During his appearance on a Sunday morning political program last weekend, Senator Marco Rubio insisted that, should President Obama somehow succeed in closing the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and should Senator Rubio somehow win the presidency in 2016, he would “absolutely” reopen it.
“We no longer—on an ongoing basis—detain terrorists, and so we’re not getting interrogation,” the junior Republican senator from Florida told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “They’re killed by a drone or targeted in some other way. But there’s tremendous value in capturing people that are enemy combatants and from them being able to gather actionable intelligence that can not only prevent attacks against the homeland and abroad but allow us to disrupt the cells they’ve created in different parts of the world.”
Senator Rubio’s unwavering commitment to keep open the Guantánamo base and prison —or Gitmo, as it’s known— represents yet another thickheaded, purely ideological position taken by a man who proudly claims to be a Cuban American but seems to know next to nothing about the island’s history.
Rubio, who sits on the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees (of all things), is also opposed to President Obama’s recent moves to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba after over 50 years of a failed Cold War policy. He called the president’s decision to remove Cuba from the State Department’s List of State Sponsors of Terrorism “terrible,” maintaining that the decision “sends a chilling message to our enemies abroad that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”
Never mind that the U.S. government provided safe haven to Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, two former CIA operatives behind the bombing of Cubana Flight 455, which killed all 73 people on board in 1976. Bosch was allowed to enter the United States in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, who had been the CIA chief in 1976. Bosch lived in Miami till his death in 2011. Posada, who also boasts responsibility for the bombing of Havana hotels in 1997 which targeted tourists, was captured by ICE after sneaking into the country in 2005, upon which he was released by George II. He walks the streets of Little Havana a free man to this day.
One may well ask: what —besides the long, ugly tradition of American imperialism— gives the U.S. government the right to continue operating a military base and prison camp on Cuban soil?
Washington claims it has a legal right to Gitmo on account of a 1903 treaty it signed with Cuba, which was merely a U.S. protectorate at the time due to the Platt Amendment. Injected into the Cuban constitution as condition of Cuba’s nominal independence, the Platt Amendment gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever it saw fit—which it did, occupying Cuba from 1906 to 1909, intervening against Afro-Cuban freedom fighters in 1912 and increasing its military presence between 1917 and 1922 to protect U.S. business interests on the island.
The Platt Amendment was effectively repealed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, though the U.S. lease on nearly 47 square miles of Guantánamo Bay remains intact, as the lease can only be ended by mutual consent. Washington continues to pay the amount it agreed to in 1903, though “the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in gold coin,” is now paid by a check of $4,085.
The Communists have only cashed one—in 1959. That was by mistake, according to Fidel, having occurred during the hectic days following the triumph of the revolution.
For its part, Havana maintains the U.S. lease of Guantánamo flouts international law, namely the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Laws of Treaties, which states that any treaty “procured by the threat or use of force” is “void” and “in violation of the principles … embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.” The document also states that a treaty may be nullified by a fundamental change in the circumstances on which the treaty is based. Therefore the U.S. lease can no longer be considered in effect, since the Cuban government that agreed to the lease in 1903 and 1934 hasn’t existed at least since Fidel’s forces rode into Havana on January 8, 1959.
Unfortunately for the Communists, the Vienna Convention makes clear that its provisions don’t apply to treaties agreed to beforehand.
Still, this is all merely juristic fog, because while the United States may have legal legs to stand on in its ownership of a base at Guantánamo Bay, morally speaking, Uncle Sam is on his belly in Cuba. Most reasonable people understand this. Most people understand that, if my neighbor allows me to build or use a treehouse in his backyard, but then my neighbor moves and the new owner doesn’t want me in his backyard, no argument will allow me to step foot on his property, much less use the treehouse.
That’s why people generally don’t build treehouses in other people’s backyards—except Sam, of course.
When the United States was looking to renew its lease of an air base in Ecuador back in 2007, President Rafael Correa agreed, but under one stipulation: that Ecuador be allowed to place its own base in Southern Florida. Washington scoffed at the proposal, and the United States withdrew its troops from the base in Ecuador less than two years later.
It seems Washington thinks it unimaginable to allow a foreign military base on U.S. soil.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.