The US Occupation of Guantanamo Must End!

By: Richard Grassi


The complexity of U.S. relations with Cuba cannot be erased with time.  To understand better the events that shaped political affairs after the sinking of the battleship Maine, February 1898, a close overview of US intervention and its aftermath is needed.

Undesirable Neighbors:  The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo by Olga Miranda Bravo, 2001, painstakingly describes the history of US/Cuba relations following the rise of 19th century North American imperialism.  It details the effort to possess Cuba through deception and political intrigue and challenges the status quo US media version of a helpless nation requiring humanitarian assistance.

Sra. Miranda Bravo obtained a doctorate in Law in 1960 and was former Juridical Director of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations (1963-1992) with an ambassadorial rank.  Her reliance on international law, history and politics helped to explain why the struggle of Cuban people for independence continues today.  The object of this essay is to explore a possible avenue for an end to obsolete, outdated agreements that have caused unnecessary suffering to peoples on either side.

Cuba’s struggle for independence was thwarted by US expansionism after the Spanish surrender to the U.S. army.  “The obligations contracted according to the Joint Resolution dated April 20, 1898:  Cuba is and by law should be free and independent” were totally forgotten by the Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898.  Not only were the Cuban Liberation forces led by General Calixto Garcia prevented from entering the city of Santiago de Cuba, but the Cuban victors were excluded from peace negotiations with Spain in France.

“Laws were made in Washington that did not evince the intention of respecting the Joint Resolution approved by Congress.”  Cuban fear of losing their independence was inspired by a lack of good faith on the part of the U.S. toward their neighbor.  Furthermore, military occupation was extended until Cuba accepted the US demand for a contract to lease land.  Freedom of consent on the part of Cuba was denied when General Leonard Wood stated that the Cuban Constituent Assembly “have no duty and no authority to take part in the present government of the island.”  Somewhat later, the Platt Amendment (March 1901) was annexed on the Cuban Constitution by force against the wishes of the Cuban people. 

Article XVI of the Paris Treaty authorized political annexation of Cuba “limited to the time of its occupancy thereof” as a means to devise a lease of Cuban territory.  Law principles acknowledge that no law is irrevocable.  Lease of Guantanamo without a definite date of expiration (imperfect lease) does not absolve the occupant from observing the legal obligation of international law.  When referring to international leasing by means of which one State obtains certain rights over the territory of another, Argentinian jurist, Daniel Antokoletz notes that this is in fact an act of annexation especially if it is a lease in perpetuity.

On May 20, 1902, Cuba became a protectorate and neo-colony of US capital dependent on corporate bank loans to recover from Spanish war debt to European banks estimated at $500 million.  In subsequent years, development aid to Cuba was largely misappropriated by corrupt office holders that subjected the Cuban economy to greater dependency and exploitation by US corporations.  This was modeled under the concept that Cuba could not negotiate any deal unilaterally with foreign companies unless approved by a US administrator.  By 1950, three-fourths of the best land was owned or controlled by US corporations in sugarcane, cattle etc.  U.S. monopolies of public services, housing and mining concessions further depleted resources in an underdeveloped nation.

Article III, Treaty of Relations, 1934, states “so long as the USA shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo”, the agreement in regard to the lease {and} stipulations of that agreement … shall continue to remain in effect.  This condition [for as long as they need it] indicates that continuity exists with previous agreements, namely Article VII of the Appendix to the Cuban Constitution, since the Platt Amendment contained no date of expiry.

In this instance, the assertion of “specially close relations” by FDR with the announcement of the Good Neighbor policy whereby the 1934 Treaty  “renounces those rights to intervene and interfere in Cuba” did not fool the Cuban public.

The argument that changed circumstances can make a treaty invalid is “a principle granted the category of international law norm by the Convention on law of treaties held in Vienna, in 1969.”  When Cuba ceased being a protectorate after January l, 1959 and became an independent State with a legally established government, conditions changed.  Miranda Bravo adds that in January, 1961, the US government severed diplomatic and consular relations with Cuba.  “The United States, by its own deed, invalidated the 1934 Treaty that claims to be based on friendly relations between the two countries”.

Since that time, the Cuban government has refused to cash US checks for payment on the lease, thereby rejecting US presence on their territory.  Due to a lack of free consent to uphold an agreement, a lawful contract was nullified.  Two military occupations of Cuba (1898-1902 and 1906-1909) to enforce US hegemony at the expense of Cuban national sovereignty presented a history not readily forgotten.

During the 1960’s, the United Nations expanded the manifestation of colonialism to include

·       All acts contrary to or that violate totally or partially a country’s territorial integrity

·       All armed actions or repressive measures of any kind aimed at violating or preventing the free right to self-determination, sovereignty and territorial integrity

·       All interference in the internal affairs of other States to violate the people’s sovereign rights and their territorial integrity.

What are the options?

While the US has long considered Latin America to be its backyard, the contemporary world is no longer accepting of such behavior.  Trust, respect and recognition must be earned to build a base on which to ease differences concerning opposing viewpoints to conduct foreign affairs.  A comprehensive approach with regard to resolving the Guantanamo Base issue requires the ability to meet and consult with each other. Sovereign development is impossible when war, economic blockade and a hostile political environment preclude rational discussion.

After the weak attempt by President Barack Obama to initiate normal relations with Cuba in 2015, there seems to be only one course of action.  The United States must abandon its occupation of the Guantanamo naval station without further notice.


This article reflects the opinion of the author