Since 1898, the US has controlled the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, an “illegally occupied” “usurped territory” according to Cubans

By Natalia Marques, Peoples Dispatch

On July 11, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the presence of a United States nuclear-powered submarine near the Cuban territory of Guantanamo Bay, that the United States has occupied for 125 years. According to Cuban authorities, the submarine arrived at the base on July 5 and stayed until July 8.

Guantanamo bay Cuba aerial

“The presence of a nuclear submarine there at this moment makes it imperative to wonder what is the military reason behind this action in this peaceful region of the world; what target is it aiming at and what is the strategic purpose it pursues,” wrote the Ministry in a statement.

The US State Department, in response, said it does not “discuss the movements of US military assets,” according to an AP News article. But a US Defense official claimed that the operation was merely a logistical stop.

But for the Cuban people, the outrage of this incident goes beyond the nuclear submarine siting. The ongoing occupation of a portion of Cuban territory in the form of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is an outrage in itself. “The US military base, as is known, has occupied that 117 square kilometers territory for 121 years against the will of the Cuban people,” wrote the Ministry. “It stands as a colonial remnant of the illegitimate military occupation of our country that started in 1898, after the expansionist intervention during the independence war waged by Cubans against the Spanish colonial power.”

Guantanamo: “a colonial remnant”

Peoples Dispatch spoke to Ivan Ernesto Barreto, from the from the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP), who served in the Cuban military as part of the Brigada de la Frontera (Brigade of the Border), tasked with guarding the border between the Guantanamo Bay US base and the rest of Cuba.

“It is a very sensitive territory for us, in terms of security, not only because is the only military base that has in front a foreign regular army, which is by the way, the one with the highest record of interventions in the world and the one that since even before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution has done everything in order to undermine our emancipation process,” said Barreto. “There have been several murders of Cubans [at Guantanamo] and provocations [by the US] in order to escalate a conflict that leads to a [military] confrontation and a perfect pretext for a major scale intervention.”

Guantanamo Bay was originally invaded and occupied by Spain in the 15th century. The US government has maintained the occupation of Guantanamo since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Before the triumph of the revolution, the nearby town of Caimanera, much like Havana, was a former hotspot for sexual exploitation in the form of prostitution, tailored to serve US soldiers.

Since the Cuban revolutionaries triumphed in 1959 and took power, the Cuban state has demanded the return of the occupied territory to Cuba.

Foreign torture camp on sovereign territory

In 2002, in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq and the so-called “War on Terror,” Guantanamo became more than a military base: it opened a torture camp in the form of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Since then, those accused of or under suspicion of committing terroristic acts by US authorities are herded to the prison, some without any charges against them. Prisoners’ ages range from as young as 13 to as old as 75.

The torture methods used by US authorities at Guantanamo are infamous, and include sexual abuse, racist humiliation (in the form of desecrating prisoners’ copies of the Quran, for example), waterboarding, and sleep deprivation.

One current inmate, Abu Zubaydah, who is not charged with any crime, describes in detail how guards kept him awake for weeks, “Following the period chained to the bed, they sat me on a plastic chair totally naked and chained me very tight… sometimes they would leave me for days on the chair. I was deprived of sleep for a long period. I don’t know how long, maybe two or three weeks or more. It felt like an eternity to the point that I found myself falling asleep despite the water being thrown at me by the guard who constantly shook me to keep me awake. I couldn’t sleep even for a second.”

Cuban officials have condemned the crimes against humanity, but have demands beyond closing the torture camp. Cubans call for the return of the Guantanamo Bay territory to Cuba and an end to the US blockade against the island nation. “The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations,” said Raul Castro when he was president in 2015. “But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base.”

Guantanamo’s martyrs

Members of the Brigada de la Frontera have been killed on the frontlines defending Cuba from a foreign occupying power. This is despite the US suffering zero provocations from the Cuban side. “This US military base is the safest the American army has,” says Barreto. “Because this territory is being [guarded] by their regular army, and also by our Brigade. They know we are not going to risk our security.”

In 1966, 22-year-old Cuban soldier Luis Ramírez López of the Frontier Brigade was shot in the back by US forces at Guantanamo. Another Cuban Frontier Brigade soldier, Ramón López Peña was only 18 when he was shot dead by US soldiers. Rodolfo Rosell, a fisherman in the 26 of July Cooperative in Guantanamo Bay, was savagely tortured and then killed in 1962 at age 29. Cuban authorities maintain that this killing was carried out by US forces stationed at Guantanamo, and also attribute the killing of Cuban worker Ruben Lopez Sabariego to the US soldiers in Guantanamo, a death that left nine children orphaned. Sabariego was also tortured before he was killed.

Eunomia Peña Pérez, mother of Ramón López Peña, told Prensa Latina soon after her son was killed, “I, as a Cuban mother who has lost a son murdered by the Yankees, ask the other mothers to continue the struggle, not to lose heart, that in the face of such pain the enemy does not see any tears, but that we take the place of our fallen son, and if it is necessary to give our lives to defend the Revolution, we will give them, Homeland or Death.”