The history of Cuba during the last 140 years is one of struggle to preserve national identity and independence, and the history of the evolution of the American empire, its constant craving to appropriate Cuba and of the horrendous methods that it uses today to hold on to world domination.
Prominent Cuban historians have dealt in depth with these subjects in different periods and in various excellent books which deserve to be readily available to our compatriots. These reflections are addressed especially to the new generations with the aim of helping them learn about very important and decisive events in the destiny of our homeland.
Part I: The Imposition of the Platt Amendment as an appendix to the Neocolonial Cuban Constitution of 1901.
The “ripe fruit doctrine” was formulated in 1823 by Secretary of State and later President John Quincy Adams. The United States would inevitably achieve taking over our country, by the law of political influence, once colonial subordination to Spain had ended.
Under the pretext of blowing up the “Maine” –a still unraveled event of which it took advantage to wage war against Spain, like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, an event which was demonstrably prefabricated in order to attack North Vietnam –President William McKinley signed the Joint Resolution of April 20, 1898, stating “…that the people on the island of Cuba are and by right ought to be free and independent”, “… that the United States herewith declare that they have no desire or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction or control over said island, except for pacification thereof, and they affirm their determination, after this has been accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.” The Joint Resolution entitled the President to use force to remove the Spanish government from Cuba.
Colonel Leonard Wood, chief commander of the Rough Riders, and Theodore Roosevelt, second in command of the expansionist volunteers who landed in our country on the beaches close to Santiago de Cuba, after the brave but poorly utilized Spanish squadron and their Marine infantry on board had been destroyed by the American battleships, requested the support of Cuban insurrectionists who had weakened and defeated the Spanish Colonial Army after enormous sacrifices. The Rough Riders had landed without horses.
Following the defeat of Spain, representatives of the Queen Regent of Spain and of the President of the United States signed the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 and, without consulting of the Cuban people, agreed that Spain should relinquish all claim of sovereignty over and title to the island and would evacuate it. Cuba would then be occupied by the United States on a temporary basis.
Already appointed U.S. military governor, Army Major General Leonard Wood, issued Military Order 301 of July 25, 1900, which called for a general election to choose delegates to a Constitutional Assembly that would be held in the city of Havana at twelve noon on the first Monday of November in 1900, with the purpose of drafting and adopting a Constitution for the people of Cuba.
On September 15, 1900, elections took place and 31 delegates from the National, Republican and Democratic Union parties were elected. On November 5, 1900, the Constitutional Convention held its opening session at the Irijoa Theatre of Havana which on that occasion received the name of Martí Theatre.
General Wood, representing the President of the United States, declared the Assembly officially installed. Wood advanced the intention of the United States government: “After you have drawn up the relations which, in your opinion, ought to exist between Cuba and the United States, the government of the United States will undoubtedly adopt the measures conducive to a final and authorized treaty between the peoples of both nations, aimed at promoting the growth of their common interests.” The 1901 Constitution provided in its Article 2 that “the territory of the Republic is composed of the Island of Cuba, as well as the islands and neighboring keys which together were under Spanish sovereignty until the ratification of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898”.
Once the Constitution was drafted, the time had come to define political relations between Cuba and the United States. To that end, on February 12, 1901, a committee of five members was appointed and charged with studying and proposing a procedure that would lead to the stated goal.
On February 15, Governor Wood invited the members of the committee to go fishing and hosted a banquet in Batabanó, the main access route to the Isle of Pines, as it was known then, also occupied at that time by the U.S. troops which had intervened in the Cuban War of Independence. It was there in Batabanó that he revealed to them a letter from the Secretary of War, Elihu Root, containing the basic aspects of the future Platt Amendment. According to instructions from Washington, relations between Cuba and the United States were to abide by several aspects. The fifth of these was that, in order to make it easier for the United States to fulfill such tasks as were placed under its responsibility by the above mentioned provisions, and for its own defense, the United States could acquire title, and preserve it, for lands to be used for naval bases and maintain these in certain specific points.
Upon learning of the conditions demanded by the U.S. government, the Cuban Constitutional Assembly, on February 27, 1901, passed a position that was opposed to that of the U.S. Executive, eliminating therein the establishment of naval bases.
The U.S. government made an agreement with Orville H. Platt, Republican Senator from Connecticut, to present an amendment to the proposed Army Appropriations Bill which would make the establishment of American naval bases on Cuban soil a fait accompli.
In the Amendment, passed by the U.S. Senate on February 27, 1901 and by the House of Representatives on March 1, and sanctioned by President McKinley the following day, as a rider attached to the “Bill granting credit to the Army for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1902,” the article mentioning the naval bases was drafted as follows:
“Art. VII.- That to enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States.”
