Cuba Helps US Navy Find Way to Pay Gitmo Retirees

The Navy has secured a solution to the problem of how to pay some $45,000 a month in pensions due to 67 elderly Cubans who once worked as day laborers at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale would not describe how the money would be delivered to the former Navy base workers, elderly Cubans who once commuted from the Cuban side of the minefields to the U.S. Navy base for such jobs as welders, machinists and bookkeepers.

But he said the U.S. and Cuban governments had found a fix to ensure that "we won't skip" the January payouts of pensions to the Guantanamo retirees.

"Cuban officials have agreed to a workable, interim mechanism," Breasseale said by email, declining to specify how the transfers would be made.

The issue came to a head last month with the retirements of Harry Henry, 82, and Luis La Rosa, 79 -- the last two "commuters" who on weekdays came through Cuban and U.S. military checkpoints to work, respectively, in a Navy base office supply depot and at the motor pool.

The two men had powers of attorney for 65 other retirees, would cash their checks and then deliver their funds in the course of their commute.

Wiring the funds to the pensioners in Cuba was never permitted under the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, so the courier system was developed as a legal workaround.

Now with their retirement, some 67 former base workers will receive pensions this month through the mechanism that Breasseale would not describe. The colonel was unable to provide a precise total for the January 2013 payout. But he said last month's pension payout to the 65 retirees totaled $44,508.53, or an average of $684 each.

Thousands of Cuban laborers once commuted to the base each day, but the numbers dwindled after Fidel Castro took power and ordered the U.S. to evacuate the base. The Navy stayed and the two sides agreed that pre-revolutionary laborers were able to keep coming under an agreement that covered the base's legacy employees but allowed no new hires.

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