US naval base a thorn in Fidel Castro's side
The United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay, in the southeast of Cuba, remains a thorn in the side of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro. Each year Washington sends him a cheque for US$4,000 under an old agreement to lease the base; each year he refuses to cash the cheque in protest at the American presence on the communist island just 145km from Florida.
American marines first stormed ashore at Guantanamo in 1898 during the Spanish-American war. Cuba was a Spanish colony at the time, and the marines helped to eject the Spanish. The same thing happened in the Philippines, but there the Americans stayed.
Five years later, with a friendly Cuban government in place, the US agreed to lease 116 sq km of land and water at Guantanamo Bay. In 1934 the arrangement was worked into a treaty, which the parties decided could not be broken unless both agreed.
When Castro's revolution triumphed in 1959, the US barred its soldiers stationed at the bay from entering Cuban territory. Suddenly Guantanamo became a front-line installation in the cold war.
During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy told the Cubans and Soviets to remove all nuclear missiles, wives and children of US servicemen were sent home to America on just a few hours' notice. Ever since, dependents have had to keep a suitcase ready at all times for quick evacuation.
Guantanamo Bay, known to residents as Gitmo, is a self-sufficient community of 6,000 people. It makes its own fresh water and power and has schools, boy scouts, stores and homes. In 1991, Gitmo was the temporary home for migrants from other countries. That year, 34,000 Haitian refugees came through the base. In 1994, the base hosted more Cuban and Haitian refugees.
Now its holds al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners from the US war on terror.
- About 660 prisoners from 44 countries are being held at Camp Delta. Most were captured in Afghanistan after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
- Prisoners are known to include nine Britons, two Australians, 12 Kuwaitis, more than a dozen Uygur separatists, scores of Saudi Arabians, Afghans, Pakistanis and at least one Moroccan.
- Four children, under 16 at the time of capture, are or were being held. The prisoners, described as 'enemy combatants', are aged from 13 to 90. Up to October, there had been 32 suicide attempts.
- When the US$16.4 million Camp Delta was opened, the seaside prison had 408 cells, with the possibility of expanding it to more than 2,000. It has its own interrogation centre.