More than Twenty Former Cuban Employees of U.S. Embassy Apply to Emigrate

The US Embassy in Havana is issuing visas for some of its Cuban employees in light of exceptional circumstances. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, September 7, 2023 — It started off as a minor cough that later turned thunderous. Ibrahím was not moving. His family shook him several times but a bluish color spread across his face. This summer, at the age of 67, the bricklayer died. It had been just a month since he had received a tentative diagnosis of lung cancer after having spent more than a decade working on what was then known as the U.S. Interests Section.*

After shedding their tears at a hasty funeral, Ibrahím’s family tried to find answers for the cause of his illness. The doctor who treated him first blamed his lung problems on smoking but then came to a different conclusion. “Had his work involved longterm exposure to cement?” the doctor asked. A decade spent on construction brigades in the 1980s and almost twenty years making repairs to the Interests Section turned out the be the cause.

“His work killed him,” the doctor decided. However, that was all water under the bridge to his family, who once benefited from Ibrahím being a maintenance man hired by the state contracting agency Cubalse to work on what is now the United States Embassy in Havana. How would they be compensated for their loss? The response did not come in the form of money but rather as a visa to emigrate.

He won’t be able to enjoy seeing his grandchildren grow up in the ’land of liberty’ even though they owe it all to him.

More than twenty former Cuban employees and their families are on an embassy waiting list for an immigration visa. Their status as former embassy personnel allows them to apply for the visa, which will then allow them to reside in the United States, due to exceptional circumstances.

“He first worked on government projects and later at the Interests Section,” says Ibrahím’s brother. “Those were the days when people weren’t aware and didn’t have the information they should have had to stay safe. They didn’t have gloves, goggles or anything to keep them from inhaling the dust. He didn’t even know he was sick until he started coughing right before he died.”

“Of course, when he started working at the Interests Section, he talked about how great it was. Even though they had a foreman from the Cuban company who kept a close eye on them and treated them badly, he said he had never felt better,” the brother adds. “The lunches, the benefits they got, the attention to the staff. He even went on vacation to Florida a couple of times with his family… “At that time, he had no plans to emigrate, so he died here.”

A few weeks ago Ibrahím’s family filled out the U.S. immigration paperwork, extolling his dedication to his work at the embassy. The process is going smoothly. His children are already liquidating their properties in Cuba because they believe their visa applications will soon be approved. “He won’t be able to enjoy seeing his grandchildren grow up in the ’land of liberty’ even though they owe it all to him,” his brother adds.

At least two other bricklayers from Ibrahím’s crew are going through the same process. One of them, who was employed by Cuba State Security in the early 2000s, has applied for a residency visa. His history is somewhat different from Ibrahím’s.

An active Communist Party member until a few years ago, René (his name has been changed for this article) played both sides for a long time. While working as a security guard at what is now the U.S. Embassy, he was also part of a hardcore band the ideological extremists in his neighborhood.

While working as a security guard at what is now the U.S. Embassy, he was also part of a hardcore band the ideological extremists in his neighborhood.

He was responsible for everything from organizing acts of repudiation against government critics to preventing the national phone company, Etecsa, from installing landlines in the homes of dissidents. “He was a true believer until his kids left for the U.S.,” ironically notes a neighbor whom René reported for buying goods on the black market.

The list of those who fell victim to his denunciations and his extremism grew long. They now watch with astonishment as he sells off his properties and prepares to “jump the puddle.” As for his Communist Party activities, he no longer talks about them and no one knows what he wrote on his visa application when asked about his ties to the Cuban regime.

He gets encouragement from his friend and former colleague Ñico, now on the other side of the pond, who rose through the ranks until he came to work directly for senior American diplomats in their official residence. It was like a game of mirrors. Everyone knew that he might very well be an informant. But at the same time his job was to be a trusted employee, whether it involved serving coffee or being present during conversations between an American diplomat and a Cuban official or dissident.

Now living in West Palm Beach with his entire family, Ñico likes to give advice to his old colleagues, according to one of them. “Don’t worry,” he tells René. “It’s not a gift. You’re entitled to it because you worked for the Americans.” Laughing, they ask themselves, what embassy employees would be willing to work for the Cubans? There are only two options, says Ñico: “Those who don’t last long in the job because what they really want is to emigrate, and those looking for lifetime security by finding out what’s going on inside but who are bad bricklayers.”

*Translator’s note: The de facto American embassy during the years when the U.S. and Cuba did not have diplomatic relations. Though housed in the former and current American embassy and staffed by U.S. State Department personnel, it operated under the protection of the Swiss embassy.


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