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Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
Gitmo Aerial.jpg
Aerial view of Guantánamo Bay
Type Military base
Built 1898
In use 1898 - present
Controlled by United States Navy
Battles/wars Battle of Guantánamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is located on 45 square miles of land and water at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which the United States leased for use as a coaling (fueling) station following the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The base is located on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the oldest overseas U.S. Navy Base, and the only one in a country with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations.[1]

The Cuban government opposes the presence of the naval base, claiming that the lease is invalid under international law. The U.S. government claims that the lease is valid.

Since 2002, the naval base has contained a military prison, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for persons alleged to be unlawful combatants captured in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. These are combatants who are considered "unlawful combatants" and who were formerly not being afforded protection under the Geneva Conventions for various reasons.



Map of Cuba with location of Guantánamo Bay indicated
See also Timeline of Guantánamo Bay
See also List of commanders of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

The bay is located in Cuba and was originally named Guantánamo by the Taíno. Christopher Columbus landed at the location known as Fisherman's Point in 1494, naming the bay Puerto Grande. The bay was briefly renamed Cumberland Bay when the British took it in the first part of the 18th century during the War of Jenkins' Ear. In 1790, the British garrison at Cumberland died of yellow fever as had a previous British force,[2] before they could attack Santiago by land.[3]

During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. fleet attacking Santiago retreated to Guantánamo's excellent harbor to ride out the summer hurricane season of 1898. The Marines landed with naval support, requiring Cuban scouts to push off Spanish resistance that increased as they moved inland. This area became the location of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, which covers about 45 square miles (116 km²) and is sometimes abbreviated as "GTMO" or "Gitmo".

The base in 1916
Satellite view of Guantánamo Bay
Map of Guantánamo Bay showing approximate U.S. Naval Boundaries

By the war's end, the U.S. government had obtained control of all of Cuba from Spain. A perpetual lease for the area around Guantánamo Bay was offered February 23, 1903, from Tomás Estrada Palma, an American citizen, who became the first President of Cuba. The Cuban-American Treaty gave, among other things, the Republic of Cuba ultimate sovereignty over Guantánamo Bay while granting the United States "complete jurisdiction and control" of the area for coaling and naval stations. The base was an important intermediate distribution point for World War II merchant shipping convoys from New York City and Key West, Florida, to the Panama Canal and the islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Trinidad.[4]

A 1934 treaty reaffirming the lease granted Cuba and her trading partners free access through the bay, modified the lease payment from $2,000 in U.S. gold coins per year, to the 1934 equivalent value of $4,085 in U.S. dollars, and made the lease permanent unless both governments agreed to break it or the U.S. abandoned the base property. Since the Cuban Revolution, the government under Fidel Castro has cashed only one of the rent checks from the US government. The Cuban government maintains this was only done because of "confusion" in the heady early days of the revolution, while the US government maintains that the cashing constitutes an official validation of the treaty. The remaining uncashed checks made out to "Treasurer General of the Republic" (a position that has ceased to exist after the revolution) are kept in Castro's office stuffed into a desk drawer.[5]

Until the 1953-59 revolution, thousands of Cubans commuted daily from outside the base to jobs within. In mid-1958, vehicular traffic was stopped; workers were required to walk through the base's several gates. Public Works Center buses were pressed into service almost overnight to carry the tides of workers to and from the gate.[6] By 2006, only two elderly Cubans still crossed the base's North East Gate daily to work on the base, because the Cuban government prohibits new recruitment.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the families of military personnel were evacuated from the base. Notified of the evacuation on October 22, evacuees were told to pack one suitcase per family member, to bring evacuation and immunization cards, to tie pets in the yard, to leave the keys to the house on the dining table, and to wait in front of the house for buses.[7] Dependents traveled to the airfield for flights to the United States, or to ports for passage aboard evacuation ships. After the crisis was resolved, family members were allowed to return to the base in December 1964.