Article VIII adds: “…the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States.”
The speedy passage of the Amendment by the U.S. Congress was due to the circumstance of it coming close to the conclusion of the legislative term and to the fact that President McKinley had a clear majority in both Houses so that the Amendment could be passed without any problem. It became a United States Law when, on March 4, McKinley was sworn in for his second presidential term in office.
Some members of the Constitutional Convention maintained the view that they were not empowered to adopt the Amendment requested by the United States since this implied limitations on the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba. Thus, the military governor Leonard Wood hastened to issue a new Military Order on March 12, 1901 where it was declared that the Convention was empowered to adopt the measures whose constitutionality was in question.
Other Convention members, such as Manuel Sanguily, held the opinion that the Assembly should be dissolved rather than adopt measures that so drastically offended the dignity and sovereignty of the people of Cuba. But during the session of March 7, 1901, a committee was appointed yet again in order to draft an answer to Governor Wood; the presentation of this was entrusted to Juan Gualberto Gómez who recommended, among other things, rejecting the clause concerning the leasing of coaling or naval stations.
Juan Gualberto Gómez maintained the most severe criticism of the Platt Amendment. On April 1, he tabled a debate of the presentation where he challenged the document on the grounds that it contravened the principles of the Treaty of Paris and of the Joint Resolution. But the Convention suspended the debate on Juan Gualberto Gómez’s presentation and decided to send another committee “to ascertain the motives and intentions of the government of the United States about any and all details referring to the establishment of a definitive order to relations, both political and economic, between Cuba and the United States, and to negotiate with the government itself, the bases for agreement on those extremes that would be proposed to the Convention for a final solution.”
Subsequently, a committee was elected that would travel to Washington, made up of Domingo Méndez Capote, Diego Tamayo, Pedro González Llorente, Rafael Portuondo Tamayo and Pedro Betancourt; they arrived in the United States on April 24, 1901. The next day, they met with Root and Wood who had earlier traveled back to his country for this purpose.
The American government hastened to publicly declare that the committee would be visiting Washington on their own initiative, with no invitation or official status.
Root, Secretary of War, met with the committee on April 25 and 26, 1901 and categorically informed them that “the United States’ right to impose the much debated clauses had been proclaimed for three-quarters of a century in the face of the American and European world and they were not willing to give it up to the point of putting their own safety in jeopardy.”
United States officials reiterated that none of the Platt Amendment clauses undermined the sovereignty and independence of Cuba; on the contrary, they would preserve them, and it was clarified that intervention would only occur in the case of severe disturbances, and only with the objective of maintaining order and internal peace.
The committee presented its report in a secret session on May 7, 1901. Within the committee there were severe discrepancies about the Platt Amendment.
On May 28, a paper drafted by Villuendas, Tamayo and Quesada was tabled for debate; it accepted the Amendment with some clarifications and recommended the signing of a treaty on trade reciprocity.
This paper was approved by a vote of 15 to 14, but the United States government didn’t accept that solution. It informed through Governor Wood that it would only accept the Amendment without qualifiers, and warned the Convention with an ultimatum that, since the Platt Amendment was “a statute passed by the Legislature of the United States, the President is obliged to carry it out as it is. He cannot change or alter it, add or take anything out. The executive action demanded by the statute is the withdrawal of the American Army from Cuba, and the statute authorizes this action when, and only when, a Constitutional government has been established which contains, either in its body or in appendices, certain categorical provisions, specified in the statute (…) Then if these provisions are found in the Constitution, the President will be authorized to withdraw the Army; if he does not find them there, then he will not be authorized to withdraw the Army…” The United States Secretary of War sent a letter to the Cuban Constitutional Assembly where he stated that the Platt Amendment should be passed in its entirety with no clarifications, because in that way it would appear as a rider to the Army Appropriations Bill; he indicated that, otherwise, his country’s military forces would not be pulled out of Cuba.
On June 12, 1901, during another secret session of the Constitutional Assembly, the incorporation of the Platt Amendment as an appendix to the Constitution of the Republic passed on February 21 was put to the vote: 16 delegates voted aye and 11 voted nay. Bravo Correoso, Robau, Gener and Rius Rivera were absent from the session, abstaining from voting in favor of such a monstrosity.
The worst thing about the Amendment was the hypocrisy, the deceit, the Machiavellianism and the cynicism with which they concocted the plan to take over Cuba, to the lengths of publicly proclaiming the same arguments made by John Quincy Adams in 1823, about the apple which would fall because of gravity. This apple finally did fall, but it was rotten, just as many Cuban intellectuals had foreseen for almost half a century, from José Martí in the 1880’s right up to Julio Antonio Mella, assassinated in January of 1929.
