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Vol. 80/No. 15      April 18, 2016

(feature article)

Why workers should demand US out of Guantánamo!

“The return of the territory illegally occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo” and ending Washington’s 55-year-long economic embargo of Cuba are essential steps Washington must take before there can be normal relations with Havana, Cuban President Raúl Castro reiterated during President Barack Obama’s visit to the Caribbean island in March.

Obama incredibly claimed that his administration has “removed the shadow of history” from relations between Washington and Havana. He said not a word about the Guantánamo Naval Base — 28,000 acres of land surrounding Guantánamo Bay, occupied by the U.S. military for more than a century in violation of Cuba’s sovereignty.

It’s useful to look at how the U.S. rulers usurped this territory in the first place, and why workers in the U.S. should insist Washington get out now.

In 1898, as Cuban independence fighters were on the verge of winning their 30-year struggle for freedom from Spanish colonial rule, Washington declared war on Spain, and grabbed the colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. The peace treaty signed in Paris in December 1898 — with no Cuban representative present — said, “Spain relinquishes all claim of sovereignty over and title to Cuba. … The Island is, upon its evacuation by Spain, to be occupied by the U.S.”

A 45,000-strong U.S. military force stayed until May 1902. By that time a regime subservient to Washington had been installed and an amendment to the country’s new constitution — initiated by U.S. Sen. Orville Platt — was imposed upon the Cuban people. The amendment obligated the Cuban government to ratify everything done by the military occupation and gave Washington the right to intervene in Cuba’s internal affairs whenever it deemed it necessary and the right to buy or lease Cuban land for military bases.

The puppet government in Havana agreed in February 1903 to “lease” Guantánamo Bay to Washington for an unspecified period of time.

The Cuban people repeatedly mobilized to protest the Platt Amendment and establishment of U.S. military bases on Cuban soil over the coming years. The U.S. Marines reoccupied Cuba from 1906 to 1909 and from 1917 to 1922, with direct U.S. military rule continuing until 1926. In 1934, the Platt Amendment was replaced with a new treaty obligating Cuba to lease Guantánamo to Washington indefinitely, unless both parties agreed otherwise. To this day, the U.S. government sends a yearly “rent check” of $4,085, which the Cuban government refuses to cash.

Staging ground for U.S. imperialism

Washington used the base over the years as a staging ground to defend U.S. imperialist interests in the region. The U.S. military’s 1915-1934 occupation of Haiti and its 1926-1933 occupation of Nicaragua were launched from Guantánamo.

With the victory of Cuban workers and farmers in overthrowing the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in January 1959, the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro from day one demanded that the U.S.-occupied territory be returned to the Cuban people. “The Republic of Cuba repudiates and considers as null and illegal those treaties, pacts or concessions signed under conditions of inequality or which disregard or diminish her sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Cuba’s constitution adopted in February 1976.

The victory of the socialist revolution in Cuba, the first in the Western Hemisphere, made Washington more determined to hold onto the Guantánamo base. The U.S. rulers used it to train counterrevolutionary bandits and carry out provocations, including killing some Cuban soldiers and starting fires across the boundary line inside Cuba.

“We have followed an extremely careful policy with respect to the naval base,” Fidel Castro told the Cuban people in a televised speech on April 23, 1961, four days after the Cuban victory over the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs. “We declared we would never try to take Caimanera [port at Guantánamo Bay] by force. … Our aim was to not provide them even the slightest pretext to carry out a direct attack against our country.”

The Cuban leadership pressed again for the return of Guantánamo in October 1962, after U.S. President John F. Kennedy pushed the world to the edge of nuclear war over the presence of missiles from the Soviet Union in Cuba.

Speaking in New York on Nov. 9 of that year, Farrell Dobbs, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, insisted, “It is our duty to defend from within this country the rights of the Cubans. Back them in their demand that the United States withdraw from Guantánamo. Kennedy wants to dictate what weapons the Cubans can have because they are ‘threatening’ the United States from 90 miles away, and he has a military base right on Cuban soil.”

Base used for infamous prison camp

After revolutionary victories led to the establishment of workers and farmers governments in Grenada and Nicaragua in 1979, Washington beefed up its forces stationed at Guantánamo, a threat to all these new challenges to imperialist domination in the Americas.

Washington later began using the Guantánamo base as a prison camp as well. Thousands of Haitian refugees were imprisoned there under deplorable conditions in the early 1990s. Fleeing dictatorial rule after the overthrow of the elected government of Jean Bertrand Aristide in their country, many wanted to enter the United States.

Cubans who sought to reach the U.S. by boat in 1994, at the height of the economic crisis in Cuba provoked by the collapse in trade with the Soviet Union combined with Washington’s embargo, were also detained by the U.S. military at Guantánamo.

Beginning in January 2002 the infamous Camp X-Ray was set up at the base for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere, incarcerated without charges or trial as part of Washington’s “war on terror.” Some 780 alleged “enemy combatants” have been sent to Guantánamo since then, facing torture and dehumanizing conditions. Obama took office seven years ago saying he would close the prison, but 91 people are still imprisoned there.

“Cubans are outraged that something so terrible — something so horrible I can’t put a name on it — is being done in our territory. Think about those human beings who’ve been imprisoned there year after year, without even a trial,” said Antonio Guerrero, in the book The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the U.S. Working Class: “It’s the Poor Who Face the Savagery of the US ‘Justice’ System.” Guerrero was one of five Cuban revolutionaries incarcerated in U.S. prisons for more than 16 years on frame-up charges until being released to Cuba in December 2014. “Guantánamo is — the most unjust link in the chain of imperial ‘justice,’” he said.
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