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

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

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

  • 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.

  • I agree with you Eden, the imposition of communist dictate has prevented Cuban tradespeople from acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary for modern large constructions. They are in consequence condemned to be only available as labourers. Another difficulty is that because they are paid so little they are accustomed to purloining materials – cement being a favourite, for sale on the mercado negra to eke out a living. That is illustrated by for example, new sidewalks which crumble within two years of construction.
    We have however found local tradesmen who can do excellent domestic work – kitchens, staircases, furniture (from re-cycled wood and glass) etc. The inabilities which you recognize are not a consequence of ignorance, but of lack of opportunity.

  • If Israel possesses nuclear bombs – which you nidal obviously consider to be the case, then all their prime ministers including Sharon have demonstrated restraint. Fidel Castro did not demonstrate restraint, but naked aggressive purpose by urging a first nuclear strike against the US. That is the difference.

  • That’s the issue Ann, there is no pool of skilled Cuban tradespeople who can work at international standards.

  • “… I find it hard to believe that on the island of Cuba their are not enough qualified Cuban tradesmen available to carry out this work!…”

    I find it hard to believe that you imagine that there are lots of qualified Cuban tradesmen on the island.

    Pray tell… where were they schooled? Where are they working now to hone their skills? Where in Cuba is there mass construction and renovation happening where all these imaginary Cuban tradesmen are working right now? Where are they all hiding?!?!

  • False premise
    If I am living next to the biggest bully on this planet I will take every precaution to defend myself .
    What about the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon how come none of you complained about him being in control of nuclear bombs .
    Where  does it say that only westerners can be trusted with nuclear bombs after all the United States of America was the only one to use it for no other reason then to say we have it .
    Attitudes and understandings are different in the past then today , MacArthur in Korea wanted to use nuclear bombs the same way he would have used a hand grenades , he wanted to bomb China.
    Try to imagine the mess that he would have created , so please read your history and stop blaming Fidel Castro for everything .
    Fidel Castro saved his people from a whole lot of problems similar to what United States inflicted on Central and South America all those years , hundreds of thousands died on the hands of American politics and Ronald Reagan’s god-given freedom .

  • If nidal you are seeking precedent and support for your view, Nikita Kruschchev fortunately kept the Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba under Russian control. If Fidel had been in charge, there would have been a nuclear strike upon the US – but he of necessity had to seek Kruschchev’s help and did so in his cable of October 27th, 1962.

  • Try and imagine the following ,
    A Russian company that deals with space exploration and satellite delivery decides to build a facilities in Cuba to service the American Market with satellite launching systems , can any of you imagine the amount of talent and labor that would be needed to get this kind of job done , how much local talent is available and how much has to be imported in order to build such a project .

  • Damned if you do and damned if you don’t ,
    There is such thing as integration , sooner or later  Cuban Society would have to integrate with the rest of Humanity on a different level then what existed before , Nothing is for free in this life , it is more than just money at stake in such situation , sooner or later many different expertise that do not exist in Cuban Society would have to be imported such as scientists , teachers , instructors, this exercise in importing foreign labor is a minimum investment for the system to comprehend such situation and develop policies ,
    Chinese company we’re the ones who built the light rail system in Mecca Saudi Arabia , since only Muslims could enter the holy city of Mecca Chinese workers converted to Islam  , in other words  the Chinese are extremely  tuned to local cultures  and do whatever has to be done to get the job  completed focusing on the job and that’s it nothing else .
    In the past such contracts would have most likely gone to the Americans which mean more politics then what the job requires ,
    If this job in Cuba was carried out by an American company they would have to get the approval of a useless US Congress before they could do anything ,
    I think that this opportunity should be taken as an education to the Cuban society and government ,
    I was in the automotive business , every single year I had to attend  at least 8 different courses on what’s going to happen next in the industry , this is the future you need to get the information from wherever and whomever is willing to provide it ,
    With this influx of labor other issues arise such as marriage , immigration , fathering children and so many other issues , the way I see it the Cuban government is getting maximum experience at an absolute minimum cost ,
    we have to keep in mind an inhumane cruel embargo that denied an entire country and a whole  Society the right to evolve and progress with the rest of humanity ,

  • I find it hard to believe that on the island of Cuba their are not enough qualified Cuban tradesmen available to carry out this work! or do I smell corrupt officials afoot here making some dirty dollars on the side at the expense of his/her countryman?

