Another call to close GITMO

May 2, 2017 |

By Alberto N Jones

The Fifth International Seminar for Peace and the abolition of foreign military bases.

HAVANA TIMES — It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to write a piece on the V International Seminar of Peace and for the Abolition of Foreign Military bases  to take place on May 4-6, 2017 in the city of  Guantanamo, Cuba, which is organized by the official Cuban Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples.

Hundreds of journalists, writers, researchers, intellectuals, pacifists and activists from around the world will be attracted to this gathering in the city of Guantanamo.

After having been invited and later disinvited to take part in this historic event, I cannot deny my pain and disappointment for not being able to be there to represent and honor the memory of thousands of humble, predominantly black men and women from every Caribbean Island and Cuba, who contributed millions of years of loyal services in construction, maintenance, housekeeping and management to an ungrateful institution, where workers were subjected to fear, threats of being reprimanded or dismissed, frequently stripped-searched when exiting GITMO and where others less fortunate, were imprisoned, beaten, tortured and murdered with absolute impunity.

Unfortunately, organizers of this event have concluded that theoretical analyses, speeches, webinar, graphs and presentations by highly educated historians, politicians and researchers is more important and contributes more to the understanding of GITMO’s tragic past, than the vivid experiences of  humble men and women who lived, suffered, died and survived the risks and challenges they had to endure in order to earn their daily bread.

Biology will soon determine the faith of the handful of surviving eyewitnesses of this unique piece of Cuban history and one day, many of today’s narrow-minded hardliners with a limited sense of value of the memories and oral history ordinary ex-employees of GITMO could contribute, will regret their unforgivable blunder of not documenting their testimonials.

To ignore the wealth of life experience Mr. Harry Henry may have accrued as the last Cuban commuter who traveled across the border separating GITMO and Guantanamo for 62 years and his last day on the job meant closing the NE Gate forever, should not be lost with others nor left absolutely to foreign journalists and researchers, who travel across the globe to document his views.

Much has been said and written about Cuba’s tragic relation with the United States since President James Polk’s attempt to annex or purchase that country in 1840. Later came the infamous “Remember the Maine” that led to the Spanish-American-Cuban war, followed by 4 years of military occupation of Cuba, the installation of a puppet government and GITMO becoming a booty of war that gave birth to an empire called the United States, which gobbled-up Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam and Cuba for all legal purposes.

GITMO’s first 55 years of existence between 1903 and 1958 is remembered for its interventionist acts into Cuba’s internal affairs, massive corruption of the area, bribes, kickbacks, prostitution, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, beatings and an occasional murder with impunity of any unfortunate Cuban.

The triumph of the Revolution in 1959 and the ensuing hostilities, turned this enclave into a beachhead inside of Cuba, from where numerous conspiracies, infiltrations, money laundering and a safe haven for counterrevolutionary activities was hatched and violence grew exponentially, turning the area into the most dangerous, heavily fortified and largest minefield in the world except for the 38 parallel in Korea.

At the same time, limited journalistic, literary, psychological, sociological and mental health studies have not focused on the human toll that GITMO has inflicted on generations of innocent people living in Boqueron, Caimanera, Ullao, Glorieta, Paraguay, Filipinas and Guantanamo, who were forced to live under a state of undeclared war for over half a century.

Caught in the middle were GITMO Cuban civil service commuters who for decades were seen with suspicion both inside and outside of GITMO. Meanwhile, thousands of peasants in these small communities were victims of their geographical fatalism for being too close to enemy lines and for which they were not fully trusted by their peers nor by the US military.

The last three Cuban workers at the GITMO base after whom the door was closed for the last time.

Although many historians tend to ascribe the darkest and most dangerous days of the cold-war era in Cuba to the period of terrorism, sabotage, air strikes, the Bay of Pigs and even the missile crisis, most ignore the constant pain, anxiety and suffering endured by the inhabitants of the province of Guantanamo during the past 50 years, which greatly outweigh the cumulative effect these focalized events had on the rest of the nation.

The long-term effect this tragic experience had and continues to have on the lives of every citizen in Guantanamo has been barely studied and is poorly understood but it should not be ignored, denied or dismissed. The devastating mental, psychological and physical impact this siege exerted upon an entire region for over half a century may never be known.

What is an obvious fact is that no government in the world would invest and develop a frontline community knowing it would be the first casualty in case of a war. These tangible decisions are visible and irrefutable in the population of Guantanamo which has nearly tripled in half a century, while most social services and development have stagnated or disappeared.

Gone are the days when that city boasted 8 movie theaters which are now reduced to 3, when a vibrant passenger train service had 3 daily departures to Caimanera and dozens of vehicles connected every countryside community as well as over 25 daily bus departures to Santiago de Cuba the then provincial capital are now barely covered by 10 or less departures.  The once famous Samy Ice Cream, the 13-13 laundry soap, Eva Cigarette, La India Chocolate, the Rivercola and Pay Pay sodas, the huge coffee, sugarcane and cocoa plantations, the Rum Los Marinos bottling plant and over 100 clothing, household, food, drugstores, barbershops, beauty salon, bars and restaurants are mostly gone.

Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba are the hottest region in Cuba and this community found solace during its stifling summer days at a few cooling holes at the river Guaso, Bano and Jaibo.  Others went week-ends to the beach at Tokio, Cayo Toro and Cayo Brooks in Caimanera.  Today, all rivers cooling holes in Guantanamo are highly contaminated and unusable with household waste while beaches in Caimanera are off bounds to the population because they are within the military zone.

The people of Guantanamo will receive all visitors at the upcoming event with open arms and eternal gratitude for demanding the closure of foreign military bases.  No one understands better the negative impact foreign bases exerts on their lives and the community than these humble men and women who have seen their dreams, hopes and future senselessly destroyed.

I hope this important gathering and those in the past, should not end as an academic exercise excoriating and lamenting the past but rather, acknowledging the dire need of international solidarity to heal the scars and irreversible harm thousands of people have suffered in these captive communities.

Guantanamo was the most diverse community in Cuba in which Spaniards, Italians, Germans, English speaking Caribbean islanders, Haitian, Lebanese, Hindus, Chinese, Polish, Americans, French and Pakistanis lived in respectful harmony with each different culture and traditions.

Fortunately, the enormous challenges faced by Guantanamo before and after the revolution, has not destroyed or altered that community’s powerful convictions, which were bred and fostered under an extremely adverse environment.

May each intellectual, pacifist, activist, clergy and ordinary men and women visiting Guantanamo, who will be exceptional witnesses to what men are capable of doing to each other, may recommit themselves to develop collaborative healing projects in Guantanamo and transform that region into a Monument of Peace, where men and women from around the world suffering from hate, strife, division and death, may live in peace, harmony and respect, proving that a better world is still possible.

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  • Carlyle MacDuff

    Its interesting to know that Dr. Jones is now opposed to foreign military bases. Was his enthusiasm to express his concerns about them so great when the USSR occupied thirteen Eastern European countries with military bases in each of them?

    • Moses Patterson

      Excellent comment

    • dani

      To add to your irrelevant line of argument. Are you enthusiastic enough to express your concerns about the continuing existence of American bases throughout Europe (and other parts of the world) despite the end of the Cold War?

      • Carlyle MacDuff

        My question stands as written.
        Please record the dates when the countries to which you refer sought the Americans to remove their bases? Do please also recall Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was at the time of the latter that Fidel Castro wrote:

        “certain measures were taken such as the establishment of a bourgeois form of freedom of the press. This means the counterrevolution and the exploiters, the very enemies of socialism, were granted the right to speak and write freely against socialism.”

        That’s the fear isn’t it dani. That those of us who are opposed to creating an obedient mass and in favour of individual thought should be allowed to openly express our view. Conformity to the dictate of communism is to us unacceptable. You apparently would prefer it, but in contradiction express your own view!

        Fidel Castro was either a liar or in a state of mental confusion, for only nine years earlier he had written:

        “There can be no danger if we do WHAT CUBANS WANT, if we provide social practice and solve the substantial social problems of all Cubans of liberty, of respect for individual rights, of FREEDOM OF THE PRESS and thought, of democracy, of liberty to select their own government.

        As history now undeniably shows, Fidel Castro denied his subjected people liberty, respect for individual rights, freedom of the press and thought, democracy and opportunity to select their own government.

        His is therefore a record of failure!

        • dani

          The subject discussed is Gitmo and whether the US should maintain the military base there against the wishes of Cuba. This has no relevancy to things which happened in the Cold war either invasions by the Soviet Union or the US eg Vietnam. They were all despicable. However since the end of the cold war, what excuse has the US to maintain these military bases. You are correct that this is nominally done with consent in some cases, however there are many ways that a superpower can exert pressure.

          As for your unfair attack on me. I am one the most individualistic commentators on this site. Conservatives are the most herd -like people out there. Look at what is happening with Brexit in the UK. Look at how the commentators here keep repeating the same key phrases over and over again without the slightest attempt at finding out the real facts.

          And I do believe in free speech, independent press and democracy. I have plenty of ideas of how these could be developed in Cuba, however it isn’t up to me to say what people in another country should do – that is their business. It has to come from Cubans and for Cubans and not a forced pseudo democracy which is just a smokescreen for the US to recolonize the island.

  • Chuck Bailey

    Castro alienated the potential development of the best access to hard dollars available to the folks in eastern Cuba.

  • Chuck1938

    I must once again disagree with Mr. MacDuff. GITMO affected and continue to affect negatively the lives of the entire community where I lived, loved and where my family are buried.

    This does not mean I do not care what happened in Eastern Europe, Viet Nam or Iraq and Libya but any attempt on your part to justify GITMO because of the experiences of people in the Filipinnes, Guam or Puerto Rico has no basis.

    You are welcome to turn in a requisition to the US Department of Defense, get GITMO transferred to Canada and enrich the yearly budget with $4,025.00

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Chuck 1938 re-read my comment. I make no support for GITMO. You in your enthusiasm to criticize, failed to read and mentally assimilate. My comment about Dr. Jones remains – and I don’t think you are qualified to commment upon his behalf!