Our WFP Cuba Team just returned from the Fifth International Seminary for Peace and for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases. Our International Team members had the honor of volunteering their interpretation services for this conference, in which activists from over twenty countries, including Cuba, the U.S., Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Botswana, Japan, Canada, Palestine, and Italy, joined together to demand the closing of the illegal U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay and to expose the effects of foreign military bases in their home countries.
For many people in the U.S., Guantanamo is simply a U.S. naval base. Those familiar with Latin American/Caribbean history probably know Guantanamo as the territory that the United States came to occupy by requiring Cuba to lease the land as a condition for the withdrawal of U.S. forces after intervening in the Cuban War of Independence. Others may have come to associate Guantanamo with a detention camp where unspeakable human rights violations are committed by U.S. military officials in the name of the War on Terror.
However, without interacting with the people of Guantanamo, it is easy to allow a U.S.-centric vision of Guantanamo take hold. Guantanamo is not just a naval base; it is the eastern-most province of Cuba, home to approximately 250,000 inhabitants. Guantanamo is an area where the production of cacao, coffee and salt is abundant. It is the home of the Changui and Kiriba dances, two unique musical fusions born of the influence of Haitian culture in the region. Like all of the other provinces of the island, Guantanamo is a place where even the poorest, most rural residents have access to healthcare and education. It is a land where many social movements remain strong, including organized resistance to U.S. military intervention.
While Guantanamo is not merely a naval base, the illegal U.S. occupation of the land generates a host of problems that interfere with locals’ daily lives. The fishermen of Calamanera and Boqueron, two of the towns that border the base, are limited to a small section of the bay and dream of the catch on the other side of the barrier. Due to the town’s proximity to the base, the people of Caimanera are forced to contend with difficult logistical procedures to receive visits from those who do not reside in the area. The most pristine beaches are off limits to Guantanameros as well as to those Cubans workign in the tourist industry as they are occupied by the military base. Residents suffer environmental consequences, such as flooding and contamination, due ot the U.S. military’s draining of a local swamp in order to build a weapon-testing site. Young high school graduates performing their military service guarding the border complain of the speaks on the base that face towards Caimanera and blast the US anthem every morning, filling the Cuban airspace. According to IFCO, cubans have suffered over 8,000 reported acts of aggression from the military base, including insults, violent attacks on citizens and the launching of flammable materials into Cuban territory.
This is the only U.S. military base that is supported neither by the government nor by the people of the occupied country. Since 1959, Cubans have declared this occupation an affront to their sovereignty and have demanded that the U.S. return the territory to its rightful owners. Call your representatives today and tell him or her to fight for the closure of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo and the return of the territory to Cuba. Or come to Cuba and witness the effects of U.S. policy on the island with your own eyes. For more information on upcoming delegations, go to our website or contact Emily@witnessforpeace.org.