Guantánamo Public Memory Project

Excavating Stories from GTMO’s Haitian Refugee Camps

Haitian refugees protest at Guantánamo. Courtesy Merrill Smith.

Haitian refugees protest at Guantánamo, 1993. Courtesy Merrill Smith.

As Guantánamo Public Memory Project Director Liz Sevcenko and journalist Garry Pierre-Pierre noted in a recent op-ed, the current detainee hunger strikes at GTMO are not unprecedented. In 1993, Haitian political refugees who had received clearance for asylum were barred from entering the US after they, or a family member, tested positive for HIV – eventually risking their lives to protest their ongoing detention.

Incidentally, the recently publicized video of actor and rapper Yasiin Bev (formerly Mos Def) undergoing a standard military forced-feeding procedure is not the first act by a public figure in protest of the US government’s treatment of hunger strikers at GTMO.

Twenty years ago, Jesse Jackson flew to the US naval base and visited fasting Haitian refugees at Camp Bulkeley, where HIV+ refugees were held.  Al Sharpton and other activists started their own hunger strikes in solidarity.  During an Academy Awards presentation, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins spoke out against the US policy.  In part because of their activism, and because of the incredible efforts of legal advocates and Haitian protestors, Camp Bulkeley was closed and the last refugees arrived on US soil.  Both then and today, these individuals made courageous decisions, using their public status as a form of protest and political leverage.  But in each case, it is worth asking why this has become necessary.

Twenty years ago, our fear of the silent, little-understood and seemingly unstoppable HIV virus was so pervasive that a bipartisan majority of elected officials voted in favor of a bill that banned entry of HIV positive immigrants; today, terrorism plays a similarly powerful role as an invisible and foreign threat to American security.Finding a balance between protecting society from these very real concerns while also respecting the law and basic human rights is as difficult and important now as it was in 1993, and will inevitably continue to be.  Making connections between the past and present might not alter people’s perspectives about national security or the future of current detainees at GTMO.  But it might help reframe the debate by provoking conversations about why and how history can repeat itself so uncannily at GTMO.

The Guantánamo Public Memory Project has been working to collect and preserve stories from GTMO’s history, many of which we have shared as part of our 20th anniversary commemoration of Camp Bulkeley’s closing.  We invite you to explore these and other materials, which we have compiled below, and which we hope can serve as a catalyst for continued discussions about contemporary issues.  The collection includes stories of individuals who worked or were held at GTMO’s Haitian refugee camps, as well as reflections of those who were not: oral history interviews; digital archives; student-authored digital projects and blog posts; and a select bibliography of primary and secondary textual resources.

Beyond exploring these resources, we invite you to contribute your thoughts by commenting on the Project’s blog, Facebook page, or Twitter, in addition to sharing any materials not listed here.

Oral Histories/Interviews

The Haitian Guantánamo Bay Experience: The Legal Journey, film told by Ira Kurzban, lawyer who advocated for Haitian refugees at GTMO. Directed by Rachelle Salnave, University of Miami

Natalie and Gregory Beaubrun were children when they fled Haiti with their parents by boat and brought to GTMO by the US Coast Guard in 1992. Created by Tennessee Watson

Ronald Aubourg, who served as a translator at Haitian camps in the 1990s. Courtesy of Lygia Navarro

Lieutenant General Raymond Ayres, who was stationed at GTMO in 1994 when both Haitians and Cubans were detained there. Courtesy of the University of West Florida

General George Walls, the first US military commander in charge of Haitian refugee camps at GTMO from 1991-1992. Created by Tennessee Watson

Digital Archives

The Merrill Smith Collection on Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)

Duke University Caribbean Sea Migration Collection

US Coast Guard Image Gallery

US Department of Defense Image Gallery


Student Participant Reflections on GPMP’s Blog 

Recovering Haitian Stories by Megan Greene, University of Minnesota

Haitians at GTMO and HIV by Lauren Baker, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Guantánamo the Eye Opener by Ria Mirchandani, Brown University

The Legal Framework of Marginalizing by Olivia Blakely Caswell, New York University

The Gap Between American Ideals and Actions by Thomas Yim, Brown University

The Historical Production of Silence at Guantánamo by Emilio Gae Leanza, Brown University

