From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.1, Winter 1963, pp.9-12, 22.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by Andrew Pollack for ETOL.
All the hypocritical cries about the “Cuban danger” will not erase the record of a classic imperialist land-grab or hide the guilt of the real aggressors
* * *
“If an invasion eventually is launched against Cuba,” notes the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 23), “the US already has what in effect is a beachhead in Cuba: the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay” which is “a potential springboard for a military offense should war come.”
Guantánamo consists of 28,000 acres with about 1,400 buildings. There are two airfields within its confines, the 5,000 foot runway of McCalla Field and an 8,000 foot strip for jets on Leeward Point. It is the largest enclosed harbor in the world; the anchorage can accommodate 50 ships. The normal resident military complement is 2,950 men, dependents number about 2,500. In addition there are usually 5,000 men aboard ships in the bay. Some 3,600 Cubans work on the base. The US has arrogated to itself perpetual exclusive rights over the area, paying Cuba $3,386.25 annually for this occupied territory or about a penny an acre on a monthly basis.
The presence of American troops in Guantánamo against the wishes of the Cuban people is ever-present aggression. The offensive nature of American bayonets in Cuba was spotlighted during Kennedy’s latest attempt to crush the Cuban Revolution, in which Guantánamo played a key role. “Guantánamo Marines Rarin’ To Go” was the eight column head across the front page of the NY World Telegram (Nov. 12). Jim G. Lucas, reporting from Guantánamo, quoted Corporal Jerome Golden: “There’s not a man here who doesn’t want to go over that fence. That’s why we thought we came here.”
Reporting from Cuba’s occupied territory, David Kraslow of the Miami Herald (Nov. 14) saw an “eerie stillness” on the Cuban side. “On the American side there are ’over 8,000’ tough Marines spoiling for a fight.” Tad Szulc of the NY Times (Nov. 12) noted that “the Pentagon could not foresee” if “the crisis would lead to... offensive operations that would require support from Guantánamo.” He reported that alongside of heavy troop concentrations, there were “Navy underwater demolition teams, its warships, its Navy attack jet fighters, propeller-driven bombers ...”
Reinforcing the concept of an offensive buildup, Marine Commandant Gen. W.R. Collins gave his evaluation: “There are no signs the Cubans are preparing an attack on the base” (UPI, Nov. 13). The same day, a tank march along the fence was “projected, to impress Cubans who had allegedly thrown rocks – Goliath had second thoughts, and called it off. The N.Y. Times (Nov. 18) displayed a large photo of Douglas Skyraiders on “alert” at Guantánamo airfield, noting that they were “capable of delivering ... nuclear bombs.”
A blueprint for subjugating Cuba was reported by the (Oct. 9) Los Angeles Times. Holmes Alexander reported from Guantánamo Bay:
“We would be lucky if an ’incident’ at this naval base provided us with a new chance to establish a free Cuba on this island. The opportunity would enable us to set up a fighting front ... Nothing else, except this uncompromising joining of battle in a limited war, with the avowed intention of victory, seems to be in the picture as viewed here.”
US News & World Report (Nov. 26) blustered:
“Heavy reinforcement of Guantánamo ... showed Cuba had been placed at the mercy of US military force and that the US was ready for action if it were needed.”
Guantánamo was set on a collision course aimed at overthrowing the Cuban Revolution by armed force, meanwhile undertaking provocations, espionage and subversion.
During the past sixty-four years, Guantánamo has been an integral part of the US drive to transform and maintain the Caribbean as an American lake and Latin America as vassal states. The stakes are very high. They were summarized by Herbert Matthews in the NY Times (April 26, 1959):
“US private investments in Latin America now reach the amazing total of about $9.5 billion ... At every point it has to be said: ’If we did not have Latin America on our side, our situation would be desperate. To be denied the products and markets of Latin America would reduce the US to being a second-rate nation and cause a devastating reduction in our standard of living ... Latin American raw materials are essential to our existence as a world power.’”
The end result of US colonial policy was editorially stated by England’s respected Manchester Guardian Weekly (Jan. 12, 1961) while discussing Cuban-US relations. “In most parts of the world, it is no longer Britain or France – or even the Soviet Union – which is regarded as the arch imperialist. It is the United States.” The story of US imperialism is also the story of Guantánamo – America’s oldest foreign base.
The US government in its White Paper in reply to Cuban charges (Oct. 13, 1960) spoke of “the historic friendship between Cuba and the US,” adding that the US “never ‘took upon itself’ or ‘imposed by force’ any right respecting Guantánamo.” History tells a different story.
