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Guantanamo Bay in U.S. control over 100 years

Lesson Plan

January 10, 2002 Posted: 5:49 PM EST (2249 GMT)
The Cuban refugee camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval base is viewed from the Cuban side of the border in this 1994 file photo
The Cuban refugee camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval base is viewed from the Cuban side of the border in this 1994 file photo  

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) -- Officially, it is called the U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

To those who live here, though, this 45-square-mile U.S.-controlled territory on Cuba's eastern tip is "Gitmo." Today, Guantanamo Bay is being used to house Taliban and al Quada prisoners. The base was selected for this use for several reasons.

First, Its proximity to the U.S. mainland offers the security advantage of keeping the detainees close to, but not in the United States itself. Also, It reduces both the exposure of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and keeps detainees somewhere other than the Marine Base at Kandahar or on ships such as the U.S.S. Pelileu in the Arabian Sea.

HRW World Atlas: Cuba 
Newsmaker: Castro 

Separated from the rest of the communist island by miles of razor-wire fence, Cuban minefields and guards in towers armed with machine guns, Gitmo is a throwback to the Cold War -- although tensions have eased over the years.

Remembering the Bay of Pigs 

"We needed bases for the U.S. Navy in the Caribbean," said Jaime Suchlicki, a professor of Cuba-Mexico relations at the University of Miami. "The Caribbean being the underbelly of the United States, it was strategically important to the United States."

Guantanamo Bay was taken over by U.S. Marines in 1898, during the Spanish-American War.

In 1903, a newly independent Cuba leased it to the United States for an annual fee of $2,000 in gold.


A 1934 treaty reinforced the lease agreement and allowed the United States to stay as long as it wished.

Following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and Fidel Castro's takeover of the country, tensions rose at Guantanamo Bay, first with the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and then with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Bay of Pigs invasion was a U.S.-funded effort to overthrow Castro's government. Nearly 1,500 Cuban exiles were trained by U.S. forces, but the effort was ultimately not successful. The failed takeover heightened tensions between Cuba and the United States, and directly led to the Cuban missile crisis.

In 1962, the two nations wrangled over the deployment of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. The ensuing confrontation between the two superpowers edged the world closer to nuclear war. After seven days of a tense standoff, Russia agreed to pull the missiles out of Cuba.

Such tensions led U.S. forces to increase security measures. In 1964, Castro shut off water to Guantanamo. The United States had to ship drinking water in until it could build a desalinization plant.

In 1991, a coup in nearby Haiti sent refugees flooding toward the United States. About 10,000 refugees picked up before reaching U.S. soil were held at Guantanamo.

After huge boatlifts from Haiti and Cuba in 1994, more than 60,000 refugees were detained at Guantanamo behind wire fences, where frustrations often ran high.

The Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners may be the most dangerous detainee mission yet for the U.S. military personnel on Gitmo.

"Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you or what you stand for, I mean, that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing.

The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, played many roles in the Cold War, and now is home for Afghan POWs. CNN's Mark Potter explains (January 13)

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The first arrivals will be locked up in small cubicles surrounded by chain-link fence. Security officials described the cubicles as "outdoor cells"; they look more like cages.

"Our job is to take these terrorists out of the fight by locking them up. We will treat them humanely in accordance with international law," said Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert who is in charge of the mission.

Plans call for the temporary camp to be replaced with a permanent building. The facility is to ultimately hold 2,000 detainees.

• Cuba - Consular Information Sheet
• CIA -- The World Factbook

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Updated September 21, 2002

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