Guantánamo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Guantánamo

Guantánamo (gwäntä´nämō), city (1994 est. pop. 200,000), capital of Guantánamo prov., SE Cuba, on the Guaso River. It is the processing center for a rich sugar- and coffee-producing region and has road and rail connections with Santiago de Cuba. Founded in the early 19th cent. by French colonists fleeing the slave rebellion in Haiti, Guantánamo retains many vestiges of French architecture. The city is c.20 mi (30 km) inland from its port, Caimanera, on landlocked Guantánamo Bay, where the United States maintains an important naval station. Often called the Pearl Harbor of the Atlantic, the base has naval installations covering c.45 sq mi (116 sq km). Its site was leased to the United States in 1903 by a treaty that was renewed in 1934; consent of both governments is needed to revoke the agreement. Since 1960 the Cuban government has refused to accept the token annual rent ($5,000) from the United States and has pressured for the surrender of the base. In the mid-1990s thousands of refugees fleeing Cuba and Haiti were temporarily housed at the base. A prison camp for several hundred persons accused of having Taliban or Al Qaeda ties was established (2002) there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan during the Bush administration. Guantánamo was chosen because the Bush administration believed that federal constitutional protections should not apply to the base, which legally is not part of the United States; that argument was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2004. There have been accusations, some based on FBI e-mail, that prisoners there have been abused; several prisoners have committed suicide. In 2009 President Obama ordered the closure of the prison camp within a year, but difficulties associated with the process made closing it unachievable. By the end of 2013, 155 prisoners remained at the base.

See S. I. M. Schwab, Guantánamo, USA (2009).

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