The American government consistently opposed Cuban liberation. Until the US was ready to swallow Cuba, it wanted the island to remain part of a declining Spain.
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote to the American Minister in Spain on April 28, 1823:
“There are laws of political as well as of physical gravitation; and if an apple, severed by the tempest from its native tree, cannot choose but fall to the ground, Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its unnatural connection with Spain and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only towards the North American Union.”
On the other hand, Cubans had the curious belief that Cuba had a natural connection with them. This belief was so profound that from 1868-1878 – the first phase of Cuba’s 30-year struggle for independence – Spain lost 80,000 soldiers. In this war “the US,” says Herbert Matthews, “helped Spain” (The Cuban Story).
Eventually, America embarked on her own career of overseas imperialism. The concept that it was the destiny of the US to have this Hemisphere as its private preserve was asserted with inimitable candor by Secretary of State Richard T. Olney in a message to England over the Venezuela dispute in July 1895:
“The US is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law ... its infinite resources combined with its isolated position render it master of the situation and practically invulnerable against any or all other powers.”
The US was not in business to free Latin America; its aim was to change the locale of domination to Washington. In 1895 another Cuban insurrection against Spain began. President Cleveland said that the US because of “its large pecuniary stake” in the fortunes of Cuba was “inextricably involved.”
Expansionists were convinced by 1898 that the fruit had ripened sufficiently for McKinley’s intervention. An editorial in the Washington Post just before the war, explained:
“A new consciousness seems to have come upon us – the consciousness of strength – and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength ... The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle.”
On February 15, 1898, the battleship Maine blew up in Cuban waters with the loss of 258 crew members and two officers. The origin of the explosion has never been determined. Those were the days during which William Randolph Hearst’s scribblers fabricated Our-Man-In-Havana stories to stir up war.
Artist Frederic Remington cabled his desire to return from Cuba: “Everything is quiet, there is no trouble here. There will be no war.” Hearst replied: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
Spain agreed early in April 1898 to suspend hostilities, call a Cuban parliament and grant generous local autonomy. There had been widespread indignation over the atrocities committed by Spain’s General Weyler and he had been recalled. The American Minister in Spain, General Woodford, cabled McKinley that the Madrid government was willing to grant any automomy which the insurgents would accept, even complete independence for Cuba. But McKinley “without making public the latest concession from Madrid, sent a militant message to Congress on April 11, 1898, declaring that his efforts were brought to a standstill and the issue was in the hands of Congress” (Charles and Mary Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, Vol. 2). Congress interpreted the message as a demand for a declaration of war.
In the Senate, Populists suspecting a ruse for imperialist conquest forced the adoption of a supplement disowning all subterfuges. On April 19, 1898, the US was at war with the most powerless, European colonial state, one that had offered to capitulate before the battle started.
The intent of the Joint Resolution for the Recognition of the Independence of the People of Cuba (US Statutes at Large, Vol.30), April 20, 1898, was clear:
“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the USA in Congress assembled, First. That the people of the Island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be, free and independent ... That the US hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said Island except for the pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the Island to its people.”
This was the will of the American people. McKinley had become president on a platform calling for Cuban independence.
After four months, hostilities were over. Contrary to our jingoistic textbooks, it was Cuba’s General Garcia who provided the strategy for the Battle of Santiago and a troop of 5,000 Cubans who barred the advance from Holguin of the main Spanish body. Leatherneck (Nov. 1962), the Marine Corps magazine, stated in its historical roundup: “There was little opposition on the beach ... the Spanish American War did not amount to much militarily.”
Cubans, who had borne the brunt of the fighting, “were not invited to the conferences of the commanders, which closed with the Spaniards’ unconditional surrender. And Cuban troops with arms were not admitted to enter the liberated city!” (Waldo Frank, Cuba Prophetic Island.)
At the peace treaty signed in Paris (Dec. 10, 1898) Cuba was not even represented. Referring to Cuba, the Treaty states: “Spain relinquishes all claim of sovereignty over and title to Cuba. And as the island is, upon its evacuation by Spain, to be occupied by the US, the US will, so long as such occupation shall last ...” and so on in like vein. The American people wanted Cuban independence. The Joint Declaration of April 20 embodied this desire. Now the deceit was unveiled, “free and independent” was transformed into “occupation.”
In his message of December 1897 President McKinley had declared that “forcible annexation ... would be criminal aggression.” Later he remarked, “when the war is over we must keep what we want.” Thus, the US, as part of its war for the liberation of Cuba, grabbed Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines.