Nobody better than Leonard Wood himself to describe what the Platt Amendment would mean for Cuba in two sections of a confidential letter to his fellow in the adventure, Theodore Roosevelt, dated on October 28, 1901:
“There is, of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment. (…) the only consistent thing to do now is to seek annexation. This, however, will take some time, and during the period which Cuba maintains her own government, it is most desirable that she should be able to maintain such a one as will tend to her advancement and betterment. She cannot make certain treaties without our consent (…) and must maintain certain sanitary conditions (…), from all of which it is quite apparent that she is absolutely in our hands, and I believe that no European government for a moment considers that she is otherwise than a practical dependency of the United States, and as such is certainly entitled to our consideration. (…) With the control which we have over Cuba, a control which will soon undoubtedly become possession, (…) we shall soon practically control the sugar trade of the world. (…) the island will (…) gradually become Americanized and we shall have in time one of the richest and most desirable possessions in the world.”
Part II: The Application of the Platt Amendment and the Establishing of the Guantanamo Naval Base as a Framework for Relations between Cuba and the United States.
By the end of 1901, the electoral process which resulted in the triumph of Tomás Estrada Palma, without opposition and with the support of 47 percent of the electorate, had begun. On April 17, 1902, the President-elect in absentia left the United States for Cuba where he arrived three days later. The inauguration of the new President took place on May 20, 1902 at 12 noon. The Congress of the Republic had already been constituted. Leonard Wood set sail for his country in the battleship “Brooklyn”. In 1902, shortly before the proclamation of the Republic, the United States government informed the newly elected President of the Island about the four sites selected for the establishing of naval bases -Cienfuegos, Bahía Honda, Guantanamo and Nipe – as provided by the Platt Amendment. Not even the Port of Havana escaped consideration since it was contemplated as “the most favorable for the fourth naval base”.
From the beginning, despite its spurious origins, the Government of Cuba, in which many of those who fought for independence participated, was opposed to the concession of four naval bases since it considered two to be more than enough. The situation grew tenser when the Cuban government toughened its stand and demanded the final drafting of the Permanent Agreement on Relations, with the goal of “determining at the same time and not in parts, all the details that were the object of the Platt Amendment and setting the range of their precepts”. President McKinley had died in September 14, 1901 as a result of gunshot wounds he had sustained on the 6th of that month. Theodore Roosevelt had advanced to such a degree in his political career that he was already Vice President of the United States and so he had assumed the presidency after the shooting of his predecessor. Roosevelt, at that time did not deem it to be convenient to specify the scope of the Platt Amendment, so as not to delay the military installation of the Guantanamo Base, given what that would mean for the defense of the Canal whose construction France had begun and later abandoned in the Central American Isthmus, and which the voracious government of the empire intended to complete at all costs. Nor was he interested in defining the legal status of the Isle of Pines. Therefore, he abruptly reduced the number of naval bases under discussion, removed the Port of Havana suggestion and finally agreed to the concession of two bases: Guantanamo and Bahía Honda.
Subsequently, in compliance with Article VII of the constitutional appendix imposed on the Constitutional Convention, the Agreement was signed by the Presidents of Cuba and the United States on February 16 and 23, 1903, respectively:
“Article I. – The Republic of Cuba hereby leases to the United States, for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations, the following described areas of land and water situated in the Island of Cuba:
“1st. In Guantanamo”…(A complete description of the bay and neighboring territory is made.)
“2nd. In Bahia Honda…” (Another similar description is made.)
This Agreement establishes:
“Article III. –While on the one hand the United States recognizes the continuance of the ultimate sovereignty of the Republic of Cuba over the above described areas of land and water, on the other hand the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of the occupation by the United States of said areas under the terms of this agreement the United States shall exercise complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas with the right to acquire for the public purposes of the United States any land or other property therein by purchase or by exercise of eminent domain with full compensation to the owners thereof.”
On May 28, 1903, surveying began to establish the boundaries of the Guantanamo Naval Station. In the Agreement of July 2, 1903, dealing with the same subject, the “Regulations for the Lease of Naval and Coaling Stations” was passed:
“Article I.- The United States of America agrees and covenants to pay the Republic of Cuba the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in gold coin of the United States, as long as the former shall occupy and use said areas of land by virtue of said agreement.”
“All private lands and other real property within said areas shall be acquired forthwith by the Republic of Cuba.”
