This image captures the faces of just a very few of the Haitian detainees at the United States naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. They include young and old. Their hands are raised in the air in protest of their captivity behind hurricane fencing. They are unprotected from the sun’s heat. A sign in Haitian Kreyòl reads AND WE ARE THE AVALANCHE. But who are these Haitians? And why Guantánamo?
By February of 1992, an estimated 10,000 Haitian refugees were being housed in makeshift tents at the naval station, with hundreds more on US Coast Guard ships, having been denied temporary protected status in the US. Are these the faces of the Haitian detainees in the photograph?
A few months later, in May, the US made the decision to close the refugee camp at Guantánamo, in addition, barring any ship that traded with Haiti from US ports – measures intended to support the hemisphere-wide embargo on the island’s military government. Had these Haitian refugees been photographed in their anguish, at the prospect of being extradited to a life of persecution in their home country?
By February of 1993, 250 Haitians being held at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba were found to have grounds for asylum but were denied entry to the US due to a George H. W. Bush administration policy barring immigrants infected with HIV. Close relatives of those infected were also detained. Many Haitian detainees began fasting to pressure a lift of the ban, but to no avail. Could these be the faces of the hungry, the neglected, and the humiliated? The faces of anger and resentment after 20 months of detainment?
Even the most specific artifacts from Guantánamo– such as this image of Haitian refugees inside the camp– have extremely convoluted meanings, as the knowledge we have about GTMO is still so very limited. To learn the real human stories behind such dehumanizing events, and to share those stories, – will cause a true avalanche.
Posted by Megan Greene – Urban Studies Program, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities