Defending the US-Cuba border
Jack Tame, TVNZ, New Zeland
If you fancy some exercise at Guantanamo Bay, it’s best to go before the heat of the day. The Americans here reckon they’re in a microclimate; that when a hurricane hits the rest of Cuba the naval base usually survives just fine.
In Guantanamo Bay it’s filthy hot and filthy humid but the earth is desert dry.
I ran first thing this morning to a lookout above the Gitmo Township, just as the sun slipped from behind the nearby hills and the galley began serving breakfast for the day.
The hills are Cuban hills. And before the summer haze kicks in, you can pick out all signs of Cuban life on the other side of the border. With the naked eye you can easily pick buildings scattered across Guantanamo’s basin. There’s smoke from a factory just across the bay; you’d swear if you were into fads and fitness you could paddleboard there in twenty minutes. I originally mistook a collection of houses for part of the American base; it’s actually a small Cuban town.
Caimanera is about as close as you can get from Guantanamo. It has 11,000 residents who can see Guantanamo’s lights and hear the Americans’ artillery training. All of its residents need a permit to enter town.
The absurd thing about the US trade embargo with Cuba is that very few people on either side really want it to remain in place. Cuba is a tantalizing cultural mecca, planted on the US doorstep. For Cubans, America represents opportunity, both good and bad, but in their current existence few have regular and free chances to explore the greater World.
Imagine being on either side. Imagine being planted in Hamilton and told that no matter how good your driving and navigation you can never visit Auckland. Not even for a day.
For residents on either side of Guantanamo’s fences, the deal is even worse: they need only climb a moderate hill to gaze at what they’re missing. Imagine standing on the wharf at Petone Beach and knowing you’ll never make it to Oriental Bay.
On his second day in office, Barack Obama signed an executive order to shutter the Guantanamo Detention Camp. He promised to improve relations with Cuba and to explore the possibility of relaxing the embargoes on travel and trade.
But the US Congress has repeatedly blocked his efforts to close the Gitmo prison and transfer the remaining inmates to the United States. There are no prospects it’ll happen any time soon, or by the time his second term of Presidency comes to and end in 2016.
Fidel and Raoul Castro are certainly getting on, but the wider relationship between the US and Cuba still appears almost as bad as ever. Last month, amidst various protestations and with few prospects for actually gleaning valuable communications, Russia agreed to reopen its spy base in Havana.
You used to be able to cross between the American base and Cuba. Americans would hit up Caimanera and the closest Cuban restaurants and bars. Cuban workers used to come into the base for their shifts then leave at the end of the day. Guantanamo Bay still has at least one Cuban exile that came into the base and never left. Rumour says he bought his Gitmo house for $US1 and settled for the rest of his days.
These days, more than a fence line and the US Marine watchtowers defend the US-Cuba border. Both sides laid border minefields, though the Americans cleaned theirs up. A line of particularly aggressive cacti was also purposefully planted at Fidel Castro’s order to deter Cuban defectors from making a run.
All of which is to say both the future of the Detainment Camp and the future of the greater Gitmo base are just as unsure as any time in recent history. Under the Gitmo lease terms, for the US to hand over the greater base will take an agreement by both countries. And even if leadership who embrace capitalism and democracy replaces the Castro brothers, Guantanamo Bay is too strategically valuable for the Americans to even consider leaving town.
But oh, how nice it’d be, after an unimpressive jog in the morning heat to the top of a dirt-dry hill, if you could swing down the road from Guantanamo Bay and cool off with some Cuban company.
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