After more than 50 years of estrangement, renewed diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba has been celebrated around the world. But one issue still remains a major challenge – the status of the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, said on July 20 – the day the Cuban Embassy reopened in Washington – that the United States must respect Cuba by returning Guantanamo Bay. Cubans consider it “occupied territory” since the U.S. laid claim to it more than 100 years ago. The U.S. continues to imprison 116 suspected al-Qaida detainees at the GITMO detention facility. Here are some basic details about the naval base, also known as GITMO, that you may not know:
1. It’s 45 square miles
The base covers land and water on the southeastern end of Cuba and is the oldest overseas U.S. Naval Base. Since January 2002, the base it’s also housed a military prison, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for combatants captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.
2. How did the U.S. get Guantanamo?
In April 1898, the United States intervened in the Cuban War of Independence against Spain, sparking the Spanish-American War. At the end of the war three months later, the United States was put in control of several overseas territories, including Cuba.
In 1903, the U.S. approved the Platt Amendment (named after Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut) — a treaty between the U.S. and Cuba aimed at protecting Cuba’s independence from foreign intervention. The Amendment allowed for extensive U.S. involvement in Cuban international and domestic affairs for the enforcement of Cuban independence. Cubans reluctantly included the amendment, which virtually made Cuba a U.S. protectorate, in their constitution, according to the National Archives.
3. The U.S. lease to Guantanamo lasts… Forever
The Platt Amendment (above) stipulated the conditions for U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs and permitted the United States to lease or buy lands for the purpose of the establishing naval bases and coaling stations in Cuba, according to research by the National Archives.
Specifically, Article III of the amendment required that the government of Cuba consent to the right of the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs for “the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the Government of Cuba.”
The Platt Amendment supplied the terms under which the United States intervened in Cuban affairs in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920.
By 1934, rising Cuban nationalism and widespread criticism of the Platt Amendment resulted in its repeal as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy toward Latin America. The United States, however, retained its lease on Guantánamo Bay, where a naval base was established.
4. How much is the rent?
Under the The Cuban–American Treaty Guantanamo land was leased for $2,000 a year in U.S. gold coin.
In 1938, that was modified to $4,085 per year. So far, Cuba has not cashed any of the U.S. checks (with the exception of one that was cashed by accident in 1959) because it doesn’t recognize the U.S. lease.
5. How many Cubans call Guantanamo home?
According to United Nations data, 217,365 Cubans live in Guantanamo. There are currently 7,500 Americans stationed at the Guantanamo Bay Navy Base.
6. How many people have been detained at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp?
There have been 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo prison opened on January 11, 2002. Currently 116 remain at the detention camp.
7. What’s next for the base?
In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order to “promptly close detention facilities at Guantanamo” promising it would happen within a year. Now, less than 18 months before he leaves office, Obama and his administration are involved in renewed efforts to close it.