US-Cuba Talks and a Guantanamo Proposal

By Circles Robinson

Josefina Vidal leads the Cuban delegation in negotications with the United States.
Josefina Vidal leads the Cuban delegation in negotications with the United States.  Photo: radiorebelde.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Round two of the high level talks to normalize diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States is set for Friday, February 27 in Washington D.C. The first and foremost order of business is clearing the way to the opening of embassies in the respective capitals.

This next step to a new era for the two neighboring countries seems relatively easy, dealing mostly with logistical and travel issues like diplomat movement and banking.

Nonetheless, there is one issue that may be necessary to resolve before relations are fully restored. Cuba says it makes no sense for it to remain on the US list of countries sponsoring terrorism (along with Iran, Sudan and Syria) and have normal relations with Washington. Without specifying a date, thus far, Obama has said the designation will be reviewed by the State Department and a recommendation sent to Congress.

The fact is we don’t know what else was agreed upon during the 18 months of secret negotiations between the Obama and Castro governments that led up to the historic announcement of rapprochement on December 17, 2014.

So far we’ve seen the release of the three remaining Cuban Five agents from US prisons and the release of USAID operative Alan Gross and an undercover CIA agent from Cuban jails. Some 53 Cuban political prisoners on a list submitted by the White House were also subsequently freed.

The Obama administration has relaxed some of the travel restrictions on US citizens wanting to visit Cuba, although they still can’t go for strictly tourist reasons. He also gave telecommunications companies the OK to deal with the Cuban government, which has already led to an initial agreement with IDT Telecom.

Nancy Pelosi led a nine-member House of Representatives delegation to Havana.

For the first time US travelers to Cuba can bring back a limited amount of items purchased on the island and the amount of remittances that can be sent to Cuba has been greatly expanded. US visitors will soon be able to use their credit cards on the island and US financial institutions can now open accounts at Cuban banks to facilitate transactions.

During the last six weeks two large US congressional delegations have landed in Havana. One was an eight member bipartisan Senate trip headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy. Then, more recently, nine Democratic Party representatives, including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, were in the Cuban capital for several days. While expressing their concerns on human rights limitations on the island, the legislators expressed their hope for the new relationship to advance and to open up trade and travel.

Tough Issues to Resolve

There are several thorny areas for negotiation that will no doubt be on the table sooner or later. They will also be the focus of opposition or support for lifting the 53-year embargo in the US Congress.

The issues surrounding the Guantanamo Naval Base (AKA: GITMO) located on occupied Cuban territory and the Cuban government’s expropriation of US citizen/company owned properties at the beginning of the Cuban revolution are two of the far more complicated topics to be addressed.

Those in Miami and Congress who oppose any rapprochement with Havana feel the compensation subject must be resolved before any relations should be established. They also point to Cuba’s good relations with Russia at a time when US-Russia relations have deteriorated.

The following are some suggestions on how to begin to resolve several related problems. I hope our readership will chime in with other ideas. Maybe together we can give the negotiators a hand.

Justification

The US Guantanamo Naval Base. Foto: flikr.com

President Obama wants to close the prison that still has over 100 prisoners without charges.

Since there is much pressure in the US against accepting the prisoners, and several of their home countries are unwilling, he must find other countries to accept them. This has proven to be a very slow process.

The prison camp alone at the Gitmo Naval Base costs the US taxpayers an estimated $2.7 million a year per prisoner to maintain.

Then there’s the US Guantanamo Naval Base itself, founded in 1898, which many analysts believe is no longer needed strategically for the United States. They believe the Southern Command, which was moved from Panama to South Florida when the Canal was returned to that Central American country in 1999, has proven more than capable of defending US interests.

Roque Plana, an editor for Latin American issues for the Huffington Post recently wrote: “Today, the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo is all but irrelevant for purposes of combat, according to former head of the U.S. Southern Command, retired Admiral Jim Stavridis.” “The odds of the U.S. needing the base for combat operations are essentially nil — luckily we enjoy peace here in the Americas,” said Stavridis.

