“As a resident of the municipality of Caimanera, I can talk about the negative impacts of having a U.S. military base located in Guantánamo’s territory against the will of our people,” Professor Guillermo Paumier Labacena told Granma International.
In his opinion, the base imposes a different type of conduct on individuals who find themselves affected by the presence of the base. Special legal regulations exist that make people feel uncomfortable in their own environment and oblige them live differently.
The Guantánamo native mentioned restrictions on movement throughout the area, and a prohibited zone closed off with a two-meter high, triple fence of 15 to 18 strands of barbed wire and other materials. No Cuban from another province can freely visit the area without first requesting permission from authorities.
“In the military ranges, they conduct exercises with combat aircraft and mechanized equipment that break the sound barrier and cause deafening noises. As a consequence, there are a number of people who suffer hearing problems, or associated illnesses like headaches, stomachaches, and dizziness, plus psychological problems caused by stress,” Paumier reported.
Residents of Caimanera cannot enjoy several beaches with excellent conditions located around Guantánamo Bay, because of the U. S. base, and have also seen the impact on fishing, which was once one of the area’s principal economic activities.
Cuban observation posts have been the target of gunfire and harassment by U.S. Marines on the base. Photo: Juvenal Balán
There is a nautical sports academy in the municipality, and as result of the limitations, the athletes cannot swim long distances, but rather train in a circular fashion. This affects their performance, since they must adapt when competing in national or international events, losing time and slowing down to make the return lap. Coaches say this should be the opposite, with swimmers picking up speed and maximizing physical effort to conclude the race, but this timing habit is not easily acquired in these conditions.
The professor noted that children are expected to abide by the prohibitions on movement at an age when they are not able to fully comprehend the complex issues surrounding the base, and when they are naturally attracted to exploring the area’s geography, which could be a fatal mistake if they enter a prohibited zone.
“Cuba is a Caribbean island, with a land border,” Paumier said ironically, noting the absurdity as he alludes to the base’s entrance heavily guarded by the uniformed troops of a foreign country, adding, “We have seen people badly injured and killed as they attempted to cross the border, to leave the country and reach the United States illegally.”
It is difficult for the professor to put a number on the many aggression suffered, mainly in the 1960s and 70s. Marines would make obscene gestures and shout vulgar words, even insulting leaders of the Revolution.
The country’s photographic archives hold many examples of how rocks and Molotov cocktails were thrown at Cuban posts, of batteries of machine guns and reflectors lining the base’s perimeter.
During the insurrectional struggle in the Sierra Maestra against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, planes departed from the base to bomb the Rebel Army and the defenseless population in the mountainous region.
Tensions increased with the triumph of the Revolution, January 1, 1959, leading to the massive dismissal of Cuban workers on the base and terrorist attacks. Such was the case with the murder of Manuel Prieto Gómez and driver Rubén López Sabariego. The latter’s body was found in a ditch with signs of torture, 15 days after he was detained by Captain Arthur Jackson, according to witnesses.
Several biographical works have described March 13, 1961, when an armored speedboat attacked the oil refinery in Santiago de Cuba, killing sailor René Rodríguez, and seriously damaging the plant. After committing the crime, the perpetuators took refuge in the U.S. base.
Ten days later, a U.S. ship fired its artillery at a Cuban plane near Imías, in eastern Guantánamo.
Prior to the invasion at Playa Girón in April, the Pentagon announced a series of maneuvers in the Caribbean and sent close to forty combat ships to the area, and supplies for its troops, in what was a prelude to the mercenary attack in the Bay of Pigs.
After the revolutionary militia’s victory in Girón, the CIA organized the so-called Operation Patty that included assassination attempts on Fidel and Raúl, as well as a simulated attack on the naval base that would serve as a pretext for an armed invasion of Cuba – a plan that was detected and disrupted by the Ministry of the Interior.
The Cuban press noted that on July 6, 1962, alone, between 4:00 and 8:00pm, U.S. soldiers on the base fired 94 times on Cuban posts along the perimeter. Two days later, they jumped the fence onto the Cuban side and set the vegetation on fire, returning to the safety of the base to jeer and take pictures of the Cuban soldiers rushing to put out the flames.
Next came the actions carried out during the October (Missile) Crisis, later in 1962, when the number of troops at the base reached 16,000. Once the naval blockade was ended, then Navy Secretary Fred Korth ordered the base to maintain a high level of combat readiness until further notice.
Then on June 9, 1964, Cuban soldier José Ramírez Reyes suffered a gunshot to the leg. Sixteen days later another shot seriously wounded border guard Andrés Noel Larduet, whose life was saved, but on July 19 soldier, Ramón López Peña, was mortally wounded. February 23, 1965, Berto Belén Ramírez was badly hurt by gunfire, and May 21, 1966, soldier Luis Ramírez López was shot and killed.
Although the level of tension has been reduced since 1994, the United States continues to illegally occupy this part of Cuban territory, despite the fact that its own Navy proposed the base’s deactivation in 1991, and has made it a concentration camp, first of Haitian and other Caribbean refugees, and after 2001, prisoners of the alleged war on terrorism.
THE GUANTÁNAMO NAVAL BASE
The Guantánamo Naval Base of 117.6 square kilometers has been occupied since 1903 by the United States, against the will of the Cuban people. Its creation was the result of a coaling station leased signed by Tomás Estrada Palma’s government with the United States, in 1903. It continues to be a source of tension between the two countries and has been used for a variety of aggressive purposes. During the last part of the 20th century it served as a detention center for Cubans and Haitians intercepted at sea, and after 2001, for prisoners of the alleged war on terrorism.
1. The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, in Article 52, describes as null any agreement made under the threat of force or its use, just as occurred in the case of Guantánamo.
2. Moreover, the lease of Cuban land and waters by the United States government to establish the naval base in Guantánamo, according to the 1903 treaty and its replacement signed in 1934, was for as long a period of time as the U.S. deemed necessary. But no lease can be valid without an ending date established, since it is legally absurd that a proprietor cannot reclaim a property at some point.
3. On March 5, 1959, the Cuban government demanded that Washington end its occupation in Guantánamo, but the U.S. continues to control the area. Originally the rent was established as 2,000 dollars a year in gold, but as time went on, the U.S. decided to pay $4,085 by check deposited in a Swiss bank.
5. The lease specifies that the area rented is to be exclusively used as a coaling station, but the U.S. Navy has used the Guantánamo base for whatever purpose it sees fit.
GUANTÁNAMO IN FIGURES
– Of the base’s 117.6 square kilometers, only 49.4 of firm ground is occupied, the rest being the bay’s waters, along 17.5 kilometers of coastline.
– In 2013, President Obama requested 450 million dollars from Congress for maintenance and repair at the prison, and more than 200 million to improve temporary facilities.