The bay is located in Cuba and was originally named Guantánamo by the Taíno. Christopher Columbus landed at the location known as Fisherman's Point in 1494, naming the bay Puerto Grande. The bay was briefly renamed Cumberland Bay when the British took it in the first part of the 18th century during the War of Jenkins' Ear. In 1790, the British garrison at Cumberland died of yellow fever as had a previous British force, before they could attack Santiago by land.
During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. fleet attacking Santiago retreated to Guantánamo's excellent harbor to ride out the summer hurricane season of 1898. The Marines landed with naval support, requiring Cuban scouts to push off Spanish resistance that increased as they moved inland. This area became the location of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, which covers about 45 square miles (120 km) and is sometimes abbreviated as "GTMO" or "Gitmo".
By the war's end, the U.S. government had obtained control of all of Cuba from Spain. A perpetual lease for the area around Guantánamo Bay was offered February 23, 1903, from Tomás Estrada Palma, who became the first President of Cuba. The Cuban-American Treaty gave, among other things, the Republic of Cuba ultimate sovereignty over Guantánamo Bay while granting the United States "complete jurisdiction and control" of the area for coaling and naval stations. The base was an important intermediate distribution point for World War II merchant shipping convoys from New York City and Key West, Florida, to the Panama Canal and the islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Trinidad.
A 1934 treaty reaffirming the lease granted Cuba and her trading partners free access through the bay, modified the lease payment from $2,000 in U.S. gold coins per year, to the 1934 equivalent value of $4,085 in U.S. dollars, and made the lease permanent unless both governments agreed to break it or the U.S. abandoned the base property. Since the Cuban Revolution, the government under Fidel Castro has cashed only one of the rent checks from the US government. The Cuban government maintains this was only done because of "confusion" in the heady early days of the revolution, while the US government maintains that the cashing constitutes an official validation of the treaty. The remaining uncashed checks made out to "Treasurer General of the Republic" (a position that has ceased to exist after the revolution) are kept in Castro's office stuffed into a desk drawer.
Until the 1953-59 revolution, thousands of Cubans commuted daily from outside the base to jobs within. In mid-1958, vehicular traffic was stopped; workers were required to walk through the base's several gates. Public Works Center buses were pressed into service almost overnight to carry the tides of workers to and from the gate. By 2006, only two elderly Cubans still crossed the base's North East Gate daily to work on the base, because the Cuban government prohibits new recruitment.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the families of military personnel were evacuated from the base. Notified of the evacuation on October 22, evacuees were told to pack one suitcase per family member, to bring evacuation and immunization cards, to tie pets in the yard, to leave the keys to the house on the dining table, and to wait in front of the house for buses. Dependents traveled to the airfield for flights to the United States, or to ports for passage aboard evacuation ships. After the crisis was resolved, family members were allowed to return to the base in December 1962.
Since 1939, the base's water had been supplied by pipelines that drew water from the Yateras River about 4.5 miles (7 km) northeast of the base. The U.S. government paid a fee for this; in 1964, it was about $14,000 a month for about 2,500,000 US gallons (9,000 m) per day. In 1964, the Cuban government stopped the flow. The base had about 14,000,000 US gallons (50,000 m) water in storage, and strict water conservation was put into effect immediately. The U.S. first imported water from Jamaica via barges, then relocated a desalination plant from San Diego, California (Point Loma). When the Cuban government accused the United States of stealing water, base commander John D. Bulkeley ordered that the pipelines be cut and a section removed. A 38 inches (970 mm) length of the 14 inches (356 mm) diameter pipe and a 20 inches (510 mm) length of the 10 inches (254 mm) diameter pipe were lifted from the ground and the openings sealed.
With over 9,500 U.S. sailors and Marines, Guantanamo Bay is the only U.S. base in operation in a Communist led country.
"Gitmo" has a U.S. amateur radio call sign series, KG4 followed by two letters. This is completely distinct from Cuban radio callsigns, which typically begin with CL, CM, CO, or T4.. For "ham" purposes it is considered to be a separate "entity." This position is not recognized by Cuba's amateur radio society.
Notable persons born at the naval base include actor Peter Bergman and American-British guitarist Isaac Guillory.
In 2005, the Navy completed a $12 million wind project erecting four wind turbines capable of supplying about a tenth of the base's peak power needs, reducing diesel fuel usage and pollution from the existing diesel generators.
On January 22, 2009, President Obama signed executive orders directing the CIA to shut what remains of its network of "secret" prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year. However, as he continued most of the successful counterterrorism policies of the Bush years, he postponed for at least six months difficult decisions on the details. As of September 2010, Obama has yet to close the detention camp.
The long-term lease of Guantanamo Bay by the United States has been unpopular with the Cuban government since 1959. The present sovereigns of the territory covering Guantanamo Bay, the Republic of Cuba, led by the Communist Party of Cuba, claim that as sovereign land owners they may evict the people who live and work there, pointing to article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which declares a treaty void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force — in this case by the inclusion, in 1901, of the Platt Amendment in the first Cuban Constitution. The United States warned the Cuban Constitutional Convention in 1934 not to remove the Amendment, and stated U.S. troops would not leave Cuba until its terms had been adopted as a condition for the U.S. to grant independence. However, the United States has argued that Article 4 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties prohibits retroactive application of said Convention to already existing treaties, such as the ones concluded between the United States and Cuba in 1903 and 1934. The Platt Amendment was voided by the Treaty of Relations and the treaty re-affirming the lease to the base was signed after Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched 29 U.S. warships to Cuba and Key West to protect U.S. interests following a military coup. After coming to power in 1959, Cuban President Fidel Castro refused to cash all but the very first rent check in protest. But the United States argues that the cashing of that first check sealed Havana's ratification of the lease — and that ratification by the new government renders any questions about violations of sovereignty and illegal military occupation moot.
