Where the World's Views of America Come into Focus
BY Miguel Angel Alvarez Special for Granma International
March 15, 2006
ON February 7, 1901, [Cuban] President Tomás Estrada Palma  signed the agreement ceding Cuban territory to the United States in order for it to construct a naval base in Guantanamo.
Guantanamo Bay is one of the country's deepest and largest bays. Christopher Columbus discovered it during his second voyage to the New World on April 30, 1494. It has some very special natural characteristics: it is extremely deep, it is secure and it has the capacity to receive large ships.
For centuries, it was virtually abandoned, as the Spanish colonizers were incapable of appreciating its virtues.
After an attempt by the British to occupy the Bay in July, 1741, in the hope of establishing a base of operations there, the colonial government finally understood the site's strategic importance.
U.S. REFOCUSSES ON CUBA
In the early 19th century, when it realized the value of the island's geographic location, natural resources, its historical, economic and social characteristics, as well as those of its population, the United States publicly expressed its interest in taking over Cuba.
Attempts to buy the island from Spain were made in 1805, 1807 and 1808, but according to the Central Report of the First Congress of the Communist Party, "if Spanish obstinacy ever served Cuba's cause, it was in its systematic refusal to agree to the buying and selling that the United States had repeatedly proposed during the last century."
In 1823, John Quincy Adams, the U.S. secretary of state, articulated the "ripe fruit" thesis, holding that Cuba would inevitably fall into U.S. hands as soon as it was no longer a Spanish colony. And that same year, President James Monroe developed the doctrine that bears his name, warning the European powers that America was reserved solely and exclusively "for the Americans." At the same time, for years his country obstructed and discouraged attempts by the Cuban people to achieve independence.
In 1895, U.S. investments on the island totaled some 50 million pesos, particularly in the sugar and tobacco industries, along with iron, chrome and manganese deposits.
Thus, in 1898, the Americans understood that the imminent end of Spanish colonial rule and before the unstoppable advance of the Liberation Army was a propitious time to intervene in the Spanish-Cuban war.
Taking advantage of the growing sympathy among North Americans for Cuba's cause, the U.S. Congress in April 1898 approved a Joint Resolution that brought about the Northern giant's intervention in the conflict.
The Spanish-Cuban-U.S. War, described as the first imperialist war of pillage, was centered primarily in the eastern provinces of Cuba and the Guantanamo region. On July 16, 1898, the terms of surrender were signed, and on December 10 of that same year, the Treaty of Paris was signed. The United States took control of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam; Cuba remained as "special territory," from which the Americans were to withdraw after the "appeasement."
The administrative government, with General Leonard Wood at the head, convened a Constituent Assembly charged with drawing up the Constitution for the future republic. But in order to firmly establish relations between Cuba and the United States, the occupying forces brought heavy pressure to bear and imposed the notorious Platt Amendment, with two clauses that atrociously encroached on Cuba's national sovereignty and which had serious implications for the nascent republic's self-determination.
Clause 3 of the Amendment reserved the right of the United States to intervene for the preservation of Cuba's independence and the support of a government appropriate to its interests, while Clause 7 forced Cuba to cede part of its territory for the establishment of naval bases or coaling stations [for the loading of coal into rail cars].
Historian Miguel D'Estéfano Pissani, in his book Derecho de Tratados (Treaty Law), explains: "The Platt Amendment became a Sword of Damocles, whose edges were the naval and coaling concessions. The strength of the Constitutional appendix was based, precisely, on the military base clause."
On November 8, 1902, the U.S. government asked for a permanent lease of land in the bays of Nipe, Honda, Cienfuegos and Guantanamo. But due to the violent reaction of the people, it was limited to the Honda and Guantanamo Bays.
One of the most outstanding individuals of our independence struggle, Juan Gualberto Gómez, made his voice heard, warning that Articles 3 and 7 of the Platt Amendment "... were the same as handing the keys of our house over to the Americans, so that they could come in at any hour ... day or night, with good or bad intentions ..." and that "... its purpose is none other than to reduce the power of future Cuban governments and the sovereignty of our Republic."
Finally, after a series of negotiations, on December 10, 1903, the United States took possession of the territory for its naval base in Guantanamo. Via a supplementary agreement signed on July 2, 1903, the U.S. government promised to pay 2,000 pesos per year in U.S. gold (about $4,085 at today's prices), a laughable sum that Washington would continue to deposit, but which Cuba has refused to accept or cash since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
According to Doctor Fernando Alvarez Tabío, in his article "La Base Naval de Guantanamo y el derecho Internacional" (The Guantanamo Naval Base and International Law"), the leasing contract for the naval base lacks legality and juridical validity because it is marred in its essential elements: ... due to the inability of the Cuban government to cede a piece of its national territory in perpetuity ... and because the consent was snatched via irresistible and unjust moral violence...
Rejecting Honda Bay, the United States concentrated on Guantanamo. That choice was due to a strategic objective. Because of its exceptional value and geographic characteristics, it made it possible to assure military predominance in the Caribbean and fix its eyes on Panama's inter-ocean canal, for which it had obtained the construction rights that year as well, in 1903.
A CENTURY OF INFAMY
During its century of existence, the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo has been the scene of shameful episodes and events.
Once the base was established, U.S. capital investment rose, first with the construction of the base's vital water supply, and then in the sugar industry, railroads and electrical power. Gambling, prostitution and contraband proliferated with the arrival of the Marines, and became lucrative businesses for the national bourgeoisie.
The enclave's presence also had repercussions on the region's political life. In 1917, 1919 and 1922, the Marines were sent out from the base to "protect" the sugar mills and other U.S. economic interests in response to the revolt by the Partido Independiente de Color (Colored Independence Party), the Chambelona uprising and that of the liberals against the Menocal government.
During the final liberation war led by Fidel and the Rebel Army, the base was used as a supply point for the Batista dictatorship's air force, which indiscriminately bombed and fired on farmers and other civilians in the liberated zones. The base was also a launching point for U.S. troops invading other countries, like Haiti in 1915 and the Dominican Republic in 1918.
After the revolutionary triumph in January 1959, the base became a refuge for the old regime's murderers and torturers, and has been used as a platform for aggression against Cuba, including infiltration by enemy agents; the protection of counterrevolutionary bands; pretexts for justifying direct aggression against the island; a center of radio-electronic espionage and a point of concentration for ships and planes enabling sudden naval blockades to be imposed on the island.
Throughout these years, the military enclave has been the center of provocations and violations of our nation, and against the Border Guards responsible for patrolling the outer perimeter. According to official figures, from 1962 to August 1992, more than 13,000 such incidents have been registered, including shots fired with rifles and pistols (taking the lives of two Cuban Border Guards); aiming with machine guns, tanks and cannons; the throwing of objects; obscene gestures; breaking through the border fence and violating air and maritime space with ships, planes and helicopters.
The most recent ugly episode in the base's history is its use as a prison, where more than 500 detainees accused of being terrorists or having links to terrorism have been held and subject to physical and psychological torture, without the right to legal assistance or a decent trial. The world has been shaken by the spine-chilling images of chained men being subject to extreme degradation and force fed after waging a hunger strike to protest conditions in the prison, where they are denied access to their lawyers, humanitarian organizations or the United Nations.
The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, approved by the people on February 24, 1976, says in Article 11 that our country "... rejects and considers null and void the treaties, pacts or concessions agreed to under unequal or unknown conditions or that diminish its sovereignty or territorial integrity."
Thus, Cuba demands the return of that territory because, as Fidel affirmed, "... That base is in their possession against the will of our people ... it is a dagger thrust into the heart of Cuba's land ..."