“The United States of America agrees to furnish to the Republic of Cuba the sums necessary for the purchase of said private lands and properties and such sums shall be accepted by the Republic of Cuba as advance payment on account of rental due by virtue of said Agreement.”
The Agreement which governed this lease, signed in Havana by representatives of the Presidents of Cuba and the United States respectively, was passed by the Cuban Senate on July 16, 1903, ratified by the President of Cuba a month later on August 16, and by the President of the United States on October 2, and after exchanging ratifications in Washington on October 6, it was published in the Gazette of Cuba on the 12th of the same month and year.
Dated on December 14, 1903, it was informed that four days earlier on the 10th of the same month, the United States had been given possession of the areas of water and land for the establishing of a naval station in Guantanamo. For the United States Government and Navy, the transfer of part of the territory of the largest island in the Antilles was a source of great rejoicing and they intended to celebrate the event. Vessels belonging to the Caribbean Squadron and some battleships from the North Atlantic Fleet converged on Guantanamo.
The Cuban government appointed the Head of Public Works of Santiago de Cuba to deliver that part of the territory over which it technically exercised sovereignty on December 10, 1903, the date chosen by the United States. He would be the only Cuban present at the ceremony and just for a brief time since, once his mission was accomplished, without any toasts or handshakes, he left for the neighboring town of Caimanera.
The Head of Public Works had boarded the battleship “Kearsage”, which was the U.S. flagship, where he met Rear Admiral Barker. At 12:00 hours a 21-gun-salute was given and along with the notes of the Cuban National Anthem, the Cuban flag which had been flying on board that vessel was lowered, and immediately the United States flag was hoisted on land, at the point called Playa del Este, with an equal number of salvos, thus concluding the ceremony.
According to the articles of the Agreement, the United States was to dedicate the leased lands exclusively for public use, not being able to establish any type of business or industry. The U.S. authorities in said territories and the Cuban authorities mutually agreed to surrender fugitives from justice charged with crimes or misdemeanors subject to the laws of each party, as long as it was required by the authorities who would be judging them.
Materials imported into the areas belonging to said naval stations for their own use and consumption would be exempt from customs duties, or any other kind of fees, to the Republic of Cuba.
The lease of these naval stations included the right to use and occupy the waters adjacent to said areas of land and water, to improve and deepen the entrances to them and their anchorages and for anything else that would be necessary for the exclusive use to which they were dedicated.
Even though the United States acknowledged the continuation of Cuba’s definitive sovereignty over those areas of water and land, it would exercise, with Cuba’s consent, “complete jurisdiction and domain” over said areas while they occupied them according to the other already quoted stipulations.
In the so-called Permanent Treaty of May 22, 1903, signed by the governments of the Republic of Cuba and the United States, future relations between both nations were detailed: in other words, what Manuel Márquez Sterling would call “the intolerable yoke of the Platt Amendment” was thus put firmly in place.
The Permanent Treaty, signed by both countries, was approved by the United States Senate on March 22, 1904 and by the Cuban Senate on June 8 of that year, and the ratifications were exchanged in Washington on June 1st, 1904. Therefore, the Platt Amendment is an amendment to an American law, an appendix to the Cuban Constitution of 1901 and a permanent treaty between both countries.
The experiences acquired with the Guantanamo Naval Base were useful to apply measures in Panama that were equal or worse, in the case of the Canal. In the United States Congress, it is customary to introduce amendments, whenever a law which is of urgent necessity for its content and importance is being debated. This frequently obliges legislators to put aside or sacrifice any conflicting criteria. Such amendments have more than once affected the sovereignty for which our people tirelessly struggle.
In 1912, the Cuban Secretary of State, Manuel Sanguily, negotiated a new treaty with the U.S. State Department whereby the United States would relinquish its rights over Bahia Honda in exchange for enlarging the boundaries of the Guantanamo station.
That same year, when the uprising of the Partido de los Independientes de Color (Independent Colored Party) took place, which the Liberal Party government of President José Miguel Gómez brutally repressed, American troops came out of the Guantanamo Naval Base and occupied several towns in the former Oriente Province, near the cities of Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba, with the pretext of “protecting the lives and properties of U.S. citizens”. In 1917, because of the uprising known as “La Chambelona” carried out by the elements of the Liberal Party in Oriente who were opposed to the electoral fraud that had re-elected President Mario García Menocal of the Conservative Party, Yankee regiments from the Base headed for various points in that province of Cuba, under the pretext of “protecting the Base water supply”.
Part III: The Formal Repeal of the Platt Amendment and Continued Presence of the Guantanamo Naval Base.
