Foreign Construction Workers in Cuba

Why is the Cuban government importing skilled workers for jobs that Cuban residents could do?

By Cubaencuentro

The Manzano de Gomez building before the reconstruction began.

HAVANA TIMES — In an interview architect Alexander Machado Garcia, director of Investments at the Cuban Ministry of Economy and Planning, pointed out:

“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.

A drawing projection of the Manzano de Gomez Hotel from
A projection of the Manzano de Gomez Hotel from

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 International (BBI).

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 government.

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.

Video of the Indian workers at the Manzano de Gomez Hotel in Havana from


19 thoughts on “Foreign Construction Workers in Cuba

  • March 14, 2019 at 4:04 am

    I need work permit job..
    I have 9 years experience in Singapore.. construction and mechanical..

  • April 21, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Casto doesn’t sell them cheap, he makes quite a bit off them!

  • September 7, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Tradesmen on domestic home renovation and tradesmen on commercial projects are indeed almost completely unrelated skill sets.

    Building a new kitchen or bathroom does not mean you’re qualified to work on building a new deep water port facility.

    The indignant people above are clueless as to what is necessary to support foreign investment.

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