Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

The occupation of Guantanamo Bay, (Gitmo) Cuba by the United States troops came about during the Spanish-American War when the U.S. fleet was attacking Santiago. It was in 1898 and the fleet took refuge in Guantanamo’s perfect harbor to ride out the summer hurricane season. Guantanamo Bay is located at the southeastern end of Cuba and is a 45 square mile piece of land and water that the U.S. has occupied since 1903 when the U.S. Government obtained control of all of Cuba from Spain. A perpetual lease for the area around Guantanamo Bay was offered from the first President of Cuba, who was an American citizen, Tomas Estrada Palma. This became the Cuban-American Treaty and gave the U.S. complete jurisdiction and control of the area for coaling and naval stations. It is the only base in operation in a communist country, and as of 2006 was home to 9,500 U.S. troops.

In 1934 a treaty reaffirming the lease granted Cuba and her trading partner’s free access through the bay for a modest fee of $4,085 U.S. dollars. This lease became permanent unless both governments agreed to break it or the U.S. abandoned the base.

Many of the workers on base came from the thousands of Cubans that commuted daily from outside the base. During the 1953-1959 revolution, vehicular traffic was stopped and workers were required to walk through the base’s gates. Public Works busses were put into operation to carry the workers to and from the gate daily. The Cuban government prohibited new recruitment so through natural attrition, as of 2006 there were only two elderly Cubans that still cross the gate to work on the base.

Then in 1962 the Cuba Missile Crisis hit (also called the Bay of Pigs). All families of servicemen were evacuated and were instructed to pack one suitcase per family member. This happened on October 22nd. They were all flown out or put on ships for departure. The families were not allowed back until after the resolution which came in December 1964.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a dispute from the Cuban government that the U.S. was stealing water. Water was supplied to Guantanamo (Gitmo) since 1939 for a fee of approximately $14,000 a month for roughly two and a half million U.S. gallons a day. The water was obtained from the Yateras River (about 4 ½ miles northeast of the base). In 1964 the Cuban government stopped the flow of water through the pipeline. The U.S. had about 14 million gallons in storage and began water rationing. Then the U.S. began having the water barged in from Jamaica. The Cuban government accused the base of stealing water. The Base Commander ordered that the pipelines be cut and a 38-inch section be removed to prove to the Cuban government that they were not using their water. After this resolution the families were allowed back to the base. Shortly after this the U.S. government built the desalination plants. This is a process that takes the sea water, removes the salt and puts the salt back into the sea. This process makes the water fit for human consumption.

After the revolution many Cubans sought refuge on the base and were allowed to stay. In late 1961 Castro had his troops plant an 8 mile barrier of cactus along the northeastern section of the fence. This was called the Cactus Curtain. The U.S. Troops placed 75,000 land mines across the “no man’s land” between the U.S. and Cuban border (this created the second largest minefield in the world). In 1996 President Clinton ordered them removed (although, the Cuban government has not removed their corresponding minefield on their side of the border).

In 2005 the Navy completed the construction of a $12 million wind project. They erected four wind turbines that are capable of supplying about a quarter of the base’s peak power needs, thus reducing the diesel fuel usage.

In the last 25 years the base has been used as a detention base for Haitian refugees, who were intercepted fleeing their countries after military forces overthrew democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The camp was declared unconstitutional in 1993 and the last Haitian immigrant departed in 1995. Since 2002, as we all know, the base has been used to detain al-Qaeda and Taliban members.

In 1986 a top fast-food chain made their entrance onto the Gitmo scene. McDonald’s became Cuba’s first. Since then the base is home to a Subway, as well.

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