The advent of the Democratic administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the United States in 1933 opened the way to a necessary accommodation of the relationship of domination that the U.S. exercised over Cuba. The fall of the Gerardo Machado’s tyranny under the pressure of a powerful popular movement, and the subsequent installation of a provisional government headed by the university professor of physiology, Ramón Grau San Martin, were a serious obstacle to the achievement of the program demanded by the people.
On November 24, 1933, U.S. President Roosevelt issued an official statement encouraging the intrigues of Batista and Sumner Welles, the Ambassador to Havana, against Grau’s government. These included the offer to sign a new commercial treaty and repeal the Platt Amendment. Roosevelt explained that “…any Provisional Government in Cuba in which the Cuban people show their confidence would be welcome”. The impatience of the U.S, administration to get rid of Grau was growing, as from mid-November the influence of a young anti-imperialist, Antonio Guiteras, was increasing in the government, which would take many of its more radical steps in the weeks to come. It was necessary to swiftly overthrow that government.
On December 13, 1933, Ambassador Sumner Welles returned definitively to Washington and was substituted five days later by Jefferson Caffery.
On January 13-14, 1934, Batista convened and presided over a military meeting at Columbia, where he proposed to oust Grau and appoint Colonel Carlos Mendieta y Montefur, which was agreed to by the so-called Columbia Military Junta. Grau San Martin presented his resignation at dawn on January 15, 1934 and left for exile in Mexico on the 20th of the same month. Thus, on January 18, 1934, Mendieta was installed as President after the coup d’état. Although the Mendieta administration had been recognized by the United States on January 23rd of that year, actually the fate of the country was in the hands of Ambassador Caffery and Batista.
The overthrow of the Grau San Martin provisional government in January 1934, as a result of internal contradictions and a whole series of pressures, maneuvers and aggressions wielded against it by imperialism and its local allies, meant a first and indispensable step towards the imposition of an oligarchic-imperialistic alternative to solve the Cuban national crisis.
The government headed by Mendieta would take on the task of adjusting the bonds of the country’s neo-colonial dependency.
Neither the oligarchy reinstated in power, nor the Washington government, were in position to ignore the feelings of the Cuban people towards neocolonialism and its instruments. Nor was the United States unaware of the importance of the support of Latin American governments –Cuba among them– in the already foreseeable confrontation with other emerging imperialist powers such as Germany and Japan. The new process would include formulae to ensure the renewed functioning of the neocolonial system. The “Good Neighbor” policy was very mindful of Latin American opposition to Washington’s open interventionism in the hemisphere. The aim of Roosevelt’s policy was to portray a new image in its hemispheric relations through the “good neighbor” diplomatic formula.
As one of the adjustment measures, on May 29, 1934 a new U.S.-Cuba Relations Treaty, modifying the one of May 22, 1903, was signed by the other Roosevelt, perhaps a distant relative of he who had landed in Cuba with the Rough Riders.
Two days earlier, on May 27, at 10:30 a.m., when United States Ambassador Jefferson Caffery was getting ready, as was his custom, to leave his residence in the Alturas de Almendares, he was the target of an assassination attempt; three shots were fired by several unidentified individuals from a car. The next day, May 28th, at noon, as it was driving along Quinta Avenida in the Miramar district, the car assigned to the First Secretary of the United States Embassy, H. Freeman Matthews, after having dropped off the diplomat at the Embassy, was attacked by several individuals traveling in a car and armed with machine guns. One of them approached the chauffeur and told him that he should let Matthews know that he was giving him one week to get out of Cuba: then he smashed the windshield of the car and sped off.
These acts that revealed a general climate of anti-United States hostility could have precipitated the signing of the new Relations Treaty that proposed the alleged end of the unpopular Platt Amendment.
The new Relations Treaty provided for the suppression of the right of the United States to intervene in Cuba and that:
“The United States of America and the Republic of Cuba, being animated by the desire to fortify the relations of friendship between the two countries and to modify, with this purpose, the relations established between them by the Treaty of Relations signed in Havana, May 22, 1903, (…) have agreed upon the following articles:
“Article 3.- Until the two contracting parties agree to the modifications or abrogation of the stipulations 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 stations of Guantanamo shall continue in effect in the same form and 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 territorial area that it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty.”
The United States Senate ratified the new Relations Treaty on June 1, 1934, and Cuba on June 4. Five days later, on June 9, ratifications of the Relations Treaty of May 29th of the same year were exchanged, and with that the Platt Amendment was formally repealed, but the Guantanamo Naval Base remained.
