Why is the U.S. still in Guantánamo

January 30, 2009

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by President Barack Obama that the torture camps at the U.S. Naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, will be closed over the next year is welcome news, but it also should provide anti-imperialist activists in the United States with an opportunity to publicly argue for shutting down the entire installation.

The U.S. militarily dominates the globe by the presence of hundreds of military bases--large and small--scattered throughout the world. Some of these bases have tens of thousands troops stationed on them with the most advanced aircraft and weaponry, including nuclear weapons, while others are listening posts (spying operations) or supply stations.

Guantánamo Bay is the United States' oldest overseas naval base. It is located at the southeastern end of Cuba, and has been used by the U.S. Navy for more than a century. It is both a U.S. Naval base and a training ground for U.S. Marines. The land and harbor that make up the base was stolen by the U.S. during its occupation of Cuba following the Spanish-American War at the turn of the last century, when the U.S. replaced Spain as the overlord of the island nation.

The "legal" authority that the U.S. uses to justify its presence at Guantánamo has been a series of specious treaties over the years. Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Cuban government, first led by Fidel Castro and now by his brother Raul, has demanded that the U.S. base be closed and all foreign troops removed. It has always been one of the weird anachronisms of the modern world that the U.S. has a military base in a "communist" country.

Before Guantánamo was made infamous by Bush's policies of torturing "enemy combatants" at Camps X-Ray and Delta, most Americans knew little of the base or its place in U.S. military strategy. The Tom Cruise-Jack Nicholson film A Few Good Men, a fictionalized account of the violent cult-like culture of the Marines at "Gitmo" (as the Marines call it), was most people's first introduction to this sun-drenched hell.

What is less known by the American public is that Guantánamo has been the staging ground for U.S. military and covert operations throughout Latin America during the 20th century. Whether this be the repeated direct military interventions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Grenada and Panama or covert operations against Guatemala (1954) Cuba (1961), Chile (1973) and Nicaragua (1980s).

The U.S. has always considered the Caribbean to be an "American lake" and Latin America to be "our backyard." Guantánamo is one of the worst symbols of Yankee imperialism.

Guantánamo may have its origins in what seems to be a bygone era, but it is a vital link in the chain of U.S. bases around the world. The Defense Department admits to over 725 U.S. bases around the world--the sun never sets on the American empire.

These bases have produced angry opposition from the residents of the countries that they are in, from Italy to Okinawa. One particularly important and successful struggle was in Vieques, Puerto, Rico, when activists forced the U.S. Navy in 2003 to withdraw from the island that it had used as a target range. The following year the Roosevelt Roads U.S. Naval Station was closed. It's long past time that the entire U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay is closed and Cuban sovereignty over the entire island is recognized.

For those interested in these issues, the American Friends Service Committee is sponsoring "Security Without Empire: A National Organizing Conference on Foreign Military Bases" in Washington, D.C., at the American University from February 27-March 2.
Joe Allen, Chicago

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