US Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Geographical, January 2007 | Go to article overview

US Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


Now notorious as the site of a jail for 'illegal combatants' captured in the 'war on terror; the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the oldest US military base outside the continental USA. Established in the wake of the Spanish-American war, it was originally intended to be a refuelling station. In 1903, with the defeat of the Spanish in Cuba, the Roosevelt government leased the 116 square kilometres of land and water on which the base is situated in a treaty ratified by both Cuba and the USA.

A 1934 treaty reiterated the right of the USA to retain the base in return for an annual lease payment of US$2,000 in gold. Relations between both sides remained stable, and the naval station was seen as an essential element in the USA's continued military domination of the Caribbean.

The 1959 revolution and the arrival of Fidel Castro significantly altered US-Cuban relations. In the midst of the Cold War, a socialist leader had emerged in a country once considered a playground for rich Americans, located just 650 kilometres by air to the south of the USA. When Castro declared himself a Marxist, Cuban territory outside the base was declared off limits to US service personnel.

Then, in October 1962, the deployment of Soviet missiles on the island precipitated one of the Cold War's most dangerous moments. Family members of service personnel from the naval station were evacuated. After a tense stand-off, the crisis was eventually defused when the missiles were removed, but not long after, Castro cut off water supplies to the base. …

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