on the past
2.5 year posting to Beirut ended in the summer of 74 with a promotion and an
assignment to Technical Security.
was pregnant with our 4th child when we came home from Beirut and
the birth was predicted for mid Oct so I was not looking forward to an early
assignment but one came a month or so after the birth of Stephanie. My first
assignmentwith this section was to accompany George Smith to Havana for an
inspection of our embassy.
lengthy assignment at this time was not something I wanted but being new to
the section I didnít want to appear uncooperative butbecause Stephanie had
undiagnosed heath issues and needed frequent visits to the doctor I was uneasy
about accepting this trip. Fortunately Sueís family were prepared to help
during my absence.
proved to be an amiable traveling companion but his well-known problems with
alcohol led to some difficulties. We traveled to Havana via Toronto and Mexico
City where we were to spend the weekend waiting for a connecting flight to
Havana. By the time we deplaned in Mexico City Georgeís speech was slurred
and soon after check-in at the hotel he disappeared and was not heard from
during the weekend until hotel management called and requested I get him out
of the hotel. Apparently he was reported for bothering a chambermaid. I
quelled this problem by assuring themanager we were checking out the following
boarded our early flight and arrived in Havana the next morning; we briefly
visited the embassy before checking into our hotel. I donít recall the name
of our hotel but in its days of glory it must have been a high class casino
and hotel because it had all the trapping of a once luxurious hotel; Iím
sure, in its days of glory,movie stars and famousentertainers performed there.
Unfortunately those days were long gone and the hotel exterior was shoddy and
badly in need of repairs. To see the hotel so shabby was a reminder of the sad
appearance of our embassy in Moscow.
hotel clerk asked for our passports and informed us they wouldnít be
returned until we checked out. This was something unexpected but our embassy
escort assured us this was standard practice in Cuba.
elevator was old fashioned, with shutter doors and operator run, reminiscent
of the days our off ice was in the East Block. At the hotel there was no
visiting other floors, you showed your room key to the operator and let off at
that floor; no visiting with colleagues. There were very few guests staying in
room was nice enough but poorly lit because lights and lamps were missing
bulbs and there was a dead cockroach on the floor. I wondered how long it
would take to clean the room and remove the cockroach, so I left it on the
floor. The cockroach stayed on the carpet for the duration of my stay.The
condition of the hotel was a sign of things to come!
embassyís appearance was quaint and reminiscent of an old mansion; the front
grounds were large and well maintained; the inside of the embassy appearance
was appropriateenough but hardly embassy like. It was when we started to do
our inspection that we noticed the shoddy physical condition of many things
and I wondered how our physical security people had overlooked physical
security problems. It wasnít our job to report on these shortfalls but we
noted them just the same.
first night at the hotel was uneventful. We visited the huge dining and
entertainment area for our first dinner and looked over a very extensive menu.
This very large room was essentially unoccupied; a few waiters and a couple of
other diners didnít come close to filling the cavernous space.
was hard to choose from the menu proudly presented by our waiter but we made
our choices only to find they were unavailable. After selecting alternative
choices we were told they were also unavailable so we asked what the waiter
recommended and choose from a short list, dined and went off to our rooms
where, almost immediately, I began to suffer cramps and stomach problems. The
next day we shopped at the diplomatic store and prepared our own meals at the
had a couple of pleasant evenings
out while in Havana, one night at our colleague Valliersí (Val) place, an
invitation to dinner witha secretary place, who also took us to a distant,
almost unused and pristine beach on a weekend. We also received an invite to
the Ambassadorís for his staff Christmas party.
had his party at home with tables placed around an empty pool; there was
dancing in the pool (a novel use for an empty pool). Val couldnít get parts
to fix the pump, so it remained empty for the duration of our visit.
was soon after this party that George had a heart attack and was rushed off to
hospital.The head guard at the embassy setup a shift schedule so staff would
be with George at the hospital 24-7. I did my share of shifts while also
continuing on with the inspection.
this inspection I discovered several compromised locks that would make it easy
to access the confidential and secure areas of the embassy, including the
communicatorís office. I never did learn what steps were taken by the
department to find out how or who compromised the locks. With the compromised
locks it was possible to access the confidential area from the loading
dock,avoiding the reception area; the little used stairs from the loading dock
led to the second floor. I used a stiff piece of plastic to open these locks.
Similar lockswere installed elsewhere.
my last week in Havana I received a telegram from Ottawa saying my daughter
Stephanie was hospitalized in critical condition and not expected to live.
Unfortunately it was impossible to get a flight out of Havana; empty and
returning charter flights were not allowed to pick up passengers. I had no
choice but to wait for a scheduled flight. It took three trips to the airport
and 3 days to get a flight home. By that time Stephanie was out of hospital
and doing reasonably well.
and Lee Boor were our saviours; they stepped in
and helped Sue and Stephanie, taking them and staying with them at the
hospital; they also brought Sue and Stephanie home when she was stable.
© OFARTS Canada 2006-2007 Old Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians, Canada The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors. Accuracy of facts has not been verified in all cases.