Carlos Del Toro Speaks at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay

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December 14, 2012

Speech at the retirement party of Mr. Harry Henry and Mr. Luis La Rosa
Windjammer Ballroom, Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay
12/14/2012 11:00 a.m.

It is often the case that the first to achieve success is often the one who receives the recognition. The first man on the moon, the first female Nobel Prize laureate, the first African American president. Today we honor two different, but equally important individuals. The last of a breed – a duo of hard-working Cuban commuters venturing day-in and day-out, across a no-man’s land and through fenced borders to go to work every day. To Mr. Henry and Mr. La Rosa, your distinguished career is cherished by those of us who have come to know you as peers and friends. We wish you a wonderful retirement. You’ve earned it. Congratulations. Muchas Felicidades

I extend my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you for the invitation to speak this day, in recognition of these two very special people for their remarkably long and distinguished service to the United States.

To Captain Blaisdell, Captain Head, Captain Leary, Captain Cannon, and Captain Buehn, thank you for being here today to recognize Mr. Henry and Mr. La Rosa’s service and celebrate their careers. And most importantly to the families of the retirees, both Mr. Henry and Mr. La Rosa have their spouses and generations of children and grandchildren present today. As a father of four boys, I know nothing makes you more proud than having your children by your side at this moment of accomplishment. Bienvinedos.

As a Cuban refugee who immigrated to the United States some 50 years ago, the return to Cuba – Naval Station Guantanamo – is and always will be very special. But today I return, as I have countless times throughout my naval career, under very different circumstances than when I first left as an infant. Shortly after the revolution, my family fled to the United States in search of freedom and liberty. In 1962 we left seeking new opportunities in a country where reward lies for those who work for it, and where everyone gets a fair shot. We found that in America.

Through the hard work and sacrifice of my parents, I was able to attend the Naval Academy, serve the country I love for 26 proud years, and now work in support of our veterans and nation.

Mr. Henry and Mr. La Rosa, our careers are far more similar than different. We worked hard and dedicated ourselves to a cause: selfless service to the mission of the U.S. government and to this base. We seek to work hard to support ourselves and our families and to provide a better life for our children and theirs than we had ourselves. Through the political cloud in which we live, whether by our choice, or not, we recognize shared values transcendent of what we cannot control and embracive of what we can: love for family, hard work, commitment.

The journey has not always been easy, and yet you have met challenge with dignity, gaining the respect of many, including myself.

At one time, thousands of Cubans worked on this base. After the revolution, only hundreds remained. The last two that we honor today are amongst a robust pedigree of Cubans working hard to support this base. From welders to plumbers, supply and stock clerks, technicians, and many more, Cuban commuters have participated in substantial ways to the base and the success of the U.S. mission.

Not only do we recognize Mr. Henry and Mr. La Rosa as the longest-serving Cuban commuters, but to be frank, as two of the longest-serving men to the United States government in the history of our country.

As it says in your program, on December 31st, Mr. Henry will have served a total of 61 years, 8 months and one day to the United States government. Mr. La Rosa will have served a total of 53 years, 10 months and 10 days to the United States government. Bien hecho.

While this service marks your final days, your grand finale – I cannot but help to remember my own retirement day. After serving the Navy and the United States for 26 years, brief in comparison to that of Mr. Henry and Mr. La Rosa, I sat in a similar venue, similarly arranged. And, what I do remember most, what sticks out and has stayed with me ever since, was a feeling I will never forget – one of true accomplishment, success, and satisfaction.

But through the sincere feelings of appreciation for so many people who helped me along the way, most of whom never realized their impact on my development, my education, and my career, one feeling, one message stuck in my head my above all others – I knew I made a difference.

Mr. Henry, Mr. La Rosa: I know just how you feel. I know you both have made a difference in the lives of many, including many in this very room.

Today we give thanks to the special relationship we have with both of you, and the countless other Cubans, commuters and exiles, who have worked by our side for so many years. I thank you deeply for your service. I do pray that our paths will cross again soon, as free men in a world absent of those things that divide us.

I close today with the words of Jose Marti in the same spirit as our nation and this base began. “Sólo la opresión debe temar el ejercicio pleno de las libertades.” “Only oppression should fear the full exercise of freedom.”

Col., I thank you for being here today. This program is a perfect example of how two nations can collaborate together, despite their differences, for the betterment of all humanity.

In celebration, we again recognize our honorees, thank you for your selfless labor to our cause, and wish you the very best of every day of your retirement. Congratulations.

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