Obama’s Commitment to Close the Gitmo Prison

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Gate at the Guantanamo Naval Base on occupied Cuban territory.
Gate at the Guantanamo Naval Base on occupied Cuban territory.

HAVANA TIMES — On Tuesday, February 23, exactly 113 years since the signing of a perpetual lease for the lands and waters occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base, Obama addressed the US Congress, and the entire world, to announce his commitment to “shut down Guantanamo.” As always, his articulate, precise and well-argued speech proved impressive.

In Cuba, most people are confused on this point, interpreting this as the closure of the base as such, when, in fact, it calls for the shut-down of the prison that operates there. The difference is substantial.

The president and the main power groups in both parties, representing different US institutions, have expressed an interest in maintaining the military base on Cuban soil. They consider it an important geostrategic location. In addition, it is an emblem of power, a kind of dagger stabbed into the rib-cage of a former Cold War enemy.

Obama explained the need to shut down the prison very well. The proposal focused on the economic and national security aspects of the measure and the Cuban government’s request of this minimal gesture in connection with the territory. The president expressed his commitment to fulfil this electoral promise before the end of his mandate.

Everyone knows this naval base has never been well received by Cubans, neither before nor after the revolution. However, it was only under the leadership of Fidel Castro and owing to tensions between the two countries that its official return began to be demanded. Only one lease payment has been cashed since 1959 and, since then, refusing to accept payment has become a symbol of dissatisfaction over the base’s presence.

The Guantanamo Prison where US troops use different torture techniques on prisoners.
The Guantanamo Prison where US troops use different torture techniques on prisoners.

The treaty binds Cuba hand and foot and gives the United States every right to decide its term, in accordance with its own interests. It was signed under extremely harsh conditions by a pro-US president in a country that had been occupied militarily. Patriots entitled to vote, almost all of whom were independence war veterans, saw themselves before a terrible crossroads: either accept a decimated republic or no republic at all.

They opted for the former, of course. We’re still paying part of the great cost to our sovereignty paid then to become an independent country. The naval base means exactly this for Cubans: a thorn on the back of national sovereignty, a bastion of US domination that came to replace Spanish domination, an outstanding debt to settle with our powerful neighbor.

The United States thinks and acts like a superpower. It’s a fact, a reality that’s out of our hands and we cannot change. In Obama’s address, one hears talk of “our national security,” “our interests,” “our partners and allies.” That is what interests the country the most.

That is why only the shut-down of the detention center, not the base as such, is being discussed. And we see how controversial even this can prove: it has taken seven long years of political work and there’s still no certainty of success.

The fact it’s maintained against the will of the Cuban government and that the Cuban people regard it as a symbol of past ties that undermined its sovereignty is irrelevant to a superpower. It’s part of an old imperial mindset and we will have to wait a very long time still to see the “understanding” that seems to be making headway, little by little.

I believe Cuba must negotiate the closure of the base by proposing the establishment of a special development zone at that strategic bay area, including a free trade zone and a large port with a container terminal – similar to the one in Mariel.

If US companies are offered a contract to build and manage these facilities and if preferential treatment for investors is included in the package, those interested will surely help tilt the balance in favor of the base’s complete shutdown. I’ve said it before: a naval base generates expenses, while a free trade zone generates income. It’s basic math.

Guantanamo naval base 1
Osmel Ramirez suggests converting the Naval Base into a free trade zone.

The interests of both countries would be complemented this way. Another way forward, the “altruistic” acknowledgement of justice, the big fish tenderly embracing the little fish, is pure, romantic utopia. A balanced solution, based on mutual benefit, is always possible without undermining basic principles. Jose Marti once said: “let us achieve all justice.” In a less ideal and more current environment, we could say: “let us achieve all possible justice.”

Obama still faces a difficult battle ahead to achieve his aims. I hope he does. We Cubans celebrate the effort and see it as a step towards our final objective: the definitive closure of that military enclave.

It would be marvelous to be able to see industry and warehouses flourish where there are now only armaments and bunkers, to see gigantic container-carriers dock where destroyers and airplane carriers now do, to see an endless flow of goods and people where now there are only mined fields.