Then there’s the financial issue. While I haven’t been able to find anywhere the annual budget for the GITMO Naval Base operations (aside from the prison camp) with its 6,000+ military and civilian personnel, it is no doubt in the many hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, US citizens and companies continue to claim an estimated $6-7 billion from properties that were expropriated by the Cuban revolutionary government over a half century ago. This is the biggest stumbling block to lifting the 53-year-old US embargo on Cuba, something President Obama says he wants to accomplish while still in office.

For its part, Cuba claims the US embargo has caused hundreds of billions of dollars of damage to its economy. Likewise, Cuba has sought the return of the Guantanamo Bay property for over a half century and claims many billions in lost revenues from not possessing the territory.

The Deal

The Guantanamo Base Prison Camp. Photo: Democracy Now

Cuba could offer to accept the remaining prisoners without charges at the GITMO Prison Camp as a humanitarian gesture at the request of President Obama, in the same way that Uruguay, Oman, Estonia and other countries have already accepted small numbers of the released prisoners.

Cuba could promise to closely monitor the freed prisoners’ activities on the island and assist them to return to civilian life, until they are welcome where they wish to travel. This would enable the closing of the prison concluding the seemingly endless problem for Obama and embarrassment for the United States. The ISIS beheadings of prisoners in orange jumpsuits for publicity reasons is a vivid reminder of how much of the world regards the GITMO prison camp.

In return, the US could set a definitive date for returning the territory housing the GITMO base to Cuba as it did in Panama in 1977. A calendar could be established for the related hand-over issues.

To begin to resolve the property expropriation issue and make it easier to lift the embargo: A portion of the billions to be saved to US taxpayers from the annual cost of maintaining the base and prison camp could be temporarily directed into a compensation fund for US properties confiscated at the beginning of the Cuban revolution.

Cuba could enter into an agreement with the US to consider each claim over expropriation, as took place, and continues to take place, for example in Nicaragua from the 1990s to date.

Surely some of you readers can help make this proposal better. Please send in your suggestions in the comments section. Remember, we are trying to find some solutions that won’t satisfy the all-or-nothing crowd, but could help resolve the present and future while taking into account the past.

 

 


28 thoughts on “US-Cuba Talks and a Guantanamo Proposal

  • March 1, 2015 at 8:32 pm
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    I concur fully with Mr. Goodrich that the Jail on GITMO must become a Memorial like Buchenwald, where thousands of people from around the world can visit this human scourge.
    Regarding Mr. Griffin statement, that Obama has not spoken about returning GITMO, the world knows he MUST or whomever follows his administration….or the following. The jail itself is a small area ( a few acres) within the 45 square miles which should become an Infamous Memorial.
    The rest of the 45 square miles, its infra-structure and another 200-300 square miles of adjacent lands which has not been developed mostly because of the threat that GITMO posed for 55 years, is where the positive Memorial of Human Development should be built, encompassing Healthcare facilities, Educational Centers, Tropical Disease Research Center and the Bay, which can host a larger port operation than the Mariel Special Zone.
    If this social disaster can be transformed into an area where hundreds of thousands of retirees can live in peace and harmony and it can create jobs for 100,000 people or more, then it is worth the pain, shame and deaths that GITMO inflicted on Cuba.

  • March 1, 2015 at 1:37 pm
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    FYI,
    Israeli archaeologists in the past ten years or so have shot down the entire Moses/slavery/Exodus story after extensive digs along the route the Israelites would have had to take with millions of people and survive.
    They didn’t find anything where lots of relics would have to be had that many people or even 1/3 that many had traveled and bivouacked together.
    The Bible and the stories from both Moses contain little to no historical accuracy.

  • March 1, 2015 at 1:32 pm
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    Guantanamo, once returned to Cuba should be maintained as it is for as long as U.S. imperialism is in operation in the world , much as Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the two Nazi extermination camps are today maintained to show the horrors of Nazism , to remind the world of the horrors of U.S. imperialism .
    When capitalism implodes due to smarter-than-human AI and robotics ( estimated at only 15-20 years by the tech experts) , they can tear down that grim reminder of man’s humanity to man .

