Guantánamo Public Memory Project

Remembering Cuban Life around the Base

The presence of the United States Navy on the island of Cuba is not comparable to anything I have ever experienced in my life. In Minnesota, we are not familiar with having another country’s naval base and detention center in our backyard. Cubans living around the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base are all too familiar with the foreign presence of a stronger nation. Here in the Midwest, most of the mainstream news outlets focus on the happenings on the base itself and fail to acknowledge that other people live around the base. In order to understand the full impact that the naval base has had, it is important to look at all lives directly affected, and the Cubans around the base were, arguably the most affected by its presence.

Post 9/11 Guantánamo is the only way that I knew of the detention center up until September of 2012. For the thousands of Cubans who have not risked their lives trying to escape their country, Guantánamo Naval Base has provided negative press attention for as long as many can remember. In 2002, Cubans called for the United States to stop the torture of detainees at Guantánamo but took a passive stance against the U.S. and did not “create obstacles to the development of this operation.” The United States has been continually present and illegally occupying the Cuban base since 1898, causing unnecessary stress to the lives of many Cubans living near around, and affected by the base. The stance that the Cuban government takes is that the United States illegally occupied Cuban territory, an unjustifiable act, more than one hundred years ago, and that the continuation of that occupation and the other egregious acts against Cuban rights and human rights are reason enough for the return of the territory to Cuba. In order to ensure human rights of the prisoners in the detention center at GTMO it is necessary to return occupied territory to Cuba. The Cuban government has continually called for the United States to stop occupying the 117 square kilometer area in Guantánamo Bay and the United States has refused. The Cuban government has even gone as far as cutting off the water supply that leads to the base, in an attempt to let the U.S. know they are not welcome at the site. However, the Cuban government provided water to women and children on the base. The history of the United States relationship with Cuba has many of these moments where Cuba takes a nonviolent stance such as shutting water supply off only to leave the Navy to solve the problem themselves. There are seldom reports of violence by rebel Cubans to members of the U.S. Navy, because the Cuban government is smarter than violent acts. The Cuban government’s efforts to keep peace and pursue strategies of passive resistance to deal with the forced occupation and hosting of prisoners by the United States for more than a century should be reason alone to give the territory back to the Cuban government. This would prevent a future that looks like the Guantánamo we see in the news today.

Navy officer checks water pressure after the Cuban government shut water off to the base

Posted by Henry Bertels-Undergraduate at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities 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.

Creative: Picture Projects & Tronvig Group