Opinion Piece

A closure long overdue

Bnamericas Published: Friday, March 04, 2016

It's difficult to see President Barack Obama's latest 'plan' to close the military detention camp at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba as anything more than a publicity stunt ahead of his visit to the island later this month.

Obama has promised time and again to close the prison – doing so was a pledge during his first election campaign – but to no avail. Even George W. Bush, who set up the camp, endorsed the idea of closing it, right before leaving the White House. But the idea has gradually lost political ground and now the Republicans are firmly entrenched in their opposition to such a move, and to granting Obama political brownie points in his last 10 months in office. In fact, it's highly unlikely that Obama himself believes he will succeed this time around in getting the camp shuttered, and moving the 90 or so remaining inmates to maximum security facilities in the US.

But closed it certainly should be. The detention center has not only been used to illegally detain terrorism suspects on the dubious grounds that, because they are 'enemy combatants,' they are not entitled to basic legal rights. (The "war on terror" will never reach a formal conclusion, so the detentions can be indefinite, the perverse logic goes.)

Furthermore the camp has been the scene of multiple acts of torture (euphemistically referred to as coercive techniques). It is a blight on the reputation of the US and its claim to be a global defender of human rights. The irony is that as Washington has constantly denounced human rights abuses by the Castro regime, the US itself has been committing some of the worst violations, and on Cuban soil.  

In addition, the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay is probably even illegal under the terms of the 1903 lease agreement, which states that the site can only be used as a naval and fueling station – and for no other purpose. 

Havana, of course, wants the whole naval base closed, not just the detention camp, and the land handed back, as it regards the lease agreement for the base as illegal (the government refuses to accept the payments) and says it was forced upon Cuba following the Spanish-American war, after which the US took control of the whole island.

The topic will undoubtedly be raised by President Raúl Castro during his talks with Obama. Other Cuban demands - just as unlikely to be met - include that Washington pay reparations for the economic impact of the 50-year embargo, as well as that the embargo be completely lifted, something Obama would like to do. But just as with the issue of closing Guantánamo, the US president also faces strong congressional opposition to lifting the embargo.

The naval base is, of course, an anomaly and by all logic should be returned to Cuba. It's an integral part of Cuban territory and the 'perpetual' lease agreement could be terminated by mutual consent. What is more, its strategic importance to the US is marginal, to say the least, with it being so close to Florida. We all know, however, that it won't be handed back in the foreseeable future. The good news is that closure of the base is apparently not a sine qua non from the point of view of Havana in the ongoing process of normalizing relations with the US. 

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