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Mar 30, 2001

Cuban built houses sprout at mile 8

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If you haven’t been out on the Western Highway in the last month or so you will have missed a radical transformation in the landscape around mile eight. Where once stood only scattered trees and overgrown grass, the makings of a new community are taking shape. Jose Sanchez reports.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

The houses are being constructed by an energetic corps of Cuban construction workers. Minister of Housing, Dickie Bradley says that it is an initiative of cooperation that emerged after last year’s hurricane Keith.

Dickie Bradley, Minister of Housing

“The Republic of Cuba in fact offered to assist in what they can do in the area of housing. We readily accepted any assistance we can get following the damage to many houses in Belize City and elsewhere, San Pedro and Caye Caulker suffered most of the damages house wise. As a result we agreed that since Cuba is unable to send financial assistance to the people and government of Belize, in fact they would send a small team of workers, trained construction workers to Belize and assist in the areas of building a number of houses.”

And since December 1st, fifty Cuban construction workers have been working diligently to complete sixty houses in six months. Site engineer, Jesus Basaco says that building all the houses in time is not a difficult task.

Jesus Basaco, Engineer

“In the first place because the ISAU construction system is a very uncomplicated system, we are experienced in this type of work. It’s a Cuban system, prefabricated using poured cement with pre-fabricated walls. The roofs and the whole system of construction is simple and fast. The Cuban employees are very hard working and dedicated. We don’t waste time and so we can build in record time. That’s why we have advanced and we will complete the task.”

At least five men are designated to work on building each house. The work unit includes two masons, one carpenter, one plumber and one electrician. Assisting Basaco in overseeing the everyday tasks are two Foremen, Evaristo Tejera and Pedro Castillo.

Evaristo Tejera, Foreman

“My job is to inspect the works and to ensure that the work is of the best quality and that the work is done quickly, maximizing our time to the best. The difference is that this system is a Cuban system and is the same that we use over there. The interior blocks are also the same.”

Pedro Castillo, Foreman

“I make sure the quality of the work and the executing of the work is done in time and see that the men do the best possible job. We have a very good work ethic with men who know their work well. They are well trained and each man can do about three tasks. They work from Monday to Saturday to complete the agreement between Belize and Cuba, six months and sixty houses.”

“In Dangriga we have two technicians instructing Belizeans on building methods. We are here through the Ministry of Housing, we were asked to go to Dangriga and lend assistance on how to construct with the CUBEL method.”

Dickie Bradley

“In the process of building those houses they would train Belizean workers as well in order for more of our contractors and our workers and potential workers. There is a training programme attached to that assistance where they will be better able to handle the CUBEL technology in putting up houses. So you’ll see that there are thirty houses¼thirty in Burrel Boom and there will be that training component to the programme.”

By working a six-day week, the men build a house in twenty to twenty-five days. Though they experience some of Belize’s beauty on their days off, their thoughts still linger to Cuba.

Evaristo Tejera

“I miss Cuba and my family, my work place, my neighbors and my wife. I miss them¼the beautiful Cuban women, beautiful women in Belize too.”

Juan Barrios, Cuban worker

“There is a committee of solidarity of Cuba and Belize. We play softball and visit parts of the country. We miss our family and our country, but nothing has been inconvenient.”

Jesus Basaco

“In the beginning we felt a bit strange like strangers. It’s the first time we’ve left Cuba, we are accustomed to this living since we are all Caribbean people and we practically have the same customs as you, same feelings, music, attitudes, the way we act, everything. We’ve adapted well in the community we live and we’ve integrated well into Burrel Boom, like a family we’ve collaborated in various activities like sports. We’ve felt quite at home, even the weather is like Cuba.”

The men expect to return home at the end of June, which means they have exactly three more months to build thirty more houses.

The men receive pay of two hundred dollars per month, which they will collect at the end of their contract. They also receive pocket money, with their food and shelter in Burrel Boom being provided by the Government of Belize.

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