This morning President Obama announced that the Pentagon would be submitting a plan to Congress for the long overdue shutdown of the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Flanked by Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the president argued closing the prison — one of his 2008 campaign promises — not only made moral sense, but would also save money. It currently costs U.S. taxpayers about $445 million a year to run the detention center housing 91 inmates, according to the Pentagon’s proposal. By the time Obama took office in January 2009, most of Gitmo’s detainees had been transferred by his predecessor, George W., and Obama would transfer another 147 inmates to various countries around the world. (Tiny Uruguay accepted six in 2014, though not without controversy.)
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 23, 2016
To his credit, the president set about closing the facility as soon as he moved into the White House, signing an executive order in his first week that required Gitmo to be closed within a year. But Congressional Republicans quickly opposed any attempt to transfer detainees stateside, insisting the inmates at Guantanamo were too dangerous to be brought to the United States. Then, last November, Congress passed defense bills barring transfers to the United States.
Strangely enough, but as usual, while Washington wrangles over the torture and indefinite detention of U.S. prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay, few United Statesians concern themselves with the question of whether the people of Cuba are okay with a U.S. prisoner camp on Cuban soil, or even a U.S. naval base. Hardly anyone cares that the Cuban government has been calling for the closure of the U.S. base since 1959. No one brings up the fact that, though the Cuban government was forced to agree to the lease while U.S. forces occupied the island, and though Washington pays Havana a measly $4,085 a month in rent, the Cuban government has only cashed one check, back in 1959, which Fidel claims was done by mistake during the topsy-turvy days of the revolution. At a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States early last year, little brother Raúl said the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States “will not be possible while the blockade still exists, [and] while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”
Only in America — the United States of, that is — do people think it kosher to house their prisoners of war, their guns, their ships, their ammo and their soldiers in another country, whose own people aren’t happy about it. What gives the U.S. government the right to maintain a military base and prison on Cuban soil when the Cuban government doesn’t want it there and has been calling for its removal for over half a century? A lease Havana couldn’t refuse, signed at the barrel of a gun, à la Don Corleone?
Better yet, why does the United States insist on treating other countries in ways the United States would never allow itself to be treated? After all, not in 500 years will you hear about a Cuban military base near Miami that Washington has tried but failed to have removed. Not in 500 years will read about how the Cuban government forced Washington to adopt an amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing Cuba to invade and occupy the United States whenever Cuban business interests are threatened. Never in 500 years will you learn about a Cuban operation to invade the United States and topple its government using Cuban-trained U.S. troops and Cuban fighter planes painted to look like U.S. Air Force planes. Never in 500 years will you discover that the Cuban government is sheltering a terrorist wanted for blowing up commercial flights and hotels in the United States. Never ever will you read that Cuban agents have devised 638 ways to shoot, stab, poison or blow up the president of the United States and other top officials. Washington has done all these and more, yet it continues to wonder why Cuba seems so antagonistic toward the United States.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.