The new Treaty legalized the de facto situation of the Guantanamo naval station, thus rescinding the part of the agreements of February 16 and 23 and July 2 of 1903 between the two countries relating to the lands and waters in Bahia Honda, and the part that referred to the waters and lands of the Guantanamo station was amended, in the sense that they were enlarged.
The United States maintained its naval station in Guantanamo as a strategic surveillance and control site, in order to ensure its political and economic predominance in the Caribbean and Central America and to defend the Panama Canal.
Part IV: The Guantanamo Naval Base from the formal end of the Platt Amendment until the Triumph of the Revolution.
After the signing of the Treaty of Relations of 1934, the territory of the “naval station” underwent a gradual fortifying and equipping process until, in the spring of 1941, the Base became established as an operational naval station with the following structure: naval station, air naval station and Marines Corps Base and warehouse facilities.
On June 6, 1934 the United States Senate had passed a bill which would authorize the Secretary of the Navy to sign a long-term contract with a company that would undertake to supply adequate water to the Naval Base in Guantanamo; however, prior to this, American plans already existed for the construction of an aqueduct which would bring in water from the Yateras River.
Expansion continued, and by 1943 other facilities were constructed by contracting the Frederick Snare Company. This hired 9,000 civilian workers, many of them Cubans.
Another year of tremendous expansion of the military and civilian facilities on the Base was 1951. In 1952, the United States Secretary of the Navy decided to change the name of the U.S. Naval Operating Base to “U.S. Naval Base”; by that time its structure already included a Training Center.
The Constitution of 1940, the Revolutionary Struggle and Guantanamo Naval Base until December 1958.
The period between the end of 1937 and 1940 was characterized, from a political point of view, by the adoption of measures that allowed for elections for the Constitutional Assembly to be called and for them to take place. The reason why Batista agreed to these democratizing measures was that it was in his interest to move towards the establishment of formulae that would allow him to remain at the center of political decisions, and thus ensure the continuity of his power within the new order arising under the formulae that he had implemented. At the beginning of 1938 the agreement between Batista and Grau to install a Constitutional Assembly was made public. The Constitutional Convention, inaugurated on February 9, 1940, concluded its sessions on June 8 of that same year.
The Constitution was signed on July 1st, 1940 and promulgated on July 5 that same year. The new Law of Laws established that “the territory of the Republic consists of the Island of Cuba, the Isle of Pines and other adjacent islands and keys, which were under the sovereignty of Spain until the ratification of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. The Republic of Cuba shall not conclude or ratify pacts or treaties that in any form limit or undermine national sovereignty or the integrity of the territory”.
The oligarchy would strive to prevent the materialization of the more advanced principles in this Constitution or at least to restrict their application to a maximum.
Part V: The Guantanamo Naval Base since the Triumph of the Revolution.
Since the triumph of the Revolution, the Revolutionary Government has denounced the illegal occupation of that portion of our territory.
On the other hand, since January 1st, 1959, the United States turned the usurped territory of the Guantanamo Naval Base into a permanent source of threats, provocation and violation of Cuba’s sovereignty, with the aim of creating trouble for the victorious revolutionary process. Said Base has always been present in the plans and operations conceived by Washington to overthrow the Revolutionary Government.
All kinds of aggressions have come from the Naval Base: Dropping of inflammable materials over free territory from planes flying out of the Base. Provocations by American soldiers, including insults, the throwing of stones and cans filled with inflammable materials and the firing of pistols and automatic weapons. Violations of Cuban jurisdictional waters and Cuban territory by American military vessels and aircraft from the Base. Plans for self-aggression on the Base that would provoke a large-scale armed struggle between Cuba and the United States. Registering the radio frequencies used at the Base in the International Frequency Registry in the space corresponding to Cuba.
On January 12, 1961, the worker Manuel Prieto Gómez who had been employed at the Base for more than 3 years was savagely tortured by Yankee soldiers on the Guantanamo Naval Base, for the “crime” of being a revolutionary.
On October 15 of that same year, the Cuban worker Rubén López Sabariego was tortured and subsequently murdered.
On June 24, 1962, Rodolfo Rosell Salas, a fisherman from Caimanera, was murdered by soldiers at the Base. Likewise, the devious intent of fabricating a self-provocation and deploying American troops in a “justified” punitive invasion of Cuba has always been a volatile element at Guantanamo Base. We can find an example of this in one of the actions included in the so-called “Operation Mongoose”, when on September 3, 1962 American soldiers stationed in Guantanamo would shoot at Cuban sentries.