  • March 1, 2015 at 1:25 pm
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    I would continue this little chat with you but since you choose to use ad hominem attacks in place of valid arguments and since evidence a lack of understanding and desire for democratic system in your love for capitalism which is a most egregiously totalitarian system , we can’t agree on much.
    The fact that you don’t address the causes and reasons for the embargo is in line with the thinking ( or lack of same) of the vast majority of the U.S. electorate who have no clue as to why the embargo was set in place and why it continued so long .
    Lastly, FYI, the USA is a republic in name only. It is a de facto oligarchy: an unelected dictatorship of money whose elected officials represent primarily the interests of those whose money enabled them to win a national election.

  • March 1, 2015 at 1:15 pm
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    All it takes for normalization is for the United States to cease its hostilities on all fronts .
    Cuba did not initiate the hostilities which are a normal part of the 100 year old U.S. imperial foreign policy of not allowing threats to ( totalitarian ) capitalism and ( more recently) neo-colonialism .

  • March 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm
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    Yes indeed.
    Those Russians are only pretending to be capitalists like us.
    At heart they are still mired in the long dead Cold War like certain out-of-touch people in North America who still maintain their belief in the International Communist Conspiracy.
    Earth to Griffin, Earth to Griffin
    Time to get back on the ground or ease up on the psychedelics .

  • March 1, 2015 at 12:28 pm
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    The US will never hand over a deep water and fully equipped harbor if there is any risk it may end up in the hands of potentially dangerous states.

    Putin is a loose canon. Russia is looking for bases.

    Conservatives in the US are already on Obama’s case and “hawks” in Russia are certainly eying Cuba.

    See:
    Naval base in Cuba would be Russia’s best response to US hawks – English ravda.ru – http://english.pravda.ru/russia/politics/30-01-2015/129659-russia_usa_cuba_hawks-0/

    Source: Obama Might Give Guantanamo to Russians, Cuba Expert Tells Newsmax TV – http://www.newsmax.com/Newsmax-Tv/Guantanamo-Bay-Russia-Jaime-Suchlicki/2015/01/29/id/621543/

  • March 1, 2015 at 10:15 am
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    You are conflating the prison for terrorists at Gitmo, and the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. President Obama’s has pledged to close the former, but has said nothing about the latter.

    But while the prison at Gitmo is used in Islamist propaganda, it is not their most significant recruitment tool. The call for a Caliphate to rule the world is the biggest draw.

  • February 28, 2015 at 8:19 pm
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    Coming from someone who visited GITMO as a child and later worked there for 5 years to be added to my family 145 years of loyal service to the Department of Defense, I can assure our readers, there is no other option for the United States government, but to pick up and leave yesterday!

    GITMO is today the most powerful recruiting tool in the hands of the Taliban, Al Quaida, Isil, IS and all other groups that may spring up in the Middle East.

    Is it an accident that those beheaded are dressed with Orange outfits or a reflection on GITMO?

    Cuba has withstood the US on GITMO for 112 years. They can for another 112!!

    Vacating GITMO will happen sooner rather than later, will not do it. The image, memory and history has to be changed, if it is ever to be removed from the world conscience. That’s why I suggested in

    Vacating GITMO without transforming its image, disinfecting its past, erasing its wrongdoing, is no better than staying put. That why, the United States will have to pay the enormous cost of cleansing its ugly deed of illegal occupation, torture and deaths.

    Only the United States and Cuba has the professional Human Resources as I suggested in “History, Challenges and Opportunities” on 2/20 to transform that area into an example of Hope, Love, Forgiveness and Human Development or repeat the mistakes of the past, when George W. Bush brought in the first prisoners to GITMO from around the world and today, nobody knows what to do with them.

    Cuba can keep them without fear, because Cuba did them no harm.

