Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
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 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.
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.