How the US stole Guantanamo Bay

Autumn 2003

Article from Cuba Si

How the US stole Guantanamo Bay

In the last two years the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has regularly been seen in the news due to the imprisonment of hundreds of Muslims held there by the United States without trial.

It is well documented that the prisoners are held in terrible conditions and they have included minors. Cuba has surprisingly come under fire from some quarters for allowing this behaviour on their land. It is important to explain that Cuba has no power over this area of their own soil, as for the last 100 years it has been occupied by the United States and is separated from the rest of Cuba by one of the world’s most intense minefields.

The area known as Guantanamo Bay covers nearly 118 square kilometres of eastern Cuba, it contains 2 airfields and is home to around 3,000 permanently stationed US military personnel, whilst a further floating population of thousands arrives and departs by air and sea each month.

The annual rent for the leasing of this land is 2,000 gold coins, equal to $4,085, so around one cent per square metre of land! However, since 1959 and the triumph of the Revolution, no cheque has ever been cashed. Since March of that year Cuba has demanded that the US return the base and has regularly had resolutions passed at the Non-Aligned Movement calling for the base to be returned.

The history of Guantanamo Bay is a perfect example of US policy towards Cuba since the end of the 19th century. In 1898, just as the Cuban patriots’ independence army was about to achieve victory after 30 years of armed struggle against the Spanish Crown, the United States declared war on Spain after their warship, The Maine, was allegedly torpedoed by the Spanish. Later that year, rule of Cuba was transferred from Madrid to Washington at the Treaty of Paris, where no Cubans were present, after US President McKinley had stated “it wouldn’t be wise to recognise the independence of the Cuban Republic”.

However, the Cuban struggle for independence looked likely to begin again, this time against US rule and in 1901 the US introduced the Platt Amendment. This allowed the President to hand over rule of the island to the Cuban people, but only after a government and constitution could be established that set out future relations between the two countries. A major part of the constitution forced the future Cuban government to lease part of its territory for the establishment of US naval stations. The result was the 1903 Permanent Treaty, which decided that a piece of Cuban land was to be leased to the USA, and 100 years ago the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base ceased to be a part of Cuban territory.

The base was very unpopular with the Cuban people before the US Navy had even moved in, leading the Cuban government to write a letter to Washington asking for any changeover ceremony to be kept to a minimum, as there had been protests against the lease. But only nine years later, the US imposed another agreement on Cuba, enlarging the size of the US area to what it is now, even though this covered an access channel which had previously been agreed as a shared channel, to ensure ‘free trade.’

In 1934, faced with economic hardships, the US began a so-called “Good Neighbour” policy and signed a Treaty of Reciprocity, which repealed the Platt Amendment and the 1903 Permanent Treaty, but maintained all stipulations concerning Guantanamo. However, as the treaty was being signed in Washington, over 20 US warships paid “friendly” visits to various points along the Cuban coast.

So what goes on at Guantanamo, why is it necessary for the US to have a base on the territory of a country where they have imposed an economic blockade for over forty years?

According to the US it has been essential in fighting drug trafficking during their war on drugs, and vital for military training, such as Ocean Venture in 1992, when a 30,000 strong force was flown in at a cost of millions of dollars. But it has also been pivotal in the invasions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico and Panama, continuous reconnaissance missions over Cuba, planning counterrevolutionary missions, attempting to engage Cuban forces in full scale combat and thousands of violations and acts of provocation against the Cuban people. This has included throwing objects from planes, aiming rifles, canons and even tanks, disrespecting the Cuban flag, 7’breaking boundary fences. In 1962 alone there were nearly 6,000 violations of Cuba’s jurisdictional waters with military vehicles.

These acts began in 1961 when an oil refinery was damaged and a sailor killed by shots from a pirate ship that had come from the base. Local people have been targeted. In 1964 38 fishermen were imprisoned on the base, and there are numerous tales of Cubans being arrested and even murdered after being accused of working for the Cuban government.

The US authorities have a shameful record of treatment of employees at the base, there have been periodic mass layoffs, which could only be avoided by Cubans renouncing their citizenship. And although all staff are meant to be given a retirement fund made up of 6% of their wages, very few have ever received it, with well over $4 million owed by the US government.

Actions like those listed above show that the Guantanamo Naval base has been an expression of the United States’ unsatisfied geopolitical ambitions for Cuba. The cause of the dispute between the two states, has been the US authorities’ resistance to seeing Cuba become a free and sovereign nation, breaking away from plans for US control over the Cuban people that have spanned three centuries. Which is why the US has never even entered into any discussions over a possible eventual handover, despite repeated requests from the Cuban government.

Even during the Missile Crisis in 1962 the US administration was not prepared to talk about handing back Guantanamo, but was prepared to take the world to the brink of nuclear war. Yet, according to international law, the United States has no right to still be at the base. International law establishes consent as the basis for any legal obligation resulting from an agreement, where is the consent in any of the agreements concerning Guantanamo?

The lease was forced onto a government that had been installed as puppets of the American regime and remained there under threat of military intervention. International law also consecrates the precept of basic change of circumstance, which should have led to a US departure as soon as they broke off diplomatic relations in 1961 and the base was no longer a show of “friendship” but a tool of US aggression.

And finally, quite simply it is absurd to think that the owner of anything that is leased cannot recover it at a given time, as any lease is per se, temporary.

Most of the information above has been taken from the book Guantanamo; The Bay of Discord, by Roger Ricardo, available on

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