiago de Cuba’s Port.”
Foreign contractors who work in Cuba made the news recently when their
pictures appeared in newspapers around the world, while they were
working at the Manzana de Gomez Hotel projet in the heart of Havana.
However, the presence of foreign builders in such projects isn’t just a
simple anecdote or the headline of a newspaper.
“Currently, we have 352 [foreign workers] hired and working not only on
the Manzana Hotel project but on other construction sites here in the
capital and in Varadero too. (…) By the end of this year, this figure
should increase to about 1100, nearly 1300 in total, where there will
also be approximately 200 Chinese workers working on electrical and
swimming pool installations. (…) There are other foreign workers but in
the technical advice side of things, and theyre not treated the same as
the Indians and Chinese. (…) The minimum salary is $1,500 USD a month,
and the highest is $2,500 USD, plus work clothes, food, healthcare,
transfers and accommodations,” an employee affirmed in line with the
findings of the article published.
The expansion project at Santiago de Cuba’s port, which is estimated to
take three years with 100 million USD in investment, carried out by the
Cuban government and a Chinese company, aims to develop a 230 meter
loading dock, with the capacity for allowing boats carrying up to 55,000
tonnes to dock, as well as warehouses and support infrastructure. Once
this construction project is completed, Santiago de Cuba will have the
country’s second deepwater port. Building this project has been possible
thanks to a loan from the Chinese company, according to an agreement
signed by Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in 2014.
Many factors have come into play and contributed to the fact that Cuba
is resorting to hiring foreign workers to carry out these different
projects. When they have to give explanations, they repeat that this
decision has been made by the foreign investors, which is now permitted
under the new investment law, which favors contracting foreign workers.
Since investment figures and contributions of the parties always remain
hazy in Cuba, any analysis is in fact speculation to a great extent,
however, by placing this decision in foreign hands, under the principle
that whoever is paying, gives the orders, and doesn’t always match
what’s going on in reality.
It’s possible that in the case of the Santiago de Cuba project, the
Chinese company is following the common plan of action that they’ve
implemented in their investments found in other parts of the world,
including Chinese citizens in their construction projects. However, with
regard to the well-known Manzana de Gomez project, the Cuban military
consortium GAESA is responsible for financing this project, which has
entrusted this work to the construction companies Union de
Construcciones Militares (UCM) and the French company Bouygues Batiment
It was the French company that brought in the Indian workers, which
appear to also be working in Varadero, and they’re even planning on
increasing this figure, all of this in mutual agreement with the Cuban
In the case of the Manzana de Gomez hotel, this decision has been taken
so as to resolve problems with delays, robberies and poor quality work
[from Cuban employees]. It must be seen as an example of the chaos and
inefficiency of today’s Cuban economy, whose causes are both political
and ideological, but also includes others. What lies behind this
initiative to look abroad for what we should have in Cuba not only shows
great disdain for the Cuban people, but also the widespread inability to
find solutions to problems.
First of all, you have to define the context of this situation. Any of
these Indian workers is earning up to ten times more than what a Cuban
gets paid for doing the same job. However, that doesn’t mean to say that
there aren’t plumbers, carpenters and construction workers in Cuba who
earn more than the Indians. The only thing you need to do in order to do
this is work in the private sector.
This is nothing more than a policy of burying the state productive
sector’s head in the sand, as there are no legal means to pay higher
salaries and the State – that is to say, the bureaucrats who
administrate it- are unable to go one step further and open their minds
to something that goes beyond the almost feudal mentality they have.
Meanwhile, this kind of primitive exploitation encourages the
development of not only bad working habits but criminal behavior at the
same time. And therefore, robbery, mistakes and a lack of productivity
are the by-products of the absence of motivation. It’s impossible to
think that there aren’t any good Cuban builders on the island when
Cubans make excellent builders across the entire world.
In allowing foreign construction workers in Cuba, who receive many times
better salaries than Cuban workers themselves do, the Cuban government
is reversing the age-old mechanism of exploitation, whereby a workforce
capable of doing the same work for less money is brought from, or simply
attracted, from overseas. Therefore, Cuba converts itself into a kind of
enigma – or a perfect hell – for somebody like Donald Trump.
We mustn’t forget that, in the case of the Manzana de Gomez hotel, the
Cuban State is the investor. So, the Cuban government prefers to pay
foreigners better so they can carry on paying their citizens poorly.
However, all of this has a simple explanation and that’s the fact that
our economy is constantly being subordinated to politics, which
continues to endure, despite Raul Castro’s government’s supposed airs of
change. And another unfortunate conclusion, for those who rule in
Havana, Cubans continue to be the last cards in the deck.
Source: Foreign Construction Workers in Cuba – Havana Times.org –