During the Missile Crisis, the Base was reinforced in terms of military technology and troops; manpower grew to more than 16,000 Marines. Given the decision of Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev to withdraw the nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba without previously either consulting or informing the Revolutionary Government, Cuba defined the unshakeable position of the Revolution in what came to be known as the “Five Points”. The fifth point demanded withdrawal from the Guantanamo Naval Base. We were on the brink of a thermonuclear war, where we would be the prime target as a consequence of the imperial policy of taking over Cuba.
On February 11, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson reduced the number of Cuban personnel working at the Base by approximately 700 workers. They also confiscated the accumulated retirement funds of hundreds of Cuban workers who had been employed on the Base and illegally suspended payments of pensions to retired Cuban workers.
On July 19, 1964, in a blatant provocation made by American border guards against the Cuban border patrol sentries, Ramón López Peña, a young 17-year-old soldier, was murdered at close range while he was on guard in the sentry-box. On May 21, 1966, and in similar circumstances, soldier Luis Ramírez López was murdered by shots from the Base.
In hardly three weeks of the month of May in 1980, more than 80,000 men, 24 vessels and some 350 combat aircraft took part in Solid Shield-80 exercises; as part of its dynamic, this included the landing of 2,000 Marines at the Naval Base and the reinforcement of the facility with an additional 1200 troops.
In October 1991, during the 4th Communist Party Congress in Santiago de Cuba, planes and helicopters from the Base violated Cuban air space over the city.
In 1994, the Base served as a support station for the invasion of Haiti: American air force planes used Base airports for this. More than 45,000 Haitian emigrants were kept on the Base until mid-1995.
Also in 1994, the well-known migration crisis was produced as a result of the tightening up of the blockade and the tough years of the Special Period, the non-compliance with the Migratory Agreement of 1984 signed with the Reagan Administration, the considerable reduction in the number of visas granted and the encouragement of illegal emigration, including the Cuban Adjustment Act signed by President Johnson more than four decades ago.
As a result of the crisis created, a declaration made by President Clinton on August 19, 1994 transformed the Base into a migratory concentration camp for the Cuban rafters, in numbers close to 30,000.
Finally, on September 9, 1994 a Joint Communiqué was signed by the Clinton administration and the Cuban government. This saw the United States committing to prevent the entry into its territory of intercepted illegal emigrants and to issue a minimum of 20,000 annual visas for safety travel to the United States.
On May 2, 1995, as part of the migratory negotiations, the governments of Cuba and the United States also agreed what on this occasion was called a Joint Declaration establishing the procedure for returning to Cuba all those who continued trying to illegally migrate to the United States and were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Notice the specific reference to the illegal emigrants intercepted by the Coast Guards. Thus the basis had been laid of a sinister business: the traffic of persons. The Murderous Act was maintained, thus turning Cuba into the only country in the world subjected to such harassment. While approximately 250 thousand people have safely traveled to that country, an incalculable number of women, children and people of all ages have lost their lives as a result of the prosperous traffic of emigrants.
Following an agreement by the two governments, as from the migratory crisis of 1994, regular meetings between the military commands of each side were initiated. A strip of mined territory would sometimes be flooded by tropical rainstorms and overflowing rivers. On many occasions our sappers had put their lives in danger to save persons who were crossing the restricted military zone in that area, even with children.
The Guantanamo Naval Base since the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act.
This Act, signed by President William Clinton on March 12, 1996, in its Title II about “Assistance to a Free and Independent Cuba”, Section 201 related to the “policy toward a transition government and a democratically elected government in Cuba”, establishes in its Point 12 that the United States must “be prepared to enter into negotiations with a democratically elected government in Cuba either to return the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo to Cuba or to renegotiate the present agreement under mutually agreeable terms”. Something worse than what was planned by military governor Leonard Wood, who had landed on foot along with Theodore Roosevelt in the proximity of Santiago de Cuba: the idea of having an annexationist of Cuban descent administrating our country.
The War in Kosovo in 1999 resulted in a great number of Kosovar refugees. The Clinton government, embroiled in that NATO war against Serbia, made the decision to use the Base to accommodate a number of them, and on this occasion, for the first time, with no previous consultation whatsoever as usual, it informed Cuba of the decision made. Our answer was constructive. Even though we were opposed to the unjust and illegal conflict, we had no grounds on which to oppose the humanitarian aid needed by the Kosovar refugees. We even offered our country’s cooperation, if it should be needed, in terms of medical care or any other service they might need. Finally, the Kosovar refugees were never sent to the Guantanamo Naval Base.
