The US Base in Cuba and Guantanamo

The entrance to the US military base at Guantanamo, a neutral zone where military personnel from the two countries meet monthly. Photo: Raquel Perez

Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES, 19 ene — I received an email from a friend in Europe who is originally from Guantanamo. In it she blasted journalists because they only mention her province in relation to the prison camp inside the US military base located there.

I had never thought about that, but it must be irritating to say where you were born and have everyone picture that black hole with prisoners in orange jumpsuits, coming from diverse and distant lands, and for whom human rights don’t exist.

The fact is, though, that the US military base and its prisoners occupy only a small part of the Guantanamo Province, yet as my friend made me note, there’s been more media space given to that facility than to all the rest of the inhabitants of the province.

I guess her mood must have changed reading The New York Times (NYT) article that recently proposed that President Barack Obama return to Cuba the area of land that the base has occupied for more than 100 years.

In the article, Harvard professor Jonathan Hansen acknowledges, “Few gestures would have as salutary an effect on the stultifying impasse in American-Cuban relations as returning this coveted piece of land.”

NYT adds that in 1901, Washington “forced Cuba to lease the Guantanamo Bay naval base to us,” which has “served to remind the world of America’s long history of interventionist militarism.”

The article recalls the prophetic warning of Cuban independence leader Juan Gualberto Gomez that foreign bases on the island would only draw Cuba “into conflict not of our own making and in which we have no stake.”

Hansen tries to explain to his countrymen the sentiments created among Cubans by US policy during the 19th century independence struggle on the island and he does so by comparing it with their own historic movement for US independence.

“Well, imagine that at the end of the American Revolution the French had decided to remain here. Imagine that the French had refused to allow Washington and his army to attend the armistice at Yorktown. Imagine that they had denied the US a seat at the Treaty of Paris…”

At the base there are still 170 prisoners who have never been tried.

En la base aún permanecen 170 presos a los que nunca se le ha celebrado juicio.

It was during the US military occupation that Cuba “handed over” the naval base, “consented” to disarm the Mambi independence army and “accepted” to include in its constitution an amendment that entitles the US to invade the island whenever it wants.
But not everyone speaks poorly of the military base at Guantanamo.

A Miami newspaper published an article that describes it as a friendly village with its own radio station, a McDonalds and stores full of caricatures of Fidel Castro.

This paper assures us that those who live there have thumbed their noses at former President Fidel Castro for calling for the return of the base to Cuba since 1960. But the truth is that the problem is much older, going back to 1901, when US troops landed in Guantanamo before Fidel Castro was born.

The newspaper explains that Guantanamo: “…is in a highly strategic location. So the Navy maintains it as a small town with a port, an airfield and about 6,000 inhabitants made up of troops, US contractors, spouses and children.”

Curiously, they forgot to mention that it holds 170 prisoners who are there against the express wishes of the US president himself, who three years ago signed an executive order to close the prison within a maximum period of 12 months.

Maria Otero, an undersecretary of State, said Obama maintains his promise but says it was more complicated than he expected. This must be, among other things, because there’s no evidence to incriminate 90 of the prisoners before a court.

Another obstacle, according to Professor Jonathan Hansen, is “Congressional intransigence.” He therefore concludes “there might be no better way to close the detention camp than to turn over [to Cuba] the rest of the naval base along with it.”

This month marked 10 years since the first prisoners arrived at the military base. We journalists who witnessed this from the Cuban mountains back then had no idea that the “black hole” of Guantanamo was being opened before our eyes.

The NYT article (“Give Guantanamo Back to Cuba”) reveals a light at the end of that tunnel, solving several problems at once. For prisoners this would mean them recovering their rights as human beings and it would show that President Obama is capable of enforcing his orders.

I imagine that it would also serve to unite the entire Cuban nation, beyond the ideology that each individual professes. What citizen wouldn’t support a return to the island of the only piece of land that is now in the hands of a foreign power?

An authorized translation by Havana Times from the Spanish original published by BBC Mundo.