On January 1, 1899, Spanish troops evacuated Cuba to be replaced by US General Leonard Wood’s dictatorial occupation. The Cuban army had not yet been disbanded.
“Wood invited Generalissimo Gómez and a small group of Cuban leaders to a day’s picnic sail on his yacht. While the Daiquiris glittered cold, he assured Gómez that the President meant to honor absolutely the promises of Congress. Moreover McKinley had a balance of $3 million from the war budget voted by Congress, with which he was ready to pay a $75 bonus to every Cuban veteran, with one proviso: that the army dissolve. Gómez believed Wood and accepted” (Waldo Frank).
On November 5, 1900, General Wood called a constitutional convention in Havana. The delegates were instructed to write a Constitution and frame a treaty defining future relations between Cuba and the US.
Washington faced a problem. There was the resolution of Congress proclaiming to the world that the US desired only peace and not jurisdiction over Cuba. But if power were transferred to the Cuban people, would investments be safe? The situation involved profit versus honor. Then as now it was resolved for profit through falsifications, betrayal and armed might.
With Cubans drafting a treaty and their army dissolved, Senator O.H. Platt defined the relations whereby imperialist domination was assured behind a false facade. Sandwiched between liability of officers for failure to report and longevity payments for engineer battalions, was the nullification of Cuban sovereignty:
“The President is hereby authorized to ’leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people so soon as ... the government of Cuba consents that the US may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property and individual liberty ... the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the US lands necessary for coaling or naval stations [Guantánamo Bay] ... That by way of further assurance the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the US”
The Cuban people who had fought and suffered for thirty years to win their freedom understood this betrayal. They protested in Cuba and in Washington, but to no avail. The alternative to accepting the Platt amendment was indefinite military occupation. On July 12, 1901, by a vote of 17 to 11, it became part of Cuba’s constitution.
On May 20, 1902, US military occupation ended – but not for long. By 1906 US Marines again intervened to “restore order ... and establish a stable government after serious revolutionary activity,” remaining until 1909 (Situation in Cuba, US Senate, Sept. 17, 1962).
The formal “treaties” which transformed Guantánamo into occupied territory were signed on February 16 and July 2, 1903. They provided American imperialism with “complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas.” The treaty gave the US a perpetual lease on the base which can be changed only at Washington’s whim.
In a rare instance of historical candor, a memorandum on Guantánamo prepared by the Department of Defense for its 1961 Appropriations clarified the record: “It is perhaps worthwhile to note that the two lease agreements of 1903 were executed by the Presidents of the two countries and were not submitted to the Congresses of either country for approval.” Thus Guantánamo was stolen from Cuba behind the backs of both the American and the Cuban peoples.
That didn’t stop the N.Y. Times (Oct. 29, 1962) from palming off the “exceptionally low” rental as “indicative of Cuban gratitude to the US for having helped Cuba win independence from Spain.” (The revolutionary government of Castro feels no “gratitude” for an enemy base on its territory – it has refused to accept payment of the yearly rental since coming to power.) The origin of the Guantánamo Base is illegitimate, it derives from arbitrary occupation and imperialist aggression. It is based on naked force – as befits such a treaty, it was to extend forever.
In his vivid study, The Shark and the Sardines, spotlighting American colonialism in action, Dr. Juan José Arévalo, former President of Guatemala, exposed these “treaties.”
“From these pages we denounce once more the go-between function of International Law, shamelessly placed at the service of the Empire, to hide its fraud, to give an honest appearance to the plundering done by its bankers, to cover up carefully the butchering done by its marines and aviators ... There is only one contracting party – the one that swallows ... Law without authority for appeal is not Law. And when orders are dictated by foreign troops, how long does such Law last?”
Marion E. Murphy who was Commander of Guantánamo Base in his History of Guantánamo Base records that
“Some indication of the future role of the [Marine] barracks was noted in 1903. A battalion under Major L.C. Lucas spent about a month on the Station awaiting further transfer to Panama ... The following decades saw a procession of Marine units en route to or returning from Caribbean actions.”
Guantánamo Bay has been used as a staging area, or as a concentration point of troops and weapons whenever imperialist domination was endangered in the Caribbean. This is partially documented in Murphy’s book and more fully in a mimeographed 163-page monograph titled 180 Landings of US Marines, [in times of peace] 1800-1934 by Captain Harry Alanson Ellsworth, US Marine Corps, Officer in Charge, Historical Section, August, 1934. A concise listing of armed interventions is available by writing a Senator requesting Situation in Cuba, US Senate, Sept. 17, 1962, #89479.
