STATEMENT BY THE GOVERNMENT OF CUBA TO THE NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OPINION
The American Naval Base at Guantanamo is a facility located in an area of 117.6 square kilometers of the national territory of Cuba occupied since 1903 due to an Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations signed by the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Cuba under President Tomás Estrada Palma. At that time, our country was not really independent since an amendment --known as Platt Amendment-- had been passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President McKinley on March 1901 while our country was under occupation by the U.S. army after its intervention in the independence war waged by the Cuban people against the Spanish metropolis.
The Platt Amendment, which granted the United States the right to intervene in Cuba, was imposed to the text of our 1901 Constitution as a prerequisite for the withdrawal of the American troops from the Cuban territory. Following that clause, the aforementioned Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations was signed on February 1903 in Havana and Washington, respectively. It actually included two areas of our national territory: Bahía Honda and Guantanamo, although a naval base was never established in the former.
In Article II of that Agreement, the right was literally granted to the United States to do "all that is necessary to outfit those places so they can be used exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose."
In addition to that treaty of February 1903, on May 22 that same year a Permanent Treaty of Relations was signed by Cuba and the United States of America using the exact text of the 8 clauses contained in the Platt Amendment which were thus turned into articles of said treaty.
Thirty-one years later, on May 29, 1934, in the spirit of the American "Good Neighbor" policy under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a new Treaty of Relations was subscribed between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America that abrogated the previous 1903 Treaty, thereby abrogating the Platt Amendment. The new Treaty definitely excluded Bahía Honda as a possible base, but it sustained the presence in Guantanamo Naval Base and kept in effect the rules of establishment. As for such rules that remained in force, the Article III of the new Treaty literally stated:
"Until the two contracting parties agree to the modification of the agreement in regard to the lease to the United States of America of lands in Cuba for coaling and naval stations signed by the President of the Republic of Cuba on February 16, 1903, and by the President of the United States of America on the 23rd day of the same month and year, the stipulations of that agreement with regard to the naval station of Guantanamo shall continue in effect. The supplementary agreement in regard to coaling and naval stations signed between the two Governments on July 2, 1903 also shall continue in effect in the same form and on the same conditions with respect to the naval station at Guantanamo. So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty."
As evidence of the abusive conditions imposed by that Treaty, the above-mentioned supplementary agreement established that the United States would compensate the Republic of Cuba for the leasing of 117.6 square kilometers --that is, 11,760 hectares comprising a large portion of one of the best bays in the country-- with the sum of 2,000 US dollars annually, presently increased to 4,085 US dollars annually --that is, 34.7 cents per hectare-- to be paid to Cuba in yearly checks. An elemental sense of dignity and absolute disagreement with what happens in that portion of our national territory has prevented Cuba from cashing those checks which are issued to the Treasurer General of the Republic of Cuba, a position and an institution that ceased to exist a long time ago.
After the victory of the Revolution in Cuba, that base was the source of numerous frictions between Cuba and the United States. The overwhelming majority of the over three thousand Cubans who worked there were fired from their jobs and replaced by people from other countries. At present, only 10 Cubans work there.
In the past, shots were often made from that facility against our territory, and several Cuban soldiers died as a result. Counterrevolutionaries found haven and support over there. Following unilateral decisions by leaders of the U.S. government throughout the revolutionary period in Cuba, tens of thousands of immigrants --Haitians and Cubans who tried to make it to the United States by their own means-- were taken to that military base. Throughout more than four decades, that base has been put to multiple uses, none of them contemplated in the agreement that justified its presence in our territory.
But, Cuba could do absolutely nothing to prevent it.
On the other hand, for almost half a century propitious conditions have never existed for a calmed, legal and diplomatic analysis aimed at the only logical and fair solution to this prolonged, chronic and abnormal situation, that is, the return to our country of that portion of our national territory occupied against the will of our people.
However, a basic principle of Cubas policy toward this bizarre and potentially dangerous problem between Cuba and the United States, which is decades long, has been to avoid that our claim would become a major issue, not even a specially important issue, among the multiple and grave differences existing between the two nations. In the Pledge of Baraguá presented on February 19, 2000, the issue of the Guantanamo base is dealt with in the last point and formulated in the following way: "In due course, since it is not our main objective at this time, although it is our peoples right and one that we shall never renounce, the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo should be returned to Cuba!"
That military enclave is the exact place where American and Cuban soldiers stand face to face, thus the place where serenity and a sense of responsibility are most required. Although we have always been willing to fight and die in defense of our sovereignty and our rights, the most sacred duty of our people and their leaders has been to preserve the nation from avoidable, unnecessary and bloody wars.
