LIFESTYLE

Our American Dream: Family-owned construction firm returns to Cuba after 55 years

When Pedro Munilla, co-owner of the Munilla Construction Management Company (MCM) with his five brothers, learned recently that they had won a $66 million bid on a federal contract to build a school at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, it was a full-circle coming home moment for the family.

“We’re extremely proud of this," Munilla told Fox News Latino just hours after finding out about the contract. "We owe so much to this country. Everything the U.S. stands for, the Constitution and Founding Fathers, and we’re so proud.”

The six Munilla brothers, ages 57 to 67, were all born in Cuba, but four left the island in 1961, with “the Pedro Pan airlift operations days before the Bay of Pigs invasion,” MCM’s website says. 

Worried that Fidel Castro would send kids to Marxist indoctrination camps, their parents, like thousands of other people on the island, made the difficult decision to have a Catholic charity transfer the oldest four boys to the U.S. unaccompanied under a State-Department-approved plan. 

The boys initially went to an orphanage in Ohio, while the two youngest stayed behind with their mother, María. Their father, Fernando Sr., who owned a construction firm in Havana, stayed behind and fought for the CIA-backed Brigade 2506 during the Bay of Pigs invasion, after which he was imprisoned for a time. 

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“He built spectacular bridges and signature structures," Pedro Munilla told FNL, "such as the José Martí Memorial – which now lives in the northern corner of what is called the Plaza de la Revolución.”

“Dad was a very dynamic individual," he added. "He was loyal to his country and a pioneer in the industry. He imported German technology in 1940s and early 50s and built one of the longest freestanding bridges in the Western hemisphere in Cuba.”

Both parents fled to Florida and brought the two youngest boys.

Doing what he knew best, Fernando Sr. started another construction company in Miami, which continues today under the ownership of his six sons and employs more than 500 people.

MCM has worked on several federal and governmental projects, including a U.S. Coast Guard hangar at the Miami-Opa Locka Airport, Homestead City Hall and some three-dozen school construction projects here and in Central America.

“We submitted the [Guantanamo] bid last November," Pedro said. "We were praying and hoping, but it was a beautiful piece of news.”

The school will serve grades K thru 12, and Pedro Munilla says they’re putting the team that will work on it together now. They have about 80 employees already on the base, and they say they’re revving up for the project.

“There’ll be a lot of volunteers for project management. It’s a source of pride to be working in our first country. We’ll strive to finish the school before it’s due, and we’ll give plenty of the money back. This is going to be a spectacular project,” Pedro says.

The new school will replace the original W.T. Sampson School, established in 1931. It’s operated by the Department of Defense, and is the oldest school in the system. It’s named for a 19th century rear admiral who was responsible for the blockade of Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

“The amount of pleasure we get building in what we call the only free part of Cuba, and the history of the namesake of the school, it just means so much to us,” Pedro Munilla said.

Before the school project, MCM has not done work in Cuba since the family fled. Both Fernando Sr. and María Munilla have passed away, but the brothers are extremely close.

Pedro says perhaps that is because of the struggle of their childhood leaving a homeland, and their father starting a business from scratch. The Munillas also grew up with an orphan whom the family adopted.

“We didn’t think our childhood was challenging. We stepped up to the plate. I remember giving presents of shaving cream and toothpaste. We never lacked for anything, though. We all worked our butts off. We slept four to a bedroom, but we really didn’t consider it tough. It’s probably why we are who we are. My best friends are my brothers,” Pedro Munillo said.

“We have just come back from Vancouver, British Columbia – all six brothers, no wives – we went fishing," he told FNL. “Once a week, minimum, we’re at each other’s [homes].”

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at rebekah.sager@foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.