The following are typical examples from this list. To suppress a Haitian revolt, the 24th Company of Marines, under Capt. William G. Fay from Guantánamo Bay, was transported to Haiti and landed on July 29, 1915. Two thousand Haitians were killed in this Marine operation which lasted until August 15, 1934. In Nicaragua “the revolutionary activities begun in the latter part of 1926 increased to such an extent that additional American forces were necessary” (Ellsworth). Guantánamo Bay answered the call with the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Regiment. The Marines left Nicaragua in 1933.
The land laws imposed under US occupation made Cubans landless while laying the basis for vast North American plantations. Four years after military occupation ended, the Marines returned to smash “a revolution of considerable proportion” which Ellsworth tells us, “was well underway.” Guantánamo Commandant Ackerman “armed nine steam launches and two tugs and organized a landing force ... US intervention had the requisite steadying effect” (Murphy).
On September 29, 1906, William Howard Taft proclaimed that Cuba, left without a government “at a time when great disorder prevails,” would be governed by the US Taft proclaimed himself provisional governor. Charles E. Magoon succeeded him, administering Cuba under this second occupation until 1909 when the Marines withdrew.
By 1912 “this Island showed distinct signs of again breaking forth in Revolution” (Ellsworth). The First Regiment landed at Guantánamo on May 28 and a few days later was distributed to different points in the eastern end of Cuba.
In 1917 the Marines acted as strikebreakers and Pinkertons for the Cuban Railroad; they were camped on railroad property. The request for additional Marines who remained until 1922 was motivated by Minister to Cuba, Boaz Long: “In event of Revolution or other disturbances American interests will be [the] first to be destroyed.” General Crowder in 1922 stated that if any disturbances developed, “the Marines could be rushed back from Guantánamo within 48 hours. Thus the Cuba Railroad would still have recourse to marine protection, if needed” (The US and Cuba, by Robert F. Smith).
Ships of the US Navy were sent to Havana for their “moral” effect in 1933. Murphy relates that when the bloody Machado dictatorship fell, “financiers, owners of sugar mills, business men and high ranking Cuban officials found a haven on the station ... US naval vessels cruised around the coast of Cuba ready to act for the preservation of lives and property.” It is worthwhile to note that during Machado’s regime of the “Sawed-Off Shotgun” (1925-1933) labor leaders, students and political opponents were butchered; Noske Yalob and Claudio Brouzon were thrown to the sharks; there were machine-gun elections; Luis Blanco Neuman was murdered by the police for presenting a petition to the American Embassy; but the Marines never intervened. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said of Trujillo: “He may be an S.O.B., but he is our S.O.B.”
Following a general strike, Gerardo Machado was overthrown in August 1933 and a new government under Dr. Grau San Martín enacted
“an eight hour day ... a minimum wage for cutting sugar cane ... the initiation of a program for agrarian reform ... a reduction in electricity rates ... The Grau government aroused intense hostility on the part of business interests ... Mr. Sumner Welles, the American Ambassador, was strongly opposed to the regime, and the US refused to recognize it... In January, 1934, the army [under Batista] finally turned against Grau, who was forced to resign ... The resentment of many Cubans has been increased by the accusation that the Mendieta coalition, which succeeded Grau, was and is largely the creature of American diplomacy. It is pointed out that Washington extended recognition to President Mendieta five days after he took office, although it had denied recognition to President Grau, who stayed in office four months” (Problems of the New Cuba, Foreign Policy Association, 1935).
The marines at Guantánamo Bay had earned their keep. Carleton Beals reviewed American domination over Cuba in 1933 (The Crime of Cuba). Nearly 90% of the cultivated land was owned or controlled by Americans.
“Eighty per cent of the sugar industry belongs to citizens of the US; the rest is controlled chiefly by American creditors. Cuba’s second industry – tobacco – is also mostly American. Nearly all the banks, railroads, streetcar lines, electric plants, telephone systems and other public utilities are owned by capital from the US”
During Grau’s presidency, the US ordered at least twenty nine naval vessels to proceed to Cuba or Key West. Marine air squadrons were alerted; guns and bomb racks were mounted on the planes. Regiments of Marine infantry were assembled at Key West, Florida. In case this would prove insufficient inducement, Secretary Cordell “Hull and Ambassador Welles discussed the possibility of armed intervention in some detail” (The US and Cuba, Robert F. Smith).
