Cuban leader Raul Castro told delegates to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit this Wednesday that normal bilateral relations between the United States and Cuba “will not be possible…” until the United States gives back “the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”
The Obama administration appears to be holding firm on the issue of Guantanamo, for the time being—as it should.
The history of the base, the treaties associated with its continued existence, the unique requirements of the lease and its strategic value, all argue in favor of keeping it in operation.
In 1903, the new Republic of Cuba leased to the U.S. the Naval Reservation on which the Naval station is now located. The lease was negotiated to implement the Platt Amendment—which passed Congress in March 1901 and was added to the Cuban constitution in May 1902.
Article VII of the Platt Amendment and the appendix to the Cuban constitution require the United States to help maintain the independence of Cuba and the Cuban government to “sell or lease to the United States the lands necessary for coaling or naval stations.”
The 1903 lease, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on Feb. 23, 1903, required us to pay Cuba annual rent of $2,000 a year in gold.
The original lease was later abrogated and modified by the Treaty of 1934 between the U.S. and Cuba, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, on May 29, 1934.
The new lease incorporated by reference the 1903 lease terms—except the annual lease payment increased to $4,085—and further stated that “So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it has now.”
When the communists took over Cuba in 1959, they cashed the check for $4,085, but they have refused to cash subsequent checks.
Most people think of Gitmo as a terrorist detention facility only. But the naval station has a long and distinguished history. It has been and continues to be strategically important, and that importance will outlast the controversial terrorist detention mission.
Early on, Navy’s Atlantic Fleet used the naval station for winter training grounds. In early 1910, according to a history book about Guantanamo Bay by Rear Admiral M.E. Murphy, the Atlantic Fleet, including the U.S.S. Minnesota, the New Hampshire, the Missouri, the Idaho and many others were concentrated at Gitmo. U.S. ships used Gitmo for training and other purposes during World War I.
In December 1912, an aviation camp was transferred from Annapolis, Md., to Gitmo, in large part because of the ample landing field and pristine weather conditions. Today, the naval station has a state-of-the-art airfield which serves the naval station and destinations in central and South America.
In the run up to WWII, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet used Gitmo regularly. In the winter of 1934, there were, according to Murphy’s history, 157 ships in port. The base grew in size and scope up to and throughout WWII. On Feb. 1, 1941, Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay was established, and wartime activities at the Air Station “reached their peak during the summer of 1943,” according to Murphy.
During WWII, Marines used Gitmo as a training base; the Navy used it as a supply depot; and other branches of the government used the base for critical operations.
President Harry S. Truman visited Gitmo on Feb. 25, 1948, to thank the men and woman for their contribution to the war effort.
The naval station played a key role during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Since the 1960s, the Naval Station at Guantanamo has played a pivotal role in counter-narcotics operations, intelligence operations, humanitarian crises and other key missions of the U.S. government.
Our lease with Cuba for Guantanamo is legal and strategically important and should be a non-starter in these negotiations.