Feb. 17, 2009
As a fan of so very few in the main stream media, it is difficult to be in any way critical of one of the few voices with whom I normally can agree. Rachel Maddow has brought such a refreshing presence to television, that her very existence on cable news is a victory. But on a recent program, she touched on my particular hot topic, Cuba, and did what most commentators of the left are doing; she defended President Obama’s decision to” close Guantanamo”. She also interviewed a former interrogator at the prison camp who pointed out more of the atrocities which had been and presumably still are being done in our name. That’s all good and necessary, but Rachel missed a chance to touch on a subject equally, if not more important than the prison camp.
In her introduction to the piece, Rachel quoted Fidel Castro calling for the US to return Guantanamo to Cuba. Were one not accustomed to Rachel’s bemused smirk, you could have been offended by what could be perceived as her very casual dismissal of the topic of giving this land back to the country to which it belongs. She seemed to be more interested in the fact that the former Cuban president had a blog, than his grasp of the reality that most in the world easily understand; Guantanamo is part of Cuba, and we have no right to be there.
OK, for all those of you who slept through history class during that part about the “so called” – Spanish-American War, here are the Cliffs Notes. Throughout the 19th century, as our young republic grew, there was a constant cry from business
interests for expansion. Cuba had always been considered “ours” simply by geographic proximity, and when it appeared that the Cuban revolutionaries were getting close to throwing off their Spanish masters, we jumped in, and defeated the last remnants of a dying colonial power. In the treaty we got Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. We also took Guantanamo Bay, the best harbor in southern Cuba, from which we could guard our interests in the Panama Canal, and established what is now the oldest U.S. military facility on foreign soil.
Cuba then became our colonial base, although by the end of the Spanish dominance, we already controlled most of the economy. We installed our own governor, and ran just about everything until 1934, when it was decided that we would appear less like the former colonial world powers if we gave Cuba its freedom while still running the place economically and militarily. So we gave up our right to directly run Cuban affairs, and in exchange got a new lease on Guantanamo, which appears to be a lease in perpetuity, the legality of which is very questionable. When the Castro led Cuban revolution overthrew the Batista dictatorship, the Cubans began to demand that they get the Manhattan Island sized piece of their homeland back, and refused our government’s rent checks.
During the cold war there might have been a strategic argument for us being there, but that time has long past. We remain because we have the military might to hold this occupied territory, which the world recognizes as just a remnant of our imperialist past. Until we turned it into an offshore holding cell for alleged terrorists, out of reach of the U.S. Constitution, it existed for 50 years solely as a thorn in the side of the Cuban government. Returning it to its rightful owner, just as President Carter did with the Panama Canal, would markedly ease tensions between the two governments and signal to Latin America that although it took more than 100 years, there is finally change they can believe in.
Like his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro has indicated his willingness to meet with President Obama regarding these issues. As he told actor and activist Sean Penn recently in The Nation, “We should meet in a neutral place.
Perhaps we could meet at Guantánamo. We must meet and begin to solve our problems, and at the end of the meeting, we could give the president a gift…we could send him home with the American flag that waves over Guantánamo Bay.”
Such a move might also change Rachel’s questioning smirk into a smile as she sees her country moving in the direction of the type of policy true progressives like her are fighting so hard to achieve.
Jim Ryerson is a documentary film producer specializing on Cuba, which he’s visited more than 30 times. He formerly worked as a television news reporter in Los Angeles, and has won numerous national and international awards for his work. His documentary on the U.S. embargo, Looking for Cuba is currently on the film festival circuit, and he has 3 other documentary projects regarding Cuban music, art and culture, currently in editing. You can see clips from our films at http://www.youtube.com/user/tmanjdrjr.
Looking for Cuba: Guantanamo Bay
Segment from the documentary “Looking for Cuba” dealing with the controversial U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Looking for Cuba – 10 minute version of 1hr. 20 minute Film