Ruby Hart Phillips, NY Times correspondent, in her book, Cuba – Island of Paradox, recounts the political atmosphere in 1933 “with Cuban officialdom trembling in their shoes as to the final action which would be taken by the US, a word from the Ambassador was usually sufficient. The memory of US intervention in 1907 still gave an American Ambassador considerable prestige.” In addition to the Ambassador, there is the army: “Camp Columbia [which revolutionary Cuba has now transformed into a school] controls not only Havana but the entire Island and the government.” Controlling the army, “Batista is doing everything he can to please Consul General Dumont ... He has the arms and ammunition and the soldiers. From now on Cuba is in the same category with all Latin American countries – the army rules.” President Mendieta signed a decree on March 7, 1934, suspending constitutional guarantees and placing the country under martial law.
R.H. Phillips understood Washington’s purpose: “The US was chiefly interested in the amount of sugar Cuba could produce, and was not going to have sugar production hampered by Revolution.”
Machado, whose army was trained by US officers, could guarantee US profits until a general strike overthrew him. Now Batista’s army would try the same. The military machine had become so powerful and was in such “responsible” and “friendly” hands, that the US could see no reason for using its own troops when Batista would do the job more cheaply. Meanwhile Roosevelt, who refused to recognize Dr. Grau, but in short order embraced the Batista-Mendieta axis, added prestige to a Cuban government which protected US business interests by modifying the hated Platt Amendment on May 29, 1934, retaining control over Guantánamo.
While the original Guantánamo treaties were imposed under threat of continuing US military occupation, the 1934 treaty, reaffirming US seizure of Guantánamo exactly as it was codified in 1903, was in essence a treaty which the US signed with itself using puppets as front men during a period of martial law with a “Provisional President” in Cuba. This is what Washington means when it says, “The US is in Guantánamo by right of treaty.”
In June of 1958 two of Batista’s planes, presumably bombing Cuban revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra, made emergency landings at Guantánamo and were refueled there. About the same time, Angel Saavedra, an agent of the July 26 Movement at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, secured documents showing that 300 5-inch rocket warheads, weighing nine tons, were delivered to Batista’s Air Force on May 19, 1958, from Guantánamo. The US State Department later confirmed this transaction.
Tad Szulc and Karl E. Meyer in their recent book, The Cuban Invasion, revealed that “In Cuba, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked mostly out of Havana and Guantánamo Naval Base.” In discussing leaders of a counterrevolutionary group, we are told:
“They were captured hours after [Sergio] Sanjenis in cooperation with CIA agents spirited Nino Diaz into the Guantánamo Navy Base from Havana ... There are good reasons to believe that Diaz had gone into the hills from Guantánamo Navy Base and that the CIA had given him some support.”
The CIA had a plan whereby some Cuban torpedo boats would escape from the naval base at Baracoa in Oriente province, but they would have to be refueled.
“To help the potential defectors, a privately owned undersea-cable repair ship, the Western Union, put in at Guantánamo to load on her deck several thousand drums of high-octane gasoline. But on her way to the Baracoa rendezvous, the vessel was intercepted by a Cuban warship. Anguished radio messages to Guantánamo sent a US destroyer and Navy aircraft rushing toward the Western Union, and, in the end, the Cuban captain let himself be stared down by the American forces and allowed the cable ship to go. Once discovered, however, the Western Union could no longer pursue her mission ...” (The Cuban Invasion).
A May 10, 1961 VPI dispatch, datelined Washington, disclosed that during the CIA organized invasion a US submarine was on hand.
“It was not learned whether the USS Spikefish was acting as an escort for the rebel landing craft or merely observing the operation ... The Navy declined to say anything on the subject... The sub ... later showed up at the Guantánamo Naval Base.”
Items datelined Guantánamo Naval Base, beginning with “Sources in contact with the Cuban underground say ...” (AP Sept. 18) are by now routine.
Following the US break in diplomatic relations with Cuba, Admiral Arleigh Burke reaffirmed US obligation to return fugitives from Cuba (in accordance with Article 4 of the July 2, 1903 treaty, reasserted May 29, 1934). An AP dispatch (San Juan Star, Oct. 19) reported: “The Navy said its Guantánamo Base in Cuba is sheltering about 350 Cubans who fled from Fidel Castro’s regime but is not allowing them to leave the Island.” Within less than one month, 300 Cubans had evaporated. An AP dispatch from Guantánamo (NY World Telegram, Nov. 12) divulges that “50 refugees from Castro are here now, although US officials do not admit that.” This item also claims that “Cuban workers ... are a source of information.”
