Why Does the U.S. Have a Military Base in Cuba?

Posted January 11th, 2013

January 11, 2013 marks the 11th anniversary of the arrival of the first transfers of detainees to the U.S. detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Protests are taking place in Washington, DC, at the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and throughout the world.

Latin America Solidarity Coalition Calls for Closing Guantánamo and Returning it to Cuba

The Latin America Solidarity Coalition (LASC) demands that occupied Guantánamo, including its prison torture center, be shut down. Guantánamo is occupied against the will of the Cuban people, is used as a military base against Cuba and other Caribbean countries. LASC calls for shutting down not just the Guantánamo prison camp, but also demands the shutting down of the entire illegal Guantánamo US military base, and its return to Cuba.

How Occupied Guantánamo Came to Be  

The U.S. invaded Cuba in 1898 to take advantage of the collapse of Spanish colonial rule there, and to   thwart the victory of the Cuban national liberation struggle. The U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence – our history textbooks named it “the Spanish-American war,” – called the first imperialist war of pillage, ended with the surrender of Spain in 1898.  The United States grabbed its first overseas colonies, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. Cuba remained as a “special territory” from which the Americans were to withdraw after its “appeasement.”

The US occupation government, headed by General Leonard Wood, summoned a constituent assembly to draw up a constitution for Cuba. The U.S. then imposed the Platt Amendment as a condition for the withdrawal of the US military from the island.

Clause 3 of the Amendment gave the U.S. the right to intervene for the “preservation” of Cuba’s “independence” in order to maintain a pro-US neo-colonial government.  Clause 7 forced Cuba to cede part of its territory for the establishment of naval bases and coaling stations. General Wood wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt, “There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment….With the control which we have over Cuba…we shall soon practically control the sugar trade of the world… and we shall have in time one of the richest and most desirable possessions in the world.”

Thus, in 1902, began Occupied Guantánamo and neocolonial Cuba. Guantanamo is the oldest US overseas navy base. According to the conditions imposed by the U.S., this occupation continues until both the U.S. and Cuba agree to end it.

The U.S. government paid $4,085 (at today’s prices) as rent per year, $340 a month, less than what we pay for a studio apartment. U.S. Occupied Guantánamo is 117.6 square kilometers of which 49.4 kilometers is land, the rest being water and swamp. This is 35 times the size of New York’s Central Park.

Cuba has refused to accept the checks since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.  Cuba has repeatedly demanded the U.S. end its occupation.

Occupied Guantánamo as a Base for U.S. Intervention

In 1917, 1919 and 1922, Marines from Guantánamo intervened in Cuba to “protect” U.S. economic interests in response to the revolt by the Partido Independiente de Color (Colored Independence Party), the Chambelona uprising and that of the liberals against the Menocal government.

During the 1956-58 liberation war Occupied Guantánamo supplied the Batista dictatorship’s air force with weaponry, with which it indiscriminately bombed and fired on campesinos and civilians in the liberated zones.

The base served as a launching point for U.S. troops invading other countries, such as Haiti in 1915 and 1994, and the Dominican Republic in 1918.

After the revolutionary triumph in January 1959, the base became a refuge for the old regime’s murderers and torturers, and has been used for aggression against Cuba: infiltration by agents; aid to counterrevolutionary bands; a center of electronic espionage, and a base for ships and planes enabling a naval blockade to be imposed on the island.

The Occupied Guantánamo military base has been a center of provocations and violations against Cuba.  According to official figures, from 1962 to August 1992, more than 13,000 such incidents have been registered, including the killing of two Cubans Border Guards, and two civilians, one tortured to death.

Occupied Guantanamo Prison and Torture Center

The most recent ugly episode in the base’s history is its prison and torture center.  The world has been shaken by the images of chained men being subjected to extreme degradation and force fed after hunger strikes to protest the inhuman conditions and indefinite detention without trial in the prison.

WikiLeaks revealed that 60% of the prisoners taken to that prison had no links whatsoever with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. WikiLeaks documents released the secret military files of 759 of 779 prisoners who have passed through the prison, 170 of whom are still confined there.

Cuba has stated that the atrocities being committed on the U.S. base, and the use of this illegally occupied Cuban territory as a prison, are in violation of international law and international humanitarian law. They also violate the Coal and Naval Stations Agreement signed in Cuba in February 1903. According to Article II of that agreement, the US government committed itself to doing everything necessary to ensure that those locations should be exclusively used as coal or naval stations and for no other objective.