HAVANA TIMES — The US government has no plans of returning the territory where the Guantanamo Naval Base is located back to Cuba, even if President Barack Obama manages to shut down the detention center there, as he promised, DPA reported.
“The President does believe that the prison at Guantánamo Bay should be closed down. But the naval base is not something that we wish to be closed,” White House spokesman Josh Ernest said today during a press conference, declaring that Washington is not willing to return the territory where the Guantanamo Naval Base is located in Cuba.
The White House spokesperson said no bilateral talks on this issue are underway following the agreement to reestablish diplomatic relations (broken in 1961) reached by Washington and Havana in December.
However, after 18 months of secret conversations which resulted in the surprising announcement that a new era of US-Cuba relations had begun, the issue could be brought to the negotiations table at a later date.
Earnest defended the closure of the Guantanamo prison because “the terrorism detainee facility serves as a recruiting tool for al Qaida and other extremist groups.”
On Wednesday, during the 3rd Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Cuban President Raul Castro criticized US acts of “intervention” in his country within the context of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries.
Raul Castro demanded the lifting of the embargo, just compensation for human and economic damages caused by the embargo, the ceasing of broadcasts by Radio and TV Marti and the return of a territory which Havana considers is illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base.
“There is a pretty clear difference between reestablishing diplomatic relations and carrying out the longer process of normalizing relations,” said Ernest, pointing out existing disagreements between the two countries, despite the diplomatic thaw.
On several occasions, Obama has promised that he will shut down the Guantanamo prison, set up by George Bush to detain suspects captured in Afghanistan and those believed to belong to Al Qaeda, before leaving the White House in January 2017.
Since 2002, the Guantanamo Base has taken in a total of 780 prisoners accused of terrorism, most of them detained in Afghanistan during the US invasion of that country which followed the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Many of them have never been tried.
According to a New York Times investigation and NPR, 649 have been transported to 55 different countries and 122 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. Among the countries that have taken in Guantanamo prisoners are Uruguay (6), Spain (5) and El Salvador (2).
The Guantanamo Naval Base is located on the southeastern end of the island. Cuba considers it an occupied territory, but the United States refuses to return it, arguing that the two countries signed a perpetual lease of the said territory under the US-Cuba Treaty of 1903.
Washington sends a check for US $4,085 dollars to Havana every year as a symbolic payment for the lease, which the Cuban government refuses to cash.