  • Unfortunately Cuban workers are nowhere near international standards. They are not competent regarding modern construction procedures.

    This is true with almost all trades thus making foreign workers crucial to support foreign investment. It’s the same with other industries as well, for example the key crew of Fast & Furious was almost all foreign too, etc.

  • You are so right on. In Cuba today the worker born in Cuba makes much less than the foreign company pays. Most workers in India make much less than stated above. Some contactors from Canada two years ago asked the Cuban government permission under strict controls to bring some Cuban workers to Canada for 8 months with one third of the wages going to the Cuban government, one third for living and taxes in Canada and the other third for tools and other basic items to take back to Cuba for their use. This was turned flat by the Cuban government. I have seen young Cubans in the US. do heavy truck repairs outside and do them right. Many companies including mine bring workers in from India. I do it because I only need some staff for 8 or 9 months per year that way I can keep my other workers on year round basis. The foreign workers will work 6 days a week as needed and it is seen as good way to learn better skills(ex. one local driver one foreign driver in the same truck) and English.

  • Mr. Nikas you make one simple assumption which is however significant and displays a lack of knowledge about Cuba. You write:
    “a country such as Cuba that is emerging from a socialist/communist economic system”
    As demonstrated at the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, there is no intention by the Castro regime to permit change from such a system.
    How does one build a qualified work force when the amount that the workers are paid is not determined by the company, but by the regime? Additional payments can be defined as “corruption” and company directors jailed.
    The concept of paying “incentives” is not acceptable to the Castro regime. Would that it were!
    Cuba isn’t ‘open for business’ as we in the western world define it.
    You end by saying quite logically, that the Cuban government should adopt the model you adumbrate. No such luck!

  • They are not up to international standards, tools use, procedures, etc. It is a third world country with a communist technology inheritance.

  • The government has enough highly skilled Cuba workers on tap to carry out all of the construction and engineering work required. Have faith in your own peoples capabilities Mr Castro please do not sell your people short.!

  • I have over 30years of international construction contracting experience and have read similar articles in many countries. When coming to a country such as Cuba that is emerging from a socialist/communist economic system and where their economic sustainability has not met world standards we were faced with two issues – qualified workforce and ways to incentivize workers to perform and eliminate property loss.

    Our solution was twofold.

    To build a qualified work force, on the first six months of say a one-two year project, we brought foreign skilled labor. For every foreign laborer, we hired one local person who would be an “apprentice” to the foreign one. The local person would be paid 50% of the foreign one during the 6 month apprentice/work
    period. After the six month period, all or those that performed well were “certified” in their field (electrical, mechanical, etc.) and replaced the foreign labor and were given the same full salary of the departed labor. We now had built a trained and certified local force to complete the project and were available for future projects.

    Secondly, we replicated the model used by foreign contractors when hiring foreign (non local) workers. The reason you see high performance often under poor conditions is that the foreign workers are given “incentive bonuses” to complete the project on time and even larger bonuses for early completion. As a contractor, delays and their ensuing penalties can be crippling. Therefore, we made sure that the same incentives were given to our newly trained and working local labor.

    This system of contractor given free training and salary, full salary upon completion of training and bonus incentives instituted loyalty and commitment, a reduction if not elimination of property loss and a new found work ethic that became a success story in each of our projects.

    This is a model that the Cuban government should include in its negociations for all future projects.

    Basil Nikas
    Washington, DC

  • Disgusting!!!!!! No blame on the Indian workers …. But use the hard working Cuban workers who are more than capable of doing the same work……

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