  • February 28, 2015 at 11:03 am
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    Moses, moses, o moses surely with a name such as this anything is possible. Do not dismiss any suggestion so easily. Difficult it might be, impossible it certainly is not. Keep faith and believe. And no I am not being sarcastic like some people who possess an over inflated ego. Have a nice day.

  • February 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm
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    All of the Gitmo detainees who could be returned to their home countries have been returned. The remaining prisoners are not wanted back home. That’s why the US has tried to find willing 3rd party countries to take them in. Therenhave been problems with that plan. The remaining prisoners present a true dilemma.

    Obama should order them taken out and shot. He stopped having the U.S. military capture these terrorists by the simple expedient of using drone missile attacks to vaporize them. Shooting monsters like Khalid Sheik Mohamad would be a mercy.

  • February 27, 2015 at 7:38 pm
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    That’s the biggest stumbling block for Gitmo. The U.S. would be loath to see the Russians or Chineses using the naval base. It may not be of strategic value to the U.S., who have other large bases nearby. But Gitmo would be a huge advantage to Russia.

  • February 27, 2015 at 7:34 pm
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    All of the lesser ranking Al Qaeda members have been released from Gitmao. The few remaining detainees arenthe worst of a bad lot. People like Khalid Sheik Mohamad, the senior financier of the 9-11 attacks. Does anybody think these people are going to reform? Or retire from terrorism and jihad?

    The terrorists released to Uruguay a few months ago are already causing difficulties in the country which gave them asylum. They are refusing to work and making public statements in support of violent jihad. One of the group has turned up in Argentina demanding they give him refuge there, in violation of the terms of his release.

    Cuba would be wise to stay clear of that mess. Let the US find their own solution to the problem of the Gitmo detainees.

  • February 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm
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    Your words are filled with emotions that clouds your judgement.

    I never commented toward the original purpose of the embargo. I only commented toward why people want it lifted today.

    I can’t speak for others but I feel free, capitalism has been just to me. The US is a republic not a democracy. Who cares about democracy, the individual is above the majority here.

    And if that is the case then then they should provide evidence and make a claim for the lost tax profits. Probably could have done that during the revolution without seizing all of the american assets without trial.

    The revolution never cared to work it out with anyone, and since they never cared, why should anyone care to work it out with the revolution now?

  • February 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm
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    I was mostly speaking to american thoughts on the cuban claim of lost profits due to the embargo. For the us claim, I would agree the resources would certainly be better served to the cuban people. However, the US does not think of things in terms of who is more deserving of what. The us government has no power to stop US entities from suing Cuba entities once they acquired assets in america.

    And I agree Cuba would be marketed as a cheap destination, much like all of the other Caribbean nations, like Haiti or the Dominican. What the other islands don’t have is an american military base providing free advertising to the shared histories of the two countries. To remove the base is to remove the current evidence of the shared history. I personally have never read about the history of any Caribbean nation other then Cuba.

  • February 27, 2015 at 10:16 am
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    Great idea! (sarcasm)! To close GITMO requires an act of Congress. Have you been awake lately. Not much is getting done in Washington. If ‘progress’ depends on getting out of GITMO, there will be no progress.

  • February 27, 2015 at 10:14 am
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    Interesting and little known side issue. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • February 27, 2015 at 10:13 am
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    Are you nuts? If Reeps don’t want Obama to use his executive powers to allow law-abiding undocumented immigrants to remain in the US, what do you think they would do if he circumvented US law to help Communist Cuba?

  • February 27, 2015 at 8:02 am
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    Given that Gitmo has a rather ambiguous legal state ie American laws on detainment, justice and torture don’t apply, may actually open an intriguing possibility.
    If follows from the above that the Helms Burton doesn’t apply either, so if Obama wanted to really circumvent the embargo and the US congress he could agree to nominally keep the camp on a lease basis but hand it over to Cuba to open businesses/free trade zones which could then export direct to the US. The rules on ships visiting wouldn’t apply and so Cruise ships could dock and then move on to the US without issues. US tourists could freely visit the area as well given the legal status. Once all this had been achieved the rest of the embargo would soon be binned.