The San Francisco Chronicle published an article on April 22, 2007, about the base, and the conditions under which the treaty would be rendered void. The article states: "The 103-year-old agreement limits use of the Cuban territory to "coaling and naval purposes only," neither of which appears to cover the prison or tribunal operations. The agreement also expressly prohibits "commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas," but the U.S. base now sports a McDonald's, two Starbucks outlets, a Subway sandwich shop and other American concessions." According to the article, American business, political and cultural figures with regular contact with Cuban leaders say they have the impression that the Cuban government wants the U.S. military off the island but that the issue is not a priority now.
"Cactus Curtain" is a term describing the line separating the naval base from Cuba proper. After the Cuban Revolution, some Cubans sought refuge on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In the fall of 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 28-kilometre (17 mi) fence surrounding the base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States. This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia.
U.S. and Cuban troops placed some 55,000 land mines across the "no man's land" between the U.S. and Cuban border, creating the second-largest minefield in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. On May 16, 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered their removal. They have since been replaced with motion and sound sensors to detect intruders. The Cuban government has not removed the corresponding minefield on its side of the border.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, the base was used to house Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas. In the early 1990s, it held refugees who fled Haiti after military forces overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. These refugees were held in a detainment area called Camp Bulkeley until United States district court Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. declared the camp unconstitutional on June 8, 1993. This decision was later vacated. The last Haitian migrants departed Guantánamo on November 1, 1995.
The Migrant Operations Center on Guantánamo typically keeps fewer than 30 people interdicted at sea in the Caribbean region.
Beginning in 2002, a small portion of the base was used to imprison several hundred individuals — some of whom were captured by US forces in Afghanistan— at Camp Delta, Camp Echo, Camp Iguana, and the now-closed Camp X-Ray. The US military has asserted that some, but not all, of these detainees are linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In litigation regarding the availability of fundamental rights to those imprisoned at the base, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the detainees "have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control." Therefore, the detainees have the fundamental right to due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. A district court has since held that the "Geneva Conventions applied to the Taliban detainees, but not to members of Al-Qaeda terrorist organization."
On June 10, 2006, the Department of Defense reported that three Guantánamo Bay detainees committed suicide. The military reported the men hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes. A study published by Seton Hall Law's Center for Policy and Research, while making no conclusions regarding what actually transpired, asserts that the military investigation failed to address significant issues detailed in that report.
The closing-down of the Guantánamo Prison has been requested by Amnesty International (May 2005), the United Nations (February 2006) and the European Union (May 2006).
On September 6, 2006, President George W. Bush announced that enemy combatants held by the CIA will be transferred to the custody of Department of Defense, and held at Guantánamo Prison. Among approximately 500 prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, only 10 have been tried by the Guantanamo military commission, but all cases have been stayed pending the adjustments being made to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.
President Barack Obama has stated that he intends to close down the detention camp and is planning on bringing detainees to the United States to stand trial by the end of his first term in office. On January 22, 2009, three executive orders were issued by President Barack Obama, although only one of these orders explicitly deals with policy directed at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, most noticeably, the camp's closure within one year. All three could possibly impact the detention center, as well as how any detainee future or present will be held by the United States. While mandating the closure of the detention facility, the naval base as a whole was not subject to the order and will remain operational indefinitely. This plan was thwarted for the time being on May 20, 2009, when the United States Senate voted to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future and forbid the transfer of any detainees to facilities in the United States. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the appropriations committee, said he initially had favoured keeping Guantanamo open until Obama produced a "coherent plan for closing the prison." As of September 26, 2009, policy is currently being drafted with an aim toward compromise.
In 1986, Guantanamo became host to Cuba's first and only McDonald's restaurant.
A Subway sandwich shop was opened in November 2002. Other fast food outlets have followed. These fast food restaurants are on base, and not accessible to Cubans. It has been reported that prisoners cooperating with interrogations have been rewarded with Happy Meals from the McDonald's located on the mainside of the base.
In 2004, Guantanamo opened a combined KFC & A&W restaurant at the bowling alley and a Pizza Hut Express at the Windjammer Restaurant. There is also a Taco Bell, and the Triple C shop that sells Starbucks coffee and Breyer’s ice cream . All the restaurants on the installation are franchises owned and operated by the Department of the Navy. All proceeds from these restaurants are used to support morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) activities for service personnel and their families .
There are two airfields within the base, Leeward Point Field and McCalla Field. The former is an active military airfield and the latter closed.
Leeward Point Field has a single active runway 10/28. Former runway 9/27 was 8,500 feet (2,591 m).
McCalla Field was an auxiliary landing field with 3 runways: 1/19 at 4,500 feet (1,372 m), 14/32 at 2,210 feet (674 m), and 10/28 at 1,850 feet (564 m). It was mainly used for blimp operations and ceased operations in 1976. Camp Justice is now located next to the former airfield.
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