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For Two Cubans In Guantanamo, Daily Commute Between Two Worlds Ends

Posted: December 18, 2012

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For more than 50 years, the men traveled from their homes in the communist nation to jobs on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. "Sometimes you feel like you are living in two worlds," says one. The men just retired.

Luis La Rosa, left, and Harry Henry on one of their last days at work on the U.S. Naval Station Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Luis La Rosa, left, and Harry Henry on one of their last days at work on the U.S. Naval Station Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Suzette Laboy

We've had to focus on news about the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., since Friday, which means we missed some interesting stories over the past few days. NPR intern Rachel Brody shares one of them.

This is a story about a daily commute that spanned regimes, not just miles.

Every morning for more than 50 years, until their retirements on Friday, 79-year-old Luis La Rosa and 82-year-old Harry Henry passed through heavily-guarded checkpoints that divide their home — the communist-controlled city of Guantanamo — from the U.S. military base where they work.

La Rosa, a welder, says those on the base and those at home would joke with him about his atypical commute.

He tells The Associated Press: "They make fun of us and say we are communists over here. And when we get back over there, they say we're imperialists."

About 30 other Cubans live and work on the U.S. military post, but the number of Cuban commuters has been dropping significantly over the years. The AP reports that by June of 2005, only four Cuban commuters remained, including Henry and La Rosa.

A processing center for sugarcane and cotton, the city of Guantanamo operates much like other small Caribbean towns. Arguably the most famous Cuban song Guantanamera, Spanish for "woman from Guantanamo," has afforded the city some fame.

Guantanamo is best known now, though, as the home of a U.S. military detention center, set up in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2002, the U.S. began using its naval base on Guantanamo Bay to hold suspected terrorists.

Anger persists among most Cubans over the U.S. military presence in Guantanamo. Since assuming power in 1959, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has refused the $4,000 yearly payment from the U.S. for use of the land. Despite a pledge from President Obama, the U.S. has yet to close the prison.

But Henry, an office worker, and La Rosa say they're grateful to have had the jobs. A ceremony was held on Friday to honor the two friends, who have both worked at the base for over half a century.

Of his daily commute, which lasted less than an hour, Henry says, "Sometimes you feel like you are living in two worlds."

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