The Cuban government opposes the presence of the US Naval Base, claiming that the lease is invalid under international law. The US government claims that the lease is valid.
Since 2002, the naval base has contained a military prison, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for persons alleged to be militant combatants captured in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. Prior to July 11, 2006, the Bush Administration maintained that these prisoners are not protected under the Geneva Convention.
The bay was originally called Guantánamo by the Taíno. Christopher Columbus landed at the location known as Fisherman's Point in 1494. 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 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, but required 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 (116 km²) 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, an American citizen, 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.
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 $3,086.36 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 leftist 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; this 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.
Since 1939, the base's water had been supplied by pipelines that drew water from the Yateras River about 4.5 miles (7.2 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 two and a half million U.S. gallons (10 million L) per day. In 1964, the Cuban government stopped the flow. The base had about 14 million gallons 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-inch (964 mm) length of the 14-inch (355 mm) diameter pipe and a 20-inch (508 mm) length of the 10-inch (254 mm) diameter pipe were lifted from the ground and the openings sealed. After this resolution, family members were allowed to return to the base in December 1964.
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 CO or CM. For "ham" purposes it is considered to be a separate "entity." Not surprisingly, this position is not recognized by Cuba's amateur radio society.
In 2005, the Navy completed a $12 million wind project, erecting four wind turbines capable of supplying about a quarter of the base's peak power needs, reducing diesel fuel usage and pollution from the existing diesel generators.
The United States controls the land on both sides of the southern part of Guantánamo Bay (Bahía de Guantánamo in Spanish) under a lease set up in the wake of the 1898 Spanish-American War: the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty, the terms of which were preserved by the 1934 Treaty of Relations. Cuba disputes the validity of the lease under international law. Cuba's longtime status as a weakened colonial possession of Spain ended not long before it negotiated the lease; its status during the negotiations as a weakened colonial possession of the United States does much to explain the lease's lopsided terms. Cuba argues that these circumstances run afoul of the customary law of treaties, as codified in Article 52 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which holds that a treaty provision obtained by force is not binding. The applicability of the Convention is questioned in light of its Article 4, which states that its rules apply only to treaties concluded after it comes into effect. Still, for any treaty subject to its rules "independently of the Convention", Article 4 regards application of those rules "without prejudice." Further, its nature as a convention or codification of customary international law means that the Convention's rules express the customary law of treaties understood to apply in all cases. Here, then, Article 52 of the Convention codifies an established customary law of treaties that voids provisions obtained by force, applying to the Cuban-American treaty as to any treaty; if it could not be so applied, it would not have been added to the Convention.
The long-term lease of this territory 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 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 argues that Article 4 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties prohibits retroactive (after the fact) application of said Convention to already existing treaties such as the ones concluded between the US and Cuba in 1903 and 1934. The Platt Amendment was dissolved in 1934, and the treaty re-affirming the lease to the base was signed after Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched 29 US 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 its cashing signifies Havana's ratification of the lease — and that ratification by the new government renders moot any questions about violations of sovereignty and illegal military occupation.
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 treaty allows the USA to use the base for "coaling and naval purposes only." It states it does not allow the USA to use it for detaining "enemy combatants", or trying them for war crimes. It further states that the treaty explicitly proscribes "commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas." And yet the base sports half a dozen fast-food 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 isn't a priority now.
After the Revolution, some Cubans sought refuge on the base. In fall 1961, Cuba had its troops plant an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of cactus along the northeastern section of the fence. This was dubbed the "Cactus Curtain", an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia. In 2006, despite the continuing lack of diplomatic relations between the countries, the United States agreed to return fugitives from Cuban law to Cuban authorities, and Cuba agreed to return fugitives from U.S. law, for offenses committed in Guantánamo Bay, to U.S. authorities.
U.S. troops placed 75,000 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 democratically elected 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, though the majority were 'bought' for a substantial bounty (generally in the region of $US 5,000) from various warlords and mercenaries both in Afghanistan and elsewhere — 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 captives are linked to Al-Qaida or the Taliban. The military has withheld the evidence against captives asserted to be linked to terrorist organizations or enemy states. In litigation regarding the availability of fundamental rights to those imprisoned at the base, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the captives "have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control. Therefore, the captives 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 captives, but not to members of al Qaeda terrorist organization.
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 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.
In 1986, Guantanamo became host to Cuba's first and only McDonald's restaurant, as well as a Subway. 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 2003, Guantanamo opened a combined KFC & A&W restaurants at the bowling alley and a Pizza Hut Express at the Wind Jammer Restaurant . All the restaurants on the installation are franchises owned and operated by the Department of the Navy, and all proceeds from these restaurants are used to support morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) activities for service personnel and their families .
This corporate presence seems, on its face, to violate terms of agreement signed July 2, 1903: "The United States of America agrees that no person, partnership, or corporation shall be permitted to establish or maintain a commercial, industrial or other enterprise" within the station.