Working in Cuba
May 11-17 saw Ronin Rescue deploy staff to Cuba to teach material handling courses consisting of;
- ER Guide book,
- Transportation of Dangerous Goods, along with the IMDG code usage for maritime shipping of DG and the IATA DG regulations for aviation.
The host was a Canadian international company and the course was located in Guasimas, Varadero Cuba.
Below are some points of observation…
Once the job was secured, the client coordinated all of the required documentation. An application for work visa was sent to us to be filled out prior to our first trip a year ago. For this trip, the client had all the required personal info to request the visa. The visa was sent directly to the Ronin staff member prior to departure. We reviewed medical, political and travel advisories prior to departure. Many businesses in Cuba now require contractors to carry medical and repatriation insurance. As well, letter identifying that you are working for the client or company hired by the client is an ace in the hole as Customs may request to see it. (It hasn’t happened yet, but may change with different clients.)
As with any tropical third world country staff should be healthy, willing to learn the language (Spanish) and adaptable… understanding of “island time”. Staff capable of resourcefulness, diplomacy and patience should be deployed.
- MEDIUM MEDICAL RISK
- LOW TRAVEL RISK
- MEDICAL CARE: Good, High standard, especially in major cities.
- FOOD AND WATER: Unsafe. The tap water is unsafe to drink. Food in good quality restaurants and hotels is usually safe.
- VACCINATIONS: Routine and specific. Ensure all routine vaccinations are up-to-date. Specific vaccinations may be recommended before travel.
- MALARIA: None
- RABIES: High risk. Consider vaccination before travel. If scratched or bitten by an animal, seek medical advice.
- PERSONAL SAFETY: Generally safe; some petty crime in urban areas, especially at night.
- UNREST / CONFLICT: STABLE Occasional peaceful rallies / demonstrations.
- TERRORISM: Terrorism rare. Terrorist attacks are rare (Although they just arrested 4 Cubano/Americans in country trying to attack Military installations in April this year)
- TRANSPORT: Variable reliability. Some types of transport are reliable, others not.
- NATURAL HAZARDS: Seasonal disruption. Seasonal weather conditions may affect travel. June is the beginning of Hurricane season
- CULTURAL ISSUES: Social Consequences. Lack of cultural awareness may inhibit social and business interaction.
There seems to be the standard Caribbean levels of authority. Your first contact disembarking is the “Audenas” – the Customs agents. Prior to landing, you will be asked to fill out a customs declaration and you will be given an entry visa. DO NOT USE the entry visa you are given on the aircraft. You should already have the work visa that was sent to your residence by the client.
The flight attendants will insist you take the card as they have to give them to every passenger. Take it and tuck it on your person so it does not get mixed up with the work one. You will also be given a customs declaration, and a white form that is meant for Cuban nationals… just take it and present it at the port of entry booth. If you don’t have proof of insurance (medical/repatriation), they can turn you back to purchase it from a customs agent sat at a table in a corner. I’m not sure what it costs or how good it would be…..
The military is always somewhere in the background. Remember… EVERYONE does national service here; even though there is a new era in Cuba, the government finds out if there is perceived favoritism on the worksite. (If you give to one; you give to all) They seem to emphasize this to all foreign companies. The roads have “Policia” scattered all along them with motorcycles and or cars. They are changing to European style License plates. This is to facilitate using plate scanners at the checkpoint to monitor travel patterns. They also have some formal checkpoints where sometimes nothing happens and others they seem to randomly stop vehicles. The company vehicles you travel in seem to be handled with courtesy, I suppose they like the influx of money in the barrios.
You will also see the “Patrollo Costa” and they may pop up anywhere in the coastal towns.
Each compound Hotel and Mercado has some sort of private security checkpoint. The attitude is very nonchalant; a nod of the head and “Hola” is all that usually happens.
Making Initial Contact
After immigration, collecting your luggage and handing your declaration to the customs checkpoint #2 you will either be let out to the front of the airport parking, or be sent for luggage inspection. I have not been bothered so far, but the info from the client states; “play the game; you may have to pay a Fee”.
The client coordinated all ground transport; the ex-pats however have their own vehicles once they get to the Hotel. When there, I was always picked up by a National from the driver pool, or given a ride from one of the Ex-pats. Recreational movement is by Taxi. There are 3 basic types; CoCo (they look like lemons on three wheels), Classics, They are 55 Chevy’s or Model T look-alikes, or New Kia’s or Russian Ladas. If you get to know a waiter/waitress, they may have a regular that will give you a fair deal to where you want to go. Scooters are also available, but they injure or kill a Turista a month. Be careful/ discreet taking pictures/videos; know what you are pointing at, and ask a trusted source. You may be “detained” to ask why you are taking pictures.
No GPS enabled units are allowed by the Government. Although there is a new wave of cell phones there, the government states that any electronic device may be confiscated at any time. A SPOT/ PLB device would draw attention. Sat phones would be confiscated. Be aware they X-ray your bags (carry on and checked, on the way IN to the country). Although there are “Farmacias” around the country, it is best if you take any small antibiotics, Ibuprofen, ASA, etc in with you. You can always leave it for a clinic or a colleague.
Standard Caribbean kit: First aid, Small personal emergency kit if in Hurricane season. Flashlight (Brown outs are not unusual, day and night). Quick dry light clothing (if in somewhat a “diplomatic” role, casual evening clothes if invited to personal residences). This on top of whatever operational kit is required, plus spare parts; no such thing as overnight delivery. Contingency is what gets the job done.
Cubans speak Caribbean Spanish. It takes from Spain, Portugal and Mexico. (i.e.: You’re not a “Gringo”, you’re a “Yuma”) Many that work in the hospitality industry also speak German, Russian and some Chinese. The more you try to speak Spanish, the more they try to help you. But don’t just nod and smile; if you don’t understand ask in English. There are good pages on the net to get some basic phrases from.
Cuba is the melting pot of the Caribbean, it has many European, African, Chinese and North American influences (along with a communist paradigm). They are very resourceful and well educated (as education is free inclusive of university). They love Baseball, Boxing and enjoy other sports. They have pride in ownership of their vehicles, whatever the age and keep them running with whatever they get their hands on. When Canadian companies start up projects there and they get handed over, the Government doesn’t work well with the concept of preventive maintenance. (A fully operational commercial greenhouse was “gifted” to a city to provide fruit and vegetables to the area from a Canadian company and it was inoperable after 3-4 years)
Adult education is done with intensity; if they think your course is valid. Discussions can be very animated and at a high volume. It’s just how they communicate. Debate is encouraged. You may get an understanding of your point but concession is rare. If you have teams doing the same task/skill they are very competitive (This is the land of Machismo).
Quite safe as long as you don’t:
- Talk politics
- Talk revolution
- Disparage the Government
- Flash bling around (leave that to the Jinteros)
Make sure to:
- Acclimatize to the heat & humidity
- Attempt Spanish no matter how bad you sound
- Take small gifts for translators/ maids
- Make sure you have enough swag for all in your classes
- Start to like hot sweet coffee
- Minor corruption is everywhere; use it cautiously if at all, because it can bite you
- For Good or Bad; Cubans remember you…even after a long time away