  • February 27, 2015 at 3:25 am
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    Your proposal that the US would hand over terrorists to a state that sponsors terrorists is ludicrous, Circles.
    It is also inconceivable that with Russia looking for naval and airbases in the area that the US would hand over Guantanamo only to see it become another Russian base in Cuba.
    The biggest stumbling block to the negotiations is the desperate resolve of the regime to hold on to power – both political and economic – at any cost.

  • February 26, 2015 at 9:52 pm
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    Why? Isn’t it easier to solve the simple stuff first before tackling the difficult issues? No progress at all will be made if Cuba insists on major concessions from the U.S. as a precondition of merely continuing the negotiations.

  • February 26, 2015 at 9:49 pm
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    When the colonialist U.S. properties were take by the revolution the Cuban government offered what the American owners said the properties and businesses were worth when those companies paid their taxes under the Batista dictatorship which, of course, were way lower than actual value.
    They cheated the Cuban people out of the taxes that were due for decades and for that reason are due no money now
    Further, the people of the U.S. could not care less about the democratic freedoms of other countries since they do not understand what democracy is.
    They think capitalism is how to define freedom when it is one of the most totalitarian forms there is.
    And FYI, since you don’t seem to know much about the history, the explicit purpose of the embargo as stated by then Under Secretary of State Lester Mallory back some 55 years ago was to impoverish the entire population such that they would throw out their revolution and revert to capitalism .
    Shoot your television.

  • February 26, 2015 at 8:23 pm
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    No. If Gitmo closes it would not ‘wash all american thoughts to the country away’. Cuba would be marketed hard to the US as a cheap and easy to reach tourist destination, not to mention a potential business opportunity. Compensation for US citizens re pre-revolution property? Hmm. How feasible is this? Surely US citizens have enjoyed years of relative prosperity and freedom of choice and going forward would compensation not eat away into resources that should be made ring fenced to benefit and improve the lives of the general Cuban population (as opposed to the elite who are doing plenty well, thank you very much).

  • February 26, 2015 at 11:55 am
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    America must pull out of Guantanamo before any further progress can be made.

  • February 26, 2015 at 11:51 am
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    By the way this week (23 Feb) was the 112th anniversary of the signing of the Guantanamo lease.

  • February 26, 2015 at 11:49 am
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    An excellent proposal, Circles. It could be combined with the return of some of the remaining prisoners to their home countries where both parties accept that, and the numbers accepted by the Cuban government could start small and grow. After all, the US has presumably at least tacitly accepted the validity of Cuba’s intermediary role in resolving the future of FARC in Colombia, and there are some similarities here. Cuba should be reassured by the apparent warm welcome given to the released prisoners in Uruguay, and the gratitude and willingness to settle in shown by the prisoners towards President Mujica and his fellow countrymen. Indeed there is already experience in Uruguay of the type of assistance the prisoners will need, which they would surely share with Cuba.

  • February 26, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    Great thoughts but I think your proposals are not something the us would accept as they provide little to the american people reasons for the relations change.

    I think the american people want to remove the embargo for two reasons:

    1) The american people have interest and want friendly relations with countries that host military bases.

    2) The american people want the Cubans to have better lives/freedoms and can see the embargo not helping with that goal. The US is not doing this for economic reasons, however that would be a welcome benefit of the change.

    Your proposals don’t exactly lend themselves to these goals.

    As well..

    Closing gitmo would not be in the long term interests of Cuba. It is because of gitmo that the american people have interest and learn about Cuba, as it is with all countries that host american military bases. The us maintains highly preferential relationship to countries with us military bases. If gitmo closes, it washes all american thoughts to the country away, we may as well forget the island exists as it will only show up in a blurb on the news when a natural disaster occurs.

    While I understand Cuba’s anger toward the embargo, many american people believe claiming losses from it is a like a thief claiming losses after he can’t sell back stolen property to the owner. There is no reason why the us should have to trade with a country that nationalized it’s property without compensation, the embargo is not unjust from an US perspective.

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