An aerial view of the naval base with the Navy Exchange and McDonald's at left and an outdoor movie theater at bottom right
Two of the wind turbines installed by the Navy in 2005

Since 1939, the base's water had been supplied by pipelines that drew water from the Yateras River about 4.5 miles (7.2 km) northeast of the base. The U.S. government paid a fee for this; in 1964, it was about $14,000 a month for about two and a half million U.S. gallons (10 million L) per day. In 1964, the Cuban government stopped the flow. The base had about 14 million gallons water in storage, and strict water conservation was put into effect immediately. The U.S. first imported water from Jamaica via barges, then relocated a desalination plant from San Diego, California (Point Loma).[8] When the Cuban government accused the United States of stealing water, base commander John D. Bulkeley ordered that the pipelines be cut and a section removed. A 38-inch (964 mm) length of the 14-inch (355 mm) diameter pipe and a 20-inch (508 mm) length of the 10-inch (254 mm) diameter pipe were lifted from the ground and the openings sealed.

With over 9,500 U.S. sailors and Marines,[9] Guantanamo Bay is the only U.S. base in operation in a Communist led country.

"Gitmo" has a U.S. amateur radio call sign series, KG4 followed by two letters.[10] This is completely distinct from Cuban radio callsigns, which typically begin with CL, CM, CO, or T4..[11] For "ham" purposes it is considered to be a separate "entity." This position is not recognized by Cuba's amateur radio society[citation needed].

Notable persons born at the naval base include actor Peter Bergman and American-British guitarist Isaac Guillory.

In 2005, the Navy completed a $12 million wind project, erecting four wind turbines capable of supplying about a quarter of the base's peak power needs, reducing diesel fuel usage and pollution from the existing diesel generators.[12]

Victims from 2010 Haiti earthquake are unloaded at U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

On January 22, 2009, President Obama signed executive orders directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of "secret" prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year. However, as he reversed the most disputed counterterrorism policies of the Bush years, he postponed for at least six months difficult decisions on the details.[13]

Cuban opposition

Cuban workers return home through the North East Gate, circa 1983

The long-term lease of Guantanamo Bay by the United States has been unpopular with the Cuban government since 1959. The present sovereigns of the territory covering Guantanamo Bay, the Republic of Cuba, led by the Communist Party of Cuba, claim that as sovereign land owners they may evict the people who live and work there, pointing to article 52[14] of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which declares a treaty void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force — in this case by the inclusion, in 1901, of the Platt Amendment in the first Cuban Constitution. The United States warned the Cuban Constitutional Convention in 1934 not to remove the Amendment, and stated U.S. troops would not leave Cuba until its terms had been adopted as a condition for the U.S. to grant independence. However, the United States has argued that Article 4 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties prohibits retroactive application of said Convention to already existing treaties,[15] such as the ones concluded between the United States and Cuba in 1903 and 1934. The Platt Amendment was voided by the Treaty of Relations and the treaty re-affirming the lease to the base was signed after Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched 29 U.S. warships to Cuba and Key West to protect U.S. interests following a military coup.[16]

Since coming to power in 1959, Cuban ruler Fidel Castro has refused to cash all but the very first rent check in protest.[5] But the United States argues that its cashing signifies Havana's ratification of the lease—and that ratification by the new government renders any questions about violations of sovereignty and illegal military occupation moot.[17]

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article on April 22, 2007, about the base, and the conditions under which the treaty would be rendered void.[18] The article states: "The 103-year-old agreement limits use of the Cuban territory to "coaling and naval purposes only," neither of which appears to cover the prison or tribunal operations. The agreement also expressly prohibits "commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas," but the U.S. base now sports a McDonald's, two Starbucks outlets, a Subway sandwich shop and other American concessions." According to the article, American business, political and cultural figures with regular contact with Cuban leaders say they have the impression that the Cuban government wants the U.S. military off the island but that the issue is not a priority now.[18]

Cactus Curtain

Minefield maintenance Marines stack mines for disposal, 1997

Cactus Curtain is the name of the line separating Guantánamo Bay from Cuba proper. After the Cuban Revolution, some Cubans sought refuge on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In the fall of 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 28-kilometre (17 mi) fence surrounding the base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States.[19] This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain[20] and the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia.

