More than a century after the illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay, the United States has announced it has no intention of closing its naval base on Cuba's territory.
February 16 marks the 115th anniversary of the illegal occupation of 100 square kilometers of Guantanamo Bay by the United States: military action which led to the installation of the controversial outpost.
The base was built under the Agreement for Carboneras and Naval Stations, which was signed in 1903 by the governments of the United States and Cuba, and chaired by Tomas Estrada Palma, the first president of the Caribbean island.
The closure of the military base and the return of the land on which it sits have been consistent demands of both Cuba's government and the Cuban people. The presence of U.S. military personnel on Cuban territory is, they say, a clear threat to Cuban sovereignty.
Former President of the United States Barack Obama set precisely that objective during his electoral campaign in 2008: closing Guantanamo Naval Base Detention Centre. The move was, however, never realized. In 2014, the U.S. Congress rejected the relevant bill.
Current U.S. President Donald Trump declared during his 2016 presidential campaign that he had no plans to close Guantanamo and, on the contrary, vowed the base would remain open, but with a reduction in spending.
In his State of the Union speech on January 30 this year, Trump said he had ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to "re-examine our military detention policy and keep open detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay," hoping that "in many cases" captive terrorists would be sent there.
Why is Guantanamo Illegal?
There are five main reasons Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is considered illegal:
1. In 1969, the International Convention on the Law of Treaties – held in Vienna, Austria – declared in article 52 as "null and void any treaty whose consent is reached with the threat or use of force," such occurred ahead of the establishment of the Guantanamo facility.
2. The lease of Cuban lands and waters to the government of the United States for the establishment of the naval base at Guantanamo, according to the Permanent Treaty of 1903 and that of Relations of 1934, was to be carried out for the time needed by the United States. By not fixing the date of return and instead remaining in perpetuity, the United States is violating what is legally established for this type of agreement: it is a legal absurdity that the owner of something is not able to rightfully recover his property at any given time.
3. The Cuban government demanded on March 5, 1959, that Washington end its occupation in the province of Guantanamo, but Washington has continued to lease it.
4. Since 1959, Havana has refused to charge the United States any rent for Guantanamo because to do so could be interpreted as endorsing the agreement's legality, which remains in question.
5. The lease specified that the area was "for exclusive use as a coal or naval station," but Washington has traditionally used Guantanamo for any purpose it sees fit.
Guantanamo in Numbers:
- Guantanamo covers an area of 117.6 square kilometers, of which only 49.4 are on the mainland, with a coastline measuring 17.5 kilometers.
- By 2008, about 800 prisoners from 42 countries had passed through the detention center, the vast majority of them Afghans and Pakistanis.
- The United States currently maintains 149 prisoners in the detention center.
- In 2013, former U.S. President Barack Obama requested more than US$450 million from Congress to cover maintenance costs for the prison and a further US$200 million to improve temporary facilities.