This fits in well with the views of Admiral Burke as expressed in an interview with US News & World Report (Oct. 3, 1960):
“We shouldn’t be apologizing to the world. We’re powerful and we’re the leader of the world.” (Question: “Is the Navy concerned about the situation in Cuba?”) “Oh, yes, the Navy is concerned – not about our base at Guantánamo, but about the whole Cuban situation.”
What is the present function of foreign military bases, specifically Guantánamo? On March 28, 1961, Kennedy requested Congress to cut back military bases. The NY Times reported that Kennedy “has already taken steps to have 73 domestic and foreign installations discontinued.” The US maintains a total of 2,230 military installations overseas (Time, Nov. 9).
In analyzing overseas bases, the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 29) admits:
“Ironically, the Navy would probably have been willing to give up Guantánamo at the start of the Castro era; it’s basically a convenient, warm-water training base for newly outfitted ships and is no longer vital for guarding the Panama Canal. Now such a pullout might be interpreted as a surrender and so is considered undesirable.”
In our age of guided missiles, the occupied territory of Cuba does not protect the US mainland; it remains important to Washington’s drive against the Cuban Revolution and against the struggles of the Latin American people for their national liberation. The presence of US armed troops in Guantánamo has been a persistent violation of Cuban sovereignty.
The final declaration (Sept. 6, 1961) of the Belgrade Conference of Nonaligned Nations including India, Algeria, Morocco and the United Arab Republics demanded the immediate elimination of all manifestations of imperialism including the abolition of all foreign military bases. The Conference of 25 nations, declared that “the North American military base at Guantánamo, Cuba, to the permanence of which the Government and people of Cuba have expressed their opposition, affects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that country.”
Fidel Castro in his November 1, 1962, speech asked for “the withdrawal of the naval base at Guantánamo and the return of the territory occupied by the US. A truly convincing deed would be for the US to return the territory which it occupies at the naval base at Guantánamo.”
Herbert L. Matthews in his book, The Cuban Story (1961), declares:
“Sooner or later we are going to have to give up Guantánamo Bay because in the modern world it is not possible indefinitely to hold a military base in a foreign country against the wishes of the people of that country. France, Britain and Spain were unable to hold on to their bases in the Middle East and North Africa, and we are having to give up our air bases in Morocco.”
Hanson Baldwin maintains that Guantánamo’s importance lies in providing “comparative values”; it is “a sanctuary of freedom.”
J. Robert Moskin in a feature story from Guantánamo (Look, April 11, 1961) concretizes these lofty values. “Guantánamo’s greatest fame has been as a recreation center for the fleet.” In the “old days” this “was a lazy, luxurious station and a playground for the men from the ships. Rum and sin in the neighboring towns, were mighty attractions.”
But there’s something for everybody; there are attractions for upholders of togetherness. The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 10, 1961) reports:
“About 600 Cuban women clean the homes and cook meals of military men. Top pay $35 a month plus meals ... An officer’s wife, sunning herself at the swimming pool here while a Cuban band plays pleasant music, worries that her maid may never come back into the compound from the vacation she is now on.”
An old American custom was introduced to Guantánamo in March, 1960, when the militant leader of the base workers’ union, Frederico Figueras Larrazábal, was fired for allegedly making offensive remarks.
Though the workers are in daily contact with American values, including the twice-daily bodily frisking by Marines, an AP dispatch from the base on May 1, 1961, reported only forty-five workers had entered Guantánamo Base on May Day morning.
To give credit where it is due, we note President Kennedy’s press conference of March 8, 1961, at which he announced to the world that the Red Cross and the US Navy at Guantánamo had cooperated that very day with the Cubans “to combat a polio outbreak” in nearby Guantánamo City. Permission was granted “to send all the vaccine which could be spared.” The Cuban Red Cross man upon entering the US gate was met by photographers ready to record this humane act for posterity.
Kennedy’s statement closed with these moving words: “I want to take this opportunity – and this incident – to emphasize once again that our difference of opinion on matters affecting Cuba are not with the Cuban people. Rather, we desire the closest and harmonious, and friendly and most sympathetic ties with them.” (The “outbreak” consisted of four suspected cases, none of which developed into polio.)
The Cubans gave no thanks for this generous, though not anonymous contribution – the vaccine was both ineffective and dangerous; it had an expiration date of December 16, 1960.
Last updated on 22 May 2009