At the same time, that is also the place where it would be easier for people interested in bringing about conflicts between the two countries to undertake plans aimed at attracting aggressive actions against our people in their heroic political, economic and ideological resistance vis-à-vis the enormous power of the United States.
Our country has been particularly thoughtful about applying there a specially cautious and equable policy.
It should be pointed out, however, that even if for decades there was quite a lot of tension in the area of the Guantanamo naval base, there have been changes there in the past few years and now an atmosphere of mutual respect prevails.
In 1994, when a large number of rafters sent by the U.S. authorities concentrated there, the situation created determined the need to solve the numerous problems that had been accumulating, which endangered the lives of many. Some people interested in migrating to the United States from our own territory attempted to do so through the base, while not few tried to leave the American military base and return to our country crossing mined fields. Accidents occurred and often our soldiers had to take major risks to rescue people from the mined fields. Such actions also required information and cooperation from the personnel stationed at the base. Additionally, there were the heavy rains and swollen rivers in the area that swept away mines and blurred their markings which gave rise to similarly hazardous situations for all.
Such circumstances contributed to an improvement of the atmosphere there and to authorized, albeit minimal, contacts that were indispensable to those in positions of responsibility on both sides of the base area. Consequently, what prevails there today is not what could be described as an atmosphere of hostility or war.
Two new international developments have had a bearing on the situation in that base: the war in Kosovo in 1999 and the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist acts of September 11. In both cases, the United States has played a protagonist role.
In the former case there was a large number of Kosovars refugees. The Government of the United States of America, in accordance with previous commitments, made the decision to use the military base to shelter a number of them. Such decisions are always made unilaterally; our views are never previously asked; and, we were never even informed. However, on that occasion, for the first time, we were informed of the decision and the rational behind it. We then gave a constructive response.
Although we were opposed to that war, there was no reason for us to oppose the assistance that the Kosovars refugees might need. We even offered our countrys cooperation, if necessary, to provide medical care or any other services that might be required. Ultimately, the refugees were not sent to Guantanamo naval base.
This time the decision has been adopted to bring prisoners of the war in Afghanistan to that military base. The same as in the past, we were not consulted but there was a gesture in previously providing ample and detailed information on the steps that would be taken to accommodate the prisoners there and ensure that the security of our people is not in anyway jeopardized. The latest details were given to the Cuban authorities last Monday, January 7, 2002.
The information supplied indicates that there will be a strong reinforcement of the military personnel at the base in charge of taking the necessary measures for the accomplishment of their objectives.
Despite the fact that we hold different positions as to the most efficient way to eradicate terrorism, the difference between Cuba and the United States lies in the method and not in the need to put an end to that scourge, --so familiar to our people that have been its victim for more than 40 years-- the same that last September 11 dealt a repulsive and brutal blow to the American people.
Although the transfer of foreign war prisoners by the United States government to one of its military facilities --located in a portion of our land over which we have no jurisdiction, as we have been deprived of it-- does not abide by the provisions that regulated its inception, we shall not set any obstacles to the development of the operation.
Having been apprised of the operation and aware of the fact that it demands a considerable movement of personnel and means of air transportation, the Cuban authorities will keep in contact with the personnel at the American naval base to adopt such measures as may be deemed convenient to avoid the risk of accidents that might put in jeopardy the lives of the personnel thus transported.
Despite the major increase of military personnel that such an operation will require, we feel that it does not pose any threat to the national security of our country. Therefore, we will not increase the Cuban personnel or the military means stationed in the area of that facility. Our highly disciplined and qualified personnel suffice to ensure the safety of the population in the region in case of any danger that might originate with the transfer of the foreign prisoners to that base.
Cuba will make every effort to preserve the atmosphere of détente and mutual respect that has prevailed in that area in the past few years.
The government of Cuba appreciates the previous information supplied and has taken note with satisfaction of the public statements made by the U.S. authorities in the sense that the prisoners will be accorded an adequate and humane treatment that may be monitored by the International Red Cross.
Although the exact number of prisoners that will be concentrated there is not yet known, just like on the occasion of the project to transfer to that place thousands of Kosovars refugees, we are willing to cooperate with the medical services required as well as with sanitation programs in the surrounding areas under our control to keep them clean of vectors and pests. Likewise, we are willing to cooperate in any other useful, constructive and humane way that may arise.
This is the position of Cuba!
Government of the Republic of Cuba