U.S. Embassy in Havana: A money pit for diplomats

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The State Department has spent millions of dollars to renovate the American Embassy along Havana’s famed Malecón. Costs include at least $8 million for repair projects since 2010, records show.
On Feb. 25, 2010, a Washington, D.C., company called CTS-Hardline signed a $2,241,474 contract for a project described as “Forced Entry/Ballistic Resistant (FE/BR) product replacement.”
The size of the contract grew to $3,492,086 before the project was finished on Jan. 25, 2013.

View of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

On Sept. 29, 2017, Enviro-Management & Research, or EMR, signed a $2,446,628 contract to design and replace the embassy’s stone façade.
From the project description:

Award Contract for Facade repair services to complete design, construction services, contract coordination and supervision/management, professional design services to replace the Stone facade to remedy the Life Health Safety concern presented by the deteriorating Havana Chancery. The Facade Repairs include inspection of all stone panels, repairing damaged areas. Implement limited access to the construction site through a security screening facility. Contractor required to support Technical Security System (TSS) infrastructure and equipment relocation for construction, activate the Consolidation and Receiving Point (CRP) in support of logistics/shipment requirements based in Miami, Florida. All work will be in accordance with Statement of Work (SOW).
19X05352-1030-17ERA33-241000-7902-2503-XJ1Q0006
COR: Forrest McLain – 703-875-4323


Since then, records show, the size of that contract has nearly doubled to $4,608,547.

The company was also assigned additional work, including the repair of the Forced Entry/Ballistic Resistant “product” that had been completed in 2013.

The projected completion date: Sept. 18, 2019.

The EMR and CTS-Hardline projects total $8,100,633. There are likely other repair contracts out there – I didn’t do an exhaustive search.

Publicly available contract records don’t show enough detail to explain how the EMR project has been going and whether the additional costs were justified.

In 2005, someone called the Office of Inspector General hotline to complain that the State Department paid another contractor, Brown and Root Services, some $4.4 million in embassy work even though the company did very little actual construction.

The OIG found some problems in the way that the project was managed and made several recommendations. See the OIG’s 2005 Review of Security Upgrade Construction Project.

The embassy opened in 1953. According to the State Department:

The Embassy was closed in 1961 when the United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. During President Carter’s administration in 1977, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement establishing the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. Both diplomatic missions operated under the protection of the Embassy of Switzerland.
During the term of President Obama, diplomatic ties between the two countries were resumed with the Embassy of the United States of America re-opening in Havana and the Cuban embassy re-opening in Washington, D.C. Diplomatic relations were officially established on July 20, 2015.

U.S.-Cuba relations worsened after Donald Trump took office. On Thursday, National Security Adviser John Bolton vowed that the Trump administration would toughen its policy against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. He told a crowd in Miami:

This Troika of Tyranny, this triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua, is the cause of immense human suffering, the impetus of enormous regional instability, and the genesis of a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere. Under President Trump, the United States is taking direct action against all three regimes to defend the rule of law, liberty, and basic human decency in our region.

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