Guantánamo Public Memory Project

Interview with Dr. Eugenio M. Rothe


Video produced by Debbie Rolf.
My project focused on the time period where Cuban rafters were the primary occupants of the Guantánamo Bay naval base. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Eugenio M. Rothe about his experiences treating Cuban refugee children. I was floored by the level of psychological damage that these children endured. While a large portion of the damage was because of the terror and hardship they faced crossing the sea, it is undeniable that Guantánamo did not provide the sanctuary that these children needed to heal. This was the United States’ fault. I was shocked by the U.S. government’s lack of preparedness in dealing with the large number of refugees at Guantánamo Bay. I was also shocked by how long it took for the camp to operate at a level where the refugees were treated with respect and dignity. While some looked back on their time in the camps with rose colored glasses, some insist the U.S. government never managed the camps appropriately.
Dr. Rothe shared some specific stories with me during our interview, and showed me drawings that children made of their journeys. I cannot fathom experiencing that kind of stress and terror. I think there is a lot of the misunderstanding surrounding Guantánamo because of this inability to comprehend what went on. One incident that had a big effect on me was a story of a “psychotic” boy who drew barbed wire on his legs. When I showed my footage of the interview, one of the viewers asked if he was exaggerating. This individual thought “psychotic” was a strong term, and insinuated that the boy was just being a kid and messing around. While I was astounded by the insensitivity of the comment, it made me realize how necessary the Guantánamo Public Memory Project is. There is virtually zero understanding of the history of Guantánamo by the general public. I have noticed that people now think of it solely as a prison for terrorists. What I hope this project will achieve is a greater understanding of the many different kinds of people who stayed at the camp and the different levels of suffering that refugees went through in both in traveling and during their stay.
The University of Miami is participating in the Guantánamo Public Memory Project‘s National Dialogue and Traveling Exhibit. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery in December 2012 and traveling to 9 sites (and counting) across the country through at least 2014, the exhibit will explore GTMO’s history from US occupation in 1898 to today’s debates and visions for its future. The exhibit is being developed through a unique collaboration among a growing number of universities as a dialogue among their students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO.

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