I believe a future of understanding and mutual profit for both countries is possible. The times when the United States saw Cuba as one of its inevitable acquisitions are behind us. The nationalistic rhetoric of the revolution and the theory of an imperial conspiracy aimed at depriving us of the homeland are also behind us.

The future is one of negotiation and reconciliation, but there’s still a fair ways to go.

14 thoughts on “Obama’s Commitment to Close the Gitmo Prison

  • It doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to figure out that socialism – as most socialists advocate it – has failed in every instance. Tons of people trying to get into Cuba, are there? How about Venezuela? Lines forming up at the North Korean border of those clamouring to get in? And of course all those socialist countries are highly “democratic”, aren’t they? [smile!]

    Sorry, but to “oppose socialism” doesn’t mean that you “oppose democracy”; rather, it simply means that you’re no clown who actually believes that “socialism” is beneficial. Or, put another way, to “oppose socialism” means that you’re not a “gimme, gimme” artist who is constantly demanding that OTHERS subsidize one’s way in this world.

  • Tourism brings vital foreign currency. In as much as the Cuban peso is worthless as a medium of exchange beyond Cuban borders, the Castros are willing to sell their condemned souls in exchange for foreign currency.

  • Just think about what you said for a moment. “Socialism is uninterested in return on investment” So why are they interested in expanding the turist industry if they are not interested in any return?

  • But they did know about Communism. In fact Margaret Thatcher described it best when she said: “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”. What else do you need to know?

  • What does that have to do with my statement? Do you agree then?

  • To think progressively should not mean to ignore the facts.

  • Socialism, unlike Investment Banking (I was an Investment Banking) is uninterested in return on investment.

  • Another one who can’t think progressively. Always glass-half-empty… stuck in the past.

  • Unless Cuba becomes fully embraces Capitalism the sort of transformation you speak of will never happen. China fully embraced Capitalism, albeit as an authoritarian family controlled oligarchy. Regardless it allowed for a form of market oriented free enterprise that today can boast of having more billionaires than the USA. (Hardly a communist bastion by the way)


    My fear is the Cuban Communist elite is actively planning just such a transformation. One in which the elite remain in power and deny any true democratic institutions to emerge. And is that what you truly want for Cuba? Just like china, Cuban citizens can continue to expect to be irrelevant in their country’s politics

  • You, Moses, as a former stock broker, know very well that American companies also use other peoples money to develop and expand. There is one American company so far that is building a manufacturing plant in Mariel Cuba as American companies can’t resist the oportunity to make some money in a tax free environment. There are several others from countries that are comitted to build and that also can’t refuse this oportunity. Mariel port can dock the largest, and most economical ships in the world that need 17 meters of water (56 feet) that very few ports in North Amerca can handle. They are only operating in Europe now. Cuba’s Mariel has the potencial to become a hub for south American marine transport, unloading cargo from these very large ships and re-loading on smaller ships that can dock in shallower draft ports.

  • Moses, you’re incapable of thinking progressively. Your mind is forever mired in the past. Moses, who’s money did China use to become the economic and socialist super power they are today? Why is it so difficult for you to foresee the same thing happening with Cuba…albeit, on a proportionately much smaller scale…post embargo? Once again, Moses, your hypocrisy and shortsightedness are blatantly obvious.

  • Socialism is an economic system. Democracy is a political system. While not mutually exclusive, one can exist without the other. The socialism of your dreams John may be a democratic utopia, but in the real world socialism always devolves into totalitarian sewage.

  • And you know as little about socialism as did Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan
    That you quoted her shows either your ignorance or that you did not think the readers would pick you up on that idiotic quote.
    If you oppose socialism, you must oppose democracy .
    And you do..

  • Once again, another Cuban writer publicly expressing the national mindset which hopes eternal that someone else give them something for free. Osmel writes “…the establishment of a special development zone at that strategic bay area, including a free trade zone and a large port with a container terminal”. as he notes, similar to Mariel. So how’s that Mariel project going? Last I heard, it was still a ghost town. Why would converting Gitmo into a free trade zone fair any better? What Osmel really wants is for US businesses to set up shop in Cuba. He wants us to hire Cuban workers. Why doesn’t he instead urge the Castros to build the factories? Because factories cost money and socialism, in the words of the former prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, “uses other peoples money”.

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