The manifesto called “The Oath of Baraguá” of February 19, 2000 expressed that “in due time, since it no longer constitutes a prioritized objective at this moment even though the right of our people is very just and cannot be waived; the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo must be returned to Cuba.” At that time, we were involved in the struggle for the return of the kidnapped boy and the economic consequences of the brutal blockade.
The Guantanamo Naval Base since September 11.
On September 18, 2001, President Bush signed United States Congress legislation authorizing the use of force as a response to the September 11 attacks. Bush used this legislation as a basis to sign a Military Order on November 13 of that same year which would establish the legal bases for arrests and trials by military tribunals of individuals who didn’t hold U.S. citizenship, as part of the “war on terrorism”.
On January 8, 2002 the United States officially informed Cuba that they would be using the Guantanamo Naval Base as a detention center for Afghan war prisoners.
Three days later, on January 11, 2002, the first 20 detainees arrived, and the figure reached the number of 776 prisoners coming from 48 countries. Of course none of these data were mentioned. We assumed they were Afghan war prisoners. The first planes were landing full of prisoners, and many more guards than prisoners. On the same day, the government of Cuba issued a public declaration indicating its willingness to cooperate with medical assistance services as required, clean-up programs and a fight against mosquitoes and pests in the area surrounding the base which is under our control, or any other useful, constructive and humane measure that might come up. I remember the data because I was personally involved in details concerning the Note presented by the MINREX in response to the United States Note. We were very far from imagining at that moment that the U.S. government was getting ready to create a horrendous torture center at that base. The Socialist Constitution proclaimed on February 24, 1976 had set forth in its Article 11, section c) that “the Republic of Cuba repudiates and considers as null and illegal those treaties, pacts or concessions concerted under conditions of inequality or which disregard or diminish her sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
On June 10, 2002, the people of Cuba, in an unprecedented process of popular referendum, ratified the socialist content of that Constitution of 1976 as a response to the meddling and offensive expressions of the President of the United States. Likewise, it mandated the National People’s Power Assembly to amend it so that it would expressly state, inter alia, the irrevocable principle which must govern the economic, diplomatic and political relations of our country with other states, by adding to the same Article 11, section c): “Economic, diplomatic and political relations with any other State may never be negotiated under aggression, threat or coercion by a foreign power.”
After the Proclamation to the People of Cuba was made public on July 31, 2006, the U.S. authorities have declared that they do not hope for a migration crisis but that they are pre-emptively preparing to face one, with the use of the Guantanamo Naval Base as a concentration camp for illegal migrants intercepted in the high seas being a consideration. In public declarations, information reveals that the United States is expanding its civilian buildings on the Base with the aim of increasing their capacity to receive the illegal emigrants. Cuba, for her part, has taken all possible measures to avoid incidents between the armed forces of both countries, and has declared that she is abiding by the commitments contained in the Joint Declaration on migratory issues signed with the Clinton administration. Why is there so much talking, threats and brouhaha?
The symbolic annual payment of $3,386.25 for the lease of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base was maintained until 1972 when the Americans adjusted it themselves to $3,676. In 1973, a new adjustment was made for the value of the old U.S. Gold dollar, and for that reason the cheque issued by the Treasury Department was since then increased to $4,085.00 each year. That cheque is charged to the United States Navy, the party responsible for operations at the Naval Base. The cheques issued by the government of the United States, as payment for the lease, are in the name of the “Treasurer General of the Republic of Cuba”, an institution and official who, many years ago, have ceased to function within the structure of the Government of Cuba. This cheque is sent on a yearly basis, through diplomatic channels. The one for 1959, due to a mere confusion, was entered into the national budget. Since 1960 until today these cheques have not been cashed and they are proof of the lease that has been imposed for more than 107 years. I would imagine, conservatively, that this is ten times less than what the United States government spends on the salary of a schoolteacher each year.
Both the Platt Amendment and the Guantanamo Naval Base were unnecessary. History has shown that in a great number of countries in this hemisphere where there has not been a revolution, their entire territory, governed by the multinationals and the oligarchies, needs neither one nor the other. Advertising took care of their mostly ill-trained and poverty-stricken populations by creating reflexes.
From the military point of view, a nuclear aircraft carrier, with so many fast fighter-bombers and escort ships supported by technology and satellites, is several times more powerful and can move to any point on the globe, wherever the empire needs it the most.
The Base is needed to humiliate and to carry out the filthy deeds that take place there. If we must await the downfall of the system, we shall wait. The suffering and danger for all humanity shall be great, like today’s stock market crisis, and a growing number of people forecast it. Cuba shall always be waiting in a state of combat readiness.
Fidel Castro Ruz August 14, 2007. 6:00 p.m.
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