President Obama should be given props for the progress made in thawing US-Cuban relations, but there’s a piece of unfinished business that he could — and should — still attend to: returning the US Naval Base in Guantanamo to the Cuban people. In doing so, he could also solve another dilemma that has plagued his administration: closing the Guantanamo prison.
In November 2015, CODEPINK brought 60 delegates to the city of GuantÃ¡namo for an international conference about the abolition of foreign military bases. To explore the impact of the GuantÃ¡namo naval base on the Cuban people, we took a trip to Caimanera — a small town of 11,000 people that abuts the US Naval Base on the southeastern coast of Cuba.
Caimanera is hot and humid. Small, colorful but dilapidated houses pack the narrow town streets. There are crowded sidewalk cafes where highly coveted WiFi is available. In the middle of town there’s an impressive central plaza, decorated by statues of Cuban revolutionary heroes, surrounded schools, a community cultural center, Committee of the Defense of the Revolution offices, and more.
Since 1903, Caimanera has been a neighbor to a 73-square-mile US naval base. Before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Caimanera bustled with visiting American civilians and Marines from the base who poured million of dollars into the tourist industry — mostly through bars and prostitution. Thousands of Cubans were employed on the naval base. After the revolution led by Fidel Castro, the US severed relations with Cuba and US military personnel were restricted to the base. The Cuban government stopped cashing the US annual $4,085 rent checks and demanded that the land be returned to the Cuban people.
As our buses pulled into the town, it was as if the entire community had come out to greet us. Men in suits, women in work uniforms, people holding large banners calling for the closure of foreign military bases, and hundreds of children in their school uniforms all lined the streets, smiling at us and waving Cuban flags. In fact, the whole town had come out to greet us, and they looked positively thrilled that we were there.