Legacy is Knowledge, Legacy is Power by Patricia Root, University of Minnesota

An American Concentration Camp by Steven Porter, University of Minnesota

Children’s Cries and America’s Lies by Caitlin Kegley, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Telling a Silenced Story by Lara Savenije, Brown University

A Difficult History by Mara Freilich, Brown University

A Fight for Due Process by Antoinette Strickland, Rutgers University

HIV-Positive Haitians at Guantánamo Bay by Andrea Field, Arizona State Univesrity

The Human Cost of Legal Exception: Haitian Refugees at Guantánamo by Tiffany Lowe, Rutgers University


Guantánamo Public Memory Project Digital Exhibit Components 

1991-1994: Haitians and GTMO: Who is a Refugee? What Makes a Refuge?

May 1991: Guantanamo as Prison

1991: Forced Repatriation

1992: Improving Conditions

July 17, 1992: Camp Bulkeley Demonstrations

1993: Haitians Held Against Their Will


Resisting and Protesting Guantánamo

1992: ACT UP Turns to HIV-Positive Haitian Detainees

1993: Hunger Strike at Haitian Camps

1993: African-American Activists Support Haitians at GTMO

1995: Unaccompanied Children’s Hunger Strike


Closing Guantánamo: Who Decides Guantánamo’s Future

1993: Legal Rights and Guantánamo: Haitian Centers Council Inc. v. Sale


Arts of Detention: What Does Art Reveal About GTMO?

1991 – 1994: Haitian Art


Place: Camp Bulkeley


Select Bibliography 

Jana Evans Braziel, “Haiti, Guantánamo, and the “One Indispensable Nation”: US Imperialism, “Apparent States,” and Postcolonial Problematics of Sovereignty,” Cultural Critique No. 64 (Fall 2006), 127-160.

David Brotherton and Philip Kretsedemas. Keeping Out the Other: A Critical Introduction to Immigration Enforcement Today (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

Karma R. Chavez, “ACT UP, Haitian Migrants, and Alternative Memories of HIV/AIDS,” Quarterly Journal of Speech Vol. 98, No. 1 (February 2012), 63-68.

Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti (Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994).

Brandt Goldstein, Storming the Court: How a Band of Yale Law Students Sued the President – and Won (New York: Scribner, 2003).

Jonathan Hansen, “The Haitian Problem,” Guantánamo: An American History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011), 265-302.

Leonie Hermantin, “A Retrospect on Guantanamo Bay: Hellish HIV Camp Revisited,” The Miami Herald, June 17, 2013.

Jeffrey Leavitt, “Roots of the Haitian Refugee Crisis,” USA Today, September 1, 1992.

Cheryl Little, “InterGroup Coalitions and Immigration Politics: The Haitian Experience in Florida,” University of Miami Law Review Vol. 53, No. 4 (1999).

Angela Naomi Paik, “The “Visible Scapegoats” of US Imperialism: HIV Positive Refugees and Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo Bay,” Working Group on Globalization and Culture (Yale University, 2006).

­­­­­_______________, “Testifying to Rightlessness: Redressing the Camp in Narratives of US Culture and Law,” Social Text Vol. 28, No. 3 104 (2010), 39-65.

Nikòl Payen, “Lavalas: The Flood after the Flood,” Callaloo Vol. 25, No. 3 (Summer 2002), 759-771.

Garry Pierre-Pierre, “A Long Wait for a New Life Is Not Quite Over; For Haitian Refugees Released from Guantanamo, Housing Delay Prolongs Hardship,” The New York Times, July 16, 1993.

Lizzy Ratner, “The Legacy of Guantánamo,” The Nation, July 21, 2003.

Larry Rohter, “Haitians With HIV Leave Cuba Base for Lives in US,” The New York Times, June 15, 1993.

Alex Stepick. “Haitian Boat People: A Study in the Conflicting Forces Shaping US Immigration Policy,” Law and Contemporary Problems Vol. 45 No. 2 (Spring 1982).

Alex Stepick and Dale Swartz, Pride Against Prejudice: Haitians in the United States (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998).

U.S. policy toward Haiti,” Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, Second Session (June 8, 1993).

Nicola White, “The Tragic Plight of HIV-Infected Haitian Refugees at Guantanamo Bay,” Liverpool Law Review Vol. 28, No. 2 (September 2007), 249-269.




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