U.S. and Cuban troops placed some 55,000 land mines across the "no man's land" between the U.S. and Cuban border, creating the second-largest minefield in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. On May 16, 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered their removal. They have since been replaced with motion and sound sensors to detect intruders. The Cuban government has not removed the corresponding minefield on its side of the border.[21][22]

Detention camp

Detainees upon arrival at Camp X-Ray, January 2002

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the base was used to house Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas. In the early 1990s, it held refugees who fled Haiti after military forces overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. These refugees were held in a detainment area called Camp Bulkeley until United States district court Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. declared the camp unconstitutional on June 8, 1993. This decision was later vacated. The last Haitian migrants departed Guantánamo on November 1, 1995.

The Migrant Operations Center on Guantánamo typically keeps fewer than 30 people interdicted at sea in the Caribbean region.

Beginning in 2002, a small portion of the base was used to imprison several hundred individuals — some of whom were captured by US forces in Afghanistan— at Camp Delta, Camp Echo, Camp Iguana, and the now-closed Camp X-Ray. The US military has asserted that some, but not all, of these detainees are linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In litigation regarding the availability of fundamental rights to those imprisoned at the base, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the detainees "have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control."[23] Therefore, the detainees have the fundamental right to due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. A district court has since held that the "Geneva Conventions applied to the Taliban detainees, but not to members of Al-Qaeda terrorist organization."[24]

One of the guard towers at Guantanamo Bay, 1991

On June 10, 2006, the Department of Defense reported that three Guantánamo Bay detainees committed suicide. The military reported the men hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes.[25] A study published by Seton Hall Law's Center for Policy and Research, while making no conclusions regarding what actually transpired, asserts that the military investigation failed to address significant issues detailed in that report.[26]

The closing-down of the Guantánamo Prison has been requested by Amnesty International (May 2005), the United Nations (February 2006) and the European Union (May 2006).

On September 6, 2006, President George W. Bush announced that enemy combatants held by the CIA will be transferred to the custody of Department of Defense, and held at Guantánamo Prison. Among approximately 500 prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, only 10 have been tried by the Guantanamo military commission, but all cases have been stayed pending the adjustments being made to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

President Barack Obama has stated that he intends to close down the detention camp and is planning on bringing detainees to the United States to stand trial by the end of his first term in office. On January 22, 2009, three executive orders were issued by President Barack Obama, although only one of these orders explicitly deals with policy directed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, most noticeably, the camp's closure within one year. All three could possibly impact the detention center, as well as how any detainee future or present will be held by the United States. While mandating the closure of the detention facility, the naval base as a whole was not subject to the order and will remain operational indefinitely. This plan was thwarted for the time being on May 20, 2009, when the senate voted to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future and forbid the transfer of any detainees to facilities in the United States. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the appropriations committee, said he initially had favoured keeping Guantanamo open until Obama produced a "coherent plan for closing the prison."[27] As of September 26, 2009, policy is currently being drafted with an aim toward compromise.

Represented businesses

Guantánamo's McDonald's

In 1986, Guantanamo became host to Cuba's first and only McDonald's restaurant.[28][29]

A Subway sandwich shop was opened in November 2002.[30][30] Other fast food outlets have followed. These fast food restaurants are on base, and not accessible to Cubans. It has been reported that prisoners cooperating with interrogations have been rewarded with Happy Meals from the McDonald's located on the mainside of the base.[31]

In 2004, Guantanamo opened a combined KFC & A&W restaurant at the bowling alley and a Pizza Hut Express at the Windjammer Restaurant.[32] There is also a Taco Bell, and an ice cream shop that sells Starbucks coffee. All the restaurants on the installation are franchises owned and operated by the Department of the Navy.[33] All proceeds from these restaurants are used to support morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) activities for service personnel and their families [34].

