Empire And The Independent Island
By Fidel Castro
19 August, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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