See also



  1. ^ "U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay". U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Public Affairs Office. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  2. ^ "Guantanamo Bay Freeport". Globalisation Institute. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  3. ^ Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., U.S.M.C. (February 1962). "How We Got GUANTANAMO". American Heritage Magazine 13 (2). 
  4. ^ Hague, Arnold The Allied Convoy System 1939-1945 Naval Institute Press 2000 ISBN 1-55750-019-3 p.111
  5. ^ a b Boadle, Anthony (17 August 2007). "Castro: Cuba not cashing U.S. Guantanamo rent checks". Reuter. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  6. ^ M. E. Murphy, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy. "The History of Guantanamo Bay 1494 -1964: Chapter 18, "Introduction of Part II, 1953 - 1964"". Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  7. ^ M. E. Murphy. "The History of Guantánamo Bay 1494 -1964: Chapter 19, "Cuban Crisis, 1962"". Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  8. ^ John Pomfret, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps. "The History of Guantanamo Bay, Vol. II 1964 - 1982: Chapter 1, After the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1968". Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  9. ^ Ralston, Jeannie (April 2005). "09360 No-Man's-Land". National Geographic. 
  10. ^ Federal Communications Commission. "Amateur Radio Call Sign Naming Convention". Retrieved 2008-12-02. 
  11. ^ International Telecommunication Union. "Table of Allocation of International Call Sign Series". Retrieved 2009-01-30. 
  12. ^ United States Navy. The Department of Navy Debuts Largest Wind Energy Project To Date. April 25, 2005.
  13. ^ "Obama Orders Secret Prisons and Detention Camps Closed". Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  14. ^ "Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of treaties". 
  15. ^ pdf
  16. ^ The failed revolution
  17. ^ A Constructive Plot to Return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba in the Near Future
  18. ^ a b Carol J. Williams (April 22, 2007). "Guantanamo echoes U.S. 'gunboat' past: Anti-American forces use Navy base as rallying symbol". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-04-22. 
  19. ^ "Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Ecological Crises". Trade and Environment Database. American University. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  20. ^ "Yankees Besieged". TIME. 1962-03-16.,9171,940656,00.html. 
  21. ^ Rosenberg, Carol (1999-06-29). "Guantanamo base free of land mines". The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  22. ^ "Destination Guantanamo Bay". BBC News. 2001-12-28. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  23. ^ Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004).
  24. ^ In re Guantánamo detainee Cases, 355 F.Supp.2d 443 (D.D.C. 2005).
  25. ^ DOD Identifies 3 Guantanamo Suicides, Washington Post, June 11, 2006
  26. ^ Death in Camp Delta, Seton Hall University School of Law. (18Mb)
  27. ^ "Senate Nixes Obama's Guantanamo Plan"
  28. ^ Warner, Margaret (October 14 2003). "INSIDE GUANTANAMO". Online NewsHour. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  29. ^ Joseph A. Morris (2002-11-15). "Profession of the Week: McDonald's workers". The Wire (JTF-GTMO). 
  30. ^ a b Frank N. Pellegrini (2002-11-22). "Monday Night Football at Subways: Open until it is over". The Wire (JTF-GTMO). 
  31. ^ Corera, Gordon (16 January 2006). "Guantanamo Bay's unhappy anniversary". The New Nation. Archived from the original on 2008-01-29. Retrieved 2006-03-15. 
  32. ^ "Dining". JTF Guantanamo. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  33. ^ Andrew Selsky (2008-11-27). "Not just a prison, the Navy sees many uses for Guantánamo". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2008-11-28.  mirror
  34. ^ Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "Branded Food & Beverage Concepts". Retrieved 2010-01-22. 

External links


Official U.S. military website

White House Statement

Maps and photos

Human rights affairs

Coordinates: 19°54′N 75°9′W / 19.9°N 75